Monday, June 23, 2014

Elite Afghan corps of Nadir Shah Afshar



Nadir Shah , a Turk of Afshar clan, was able to rally Persia around him in the name of his Safavid sovereign. In a series of victories , Nadir wrested control of Mashad from the Abdali Pashtuns in 1729, defeated Ashraf and his Ghilzais in 1730 , retook Herat from Abdalis in 1732 , overcame rebels in Caucasus and by 1736 was able to proclaim himself Shah of Persia in place of an effete Safavid puppet .In 1738 he captured Kandahar from Ghilzais. For his Indian expedition , Nadir had begin recruiting mercenaries from both the Abdalis and Ghilzais. Nadir had been much impressed by their fighting qualities in the course of his campaigns against them and was astute enough to win them over through his generous treatment after their defeats.

The Afghan contingent became elite corps of Nadir army, they were called “the immortals” like that of Achaemenians. The Abdalis formed the largest support but Nadir had fought strenuous battles against Ghilzais too and they too were well represented. The estimates of this corps vary between 4,000 to 16,000 , but whatever the strength , all accounts that the Afghan corps of the horse formed Nadir's bodyguard in whom alone he had complete reliance. They were commanded by eight Abdalis and two Ghilzai Maliks, the command-in-chief being in first instance in the hands of an Abdali of Alizai clan, Nur Muhammad khan. This body of men accompanied Nadir to India. The murder of number of them by the Delhi mob set the conqueror at a flashing point and led him in his fury to order the frightful massacre which has given the word to languages of northern India. Perhaps the most signal service rendered by them when they saved nadir army from complete destruction , when on his way through Khyber pass on his return from conquest of India he was beset by Afridi tribesmen in the gorges. On that occasion the Persian emperor was in most critical position , and was only able to extricate himself with the aid of gallant front put up by his Afghan corps. Even the he didn’t win clear until he had paid a heavy toll in cash to Afridis who had closed the defiles against him. In the end the preference Nadir showed to his afghan corps led to great jealousies among his own Turkmen, the well known Qizalbash or red-heads, became the main cause of his assassination by Muhammad Khan Qajar.

Nadir was murdered in his tent in 1747, some years after his return from India. At this time Abdali contingent was commanded by Ahmad khan. Hearing a tumult, Ahmad khan and his men rushed towards the standard , thinking to protect their king. Their way was barred by strong forces of Qizalbash, greatly outnumbering the Afghans. But Ahmad Khan, bound in a loyal cause, hacked his way through and entered the royal tent, only to find Nadir headless trunk in pool of blood . The Abdali devotion to King as real and they were overcome by mixed emotions, horrors over the loss of their chief and shame , that they , whom he trusted, had failed him. They find the time to give expression to their grief, and then once more fought their way through ,and , taking to horse made off to Kandahar. Not far from the camp they ran into a convoy of looted treasure that Muhammad Quli Khan had sent to Mashad. The Afghans plundered it , took the Koh—e-Noor diamond among other valuables and went home.

 (Reference: The Pathans, 550 B.C.-A.D. 1957 by  Sir Olaf Kirkpatrick Caroe)


In 1744 Jonas Hanway obtained information on Nadir Shah's 200,000 standing forces. The tribal contingents included Afghans , some of whom were Abdalis(50,000), Afshar (20,000), Uzbek Tartars(6,000), Turkemn(6,000)and Baluch (6,000). 

(Reference: Nomadism in Iran: From Antiquity to the Modern Era By D. T. Potts, p-256)


Nader Shah, Mughal portrait, 1742, Ouseley Album