Friday, 28 March 2014

Role of Pashtuns in the Battle of Parwan fought between Genghis Khan's Mongols and Jalaluddin

With Iran being ravaged by Mongol columns as far as the Caucasus, the only place of refuge for Turks and Persians willing to fight on was south of the Hindu Kush, and Genghis Khan had stretched a full Tumen (Mongol military unit of 10,000) between the Amu Darya and Khorasan to prevent such a flow. The capable Jalal al-Din Khwarzemi had escaped from Gurganj to Afghanistan, where he had served as governor prior to the war. After escaping from Gurganj, Jalal al-Din Khwarzemi had been chased by Mongol scouting parties. At one point, he and three hundred accompanying cavalry had burst through a Mongol cordon of seven hundred men. During this stage his brothers, including the crown prince of Khwarezm, had headed in a different direction and been caught and killed.

The Mongols lost Jalal al-Din's trail near Farah in western Afghanistan. The prince made his way to Ghazni, where he assembled and garrison Turkish forces, including a strong contingent under Temir Malek, one of the few Khwarezm generals who had fought well against the Mongols. In addition, the call went out to the Afghan hill tribes, who descended from the mountains in strength, making Jalaal-Din's army sixty thousand strong. At this point Genghis Khan summoned Jagatai and Ogadei to join him, and the main army reassembled near Kunduz. Genghis planned to march through the passes to Bamian while he directed another general, Shigi Kutaku, with three Tumens, to advance due south. This general, a Tartar, had been adopted by Genghis when young and had been married to one of his daughters.

In the spring of 1221, the Turk and Afghan army of Jalaluddin encountered a forward patrol of Kutaku's at a village called Valian along the Ghori River. The Mongol patrol was destroyed with only a few survivors. Jalal al-Din moved to Parwan, a place between Ghazni and Bamian , where he awaited the inevitable battle. Kutaku, possibly without orders, followed up the destruction of his probe with his full thirty thousand man Mongol army.

At Parwan the two sides met. Jalal al-Din took the tactical initiative by ordering his right wing of Turks under Temir Malek to dismount. An archer on foot can put more strength and accuracy behind his shots. At the same time, the Mongols's usual tricks of feigned retreat and ambush, and their standard practice of encirclement, could not be employed. But they were good enough to hold their own through the first day, even as the native Afghans must have sensed their enemy's vulnerability and clambered among the heights in order to shoot down at the invader, gravity assisting their shots with both velocity and range.

The next morning, Jalal al-Din's army looked across the valley at a Mongol army that seemed greatly reinforced. But Kutaku had only tried a ruse, creating dummies of straw packed in clothes atop extra horses. Jalal al-Din calmed the unease of his commanders and remained eager to resume the fight. This time he dismounted his entire front line.

A Mongol attack on the Afghan left wing wilted under a barrage of arrows, the men retreating in disorder. The Mongol general then ordered an attack along the entire front. The dismounted defenders were easy prey if the Mongol horsemen could close; but the attackers were hard pressed to penetrate the wall of arrows and were forced by the terrain to wade into it head-on. Gradually the famous Mongol discipline began to come apart. They began to fall back and Jalal al-Din saw his chance. He quickly brought up his army's horses and his men remounted. Then he ordered a counterattack. The Mongols were surprised and began to retreat headlong from the valley. Jalal al-Din's men overtook the fleeing horde and Kutaku lost over half his army. One can picture the most casualties in defiles where the panicked Mongols became jammed, falling victim en masse to the pursuing Turkic and Afghan tribesmen.

Parwan was not just the only Mongol defeat in the war against Khwarezm, it was the only defeat the Mongols would suffer in any battle outside East Asia for another eighty years. But it may have been a Pyrrhic victory for Afghanistan, because it was unclear whether the Mongols had had any designs south of the Hindu Kush prior to Jalalal-Din's assembling his army of resistance at Ghazni. Now Genghis Khan himself was on the way through the passes with an army of seventy thousand.

But the Khwarezmian prince did not prove himself as able in victory as he had been in defeat. In a dispute over the spoils – a Mongolian white horse – between his father-in-law and an Afghan Chief, he sided with his father-in-law. The Afghans left their campfire burning and left the same night, despite being completely exhausted by the day's fighting. Finding himself without more than half of his fighting strength Jalal ad-Din retreated the next day towards the east. He passed through the Suleiman Range into today's Pakistan, heading for the Indus River.


When John of Piano Carpini interviewed Mongols nineteen years after Genghis Khan's death, he heard many fantastic stories about the campaign,among which one rings true of Afghanistan. According to what he heard, the Mongols, starting from the Caspian mountains, traveled for more than a month through a wasteland to a deserted country where they found a man and his wife whom they led to Genghis Khan: "And when he had asked them where the people of that country were, they replied that they lived underground beneath mountains." Genghis told the man and wife to order the people to appear and they seemed to agree. But then, according to the Mongols, "these men gathered by ways hidden beneath the earth and came against the Tartars to do battle and sprang suddenly upon them and killed many."

What the monk heard from Mongol veterans is strikingly similar to the stories Soviet soldiers told following their war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The qanat irrigation system, with its thousands of holes and tunnels adjacent to communities, provided excellent hiding places for defenders (in addition to the caves naturally carved in the mountains).

It is interesting that Genghis Khan's baggage train, left behind north of the Hindu Kush when he began his pursuit of Jalal al-Din,was repeatedly raided and plundered in his absence. The sedentary communities of Afghanistan had fallen but the nomadic Afghan hill tribes remained free, and were still dangerous.

Genghis Khan or "Temujin"

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