Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pashtun soldiers in the imperial army of Mughals

 By Khan Barmazid

According to Manucci,  Akbar left it as a law to his descendants that “the Pathans (Pashtuns) were not be appointed governors and should only be employed as soldiers.” [1] . Yet a large number of Afghans sought enrollment in  the Mughal army , especially among the lower ranks (of officers) , and as soldiers. They were freely recruited because of their valor in battlefields.[2]

Akbar left it as a law that Afghans should never receive a higher pay than 4000 rupees per year [3] This reveals that Akbar desired to maintain some sort of  a financial restraint over the Afghans. Manucci who came to India in 1656 and was an eye-witness to events during Aurangzeb’s reign, between 1659-1707, wrote “ It is a rule in the Mughal empire not to trust the race of Pathans [4] “ Likewise Bernier who lived in India , from 1658-1667, and was closely associated with Mughal courts , states that Mughals were forced to employ the Afghans because of their martial qualities. They , as well as Rajputs, were used to quell disturbances , as also to counter-balance each other. He added “The Mughals form the principle force of the Kingdom and are maintained at an incredible expense .”[5]

Bhimsen in his Tarikh-i-dilkusha writes, “The Emperor (Aurangzeb) never had any confidence in the Afghans. Emperor Babar, Emperor Humayun and Emperor Akbar came to India extricated the sense of vanity and pride from the Afghans and took possession of the empire. So its no surprise that they behaved in that manner. “(this statement was made by author when Sardar Tarin was found to in league with prince Akbar) [6]. But the complicated political conditions of his reign , the rise of Marathas under Shivaji, war against the Deccanstates , the Rajput revolts and the rebellion of Jats and the Satnamis made it imperative for him to depend increasingly upon the arms of the Afghans [7]

In Central Asian campaigns of Mughals 1645-46, the Afghans along with the Rajputs were associated with vanguard of the army , under the supreme command of prince Murad Bakhsh [8]. Aurangzeb, when arrived in Afghanistan,  appointed Bahadur Khan Daudzai in-charge of the vanguard of his army [9]. As the Afghans generally formed the vanguard on the storming party of the Mughal force. As a result they had to face disasters on several occasions. One such instance occurred during the siege of the fort of Satara in 1700 A.D, which was conducted by Aurangzeb himself. Mir Atish Tarbiyat Khan , in contravention of Royal orders, exploded the mines in order to break the enemy defenses, with the result that a number of Afghan clansmen , who formed the storming party , lost their lives. These included important Afghan lieutenants, like Ahmad Khan Lodi , Asadudduin Ahmad Daudzai and many other men of artillery.[10]

Some of the Pashtun tribesmen were noted for their superior archery skills. A Mughal officer Mirza Nathan had a contingent of Dilzak Afghans who are described in his book, Baharistan-i-ghaibi, as very good archers [11] .These Dilazak Afghans were deported to India from their native place by Jehangir and large number of them enlisted themselves in the Imperial army. There were 3,000 Dilazak cavalrymen in Khan Jahan Lodi’s army which was sent against the Kingdom of Bijapur in 1615 AD.[12]

According to Manucci, each officer had to bring a mixed contingent, for example a Hazari mansabdar maintained 250 soldiers of different communities viz. 64 Pathans, 64 Rajputs, 64 Mughals and 58 Sayyids, Shaikhzadas etc. The other officers maintained their contingents in similar manner. This regulation was made by Emperor Akbar [13]. Irvine, relying on Mirat-i-Ahmadi tell us that the 'Tabinin' , if horsemen, must be one third Mughals , one third Afghans and one third Rajputs. If infantry, two-third archers and one third matchlockmen.[14]

The Mughal government itself framed regulations about the clan composition of the troops to be presented for muster by the nobles. Mughal and Persian Mansabdars were to enlist one third troops of their own race while two thirds were to belong to other races, but the Afghans were not to exceed one-sixth. Nobles who were Sayyid and Shaikhzadas might enlist their own tribe , or up to one-sixth they might take Afghans. However the Afghan mansabdars were allowed to maintain two thirds of their force as Afghans and one third from other races. The Afghans thus enjoyed a distinctive privilege. Some nobles didn’t follow this customary rules, for example the Turani general Aghar Khan’s contingent consisted of only Afghans and Rajputs. [15]

Afghan soldiers were actively employed in the difficult Assam campaigns against Ahoms during the viceroyalty of Mir Jumla. Mir Jumal, the governor of Bengal, didn’t only have a strong Afghan contingent to assist him in battlefield , but also two out of three members of his advisory board, were Afghans [16]. 

Manucci states that the Afghan nobles relied more upon their tribe , and employed in their contingents men of their own clan [17] . Relating to their haughty nature, Bhimsen tell us how on a small issue Diler Khan Daudzai became angry with his Afghan soldiers and ordered them to be fired at by his topkhana. The Afghan soldiers , instead of surrendering to their master, fought and as many as 600 Afghans gave up their lives. [18]


1-  Manuccui, Storia Da Mogor or Mughal India, Vol.1, p-147
2-  Rita Joshi, "The Afghan nobility and the Mughals", p-75
3-  Manucci, Mughal India, vol-1, p-147
4-  Manucci, Mughal India, vol-II, p-241
5-  Bernier, Travels in the Mughal empire, p-210-11
6-  Bhimsen, Tarikh-i-dilkusha, p-143
7-  Rita Joshi, "The Afghan nobility and the Mughals", p-152
8-  Rita Joshi, "The Afghan nobility and the Mughals", p-131
9-  Ibid, p-132
10- Saqi Mustaid khan, Maasir-i-Alamgiri , p-252
11-  Mirza Nathan, Baharistan-i-ghaibi, vol-1, p-550
12-  Tuzk-i-Jehangiri, Vol.1, p-299
13- Mannuci, Mughal India, Vol.II, p-351
14- Abdul Aziz, "The Mansabdari sytem and Mughal army", p-306
15- Athar Ali, The Mughal nobility under Aurangzeb, p-164
16- Rita Joshi, "The Afghan nobility and the Mughals", p-166
17- Manucci, Mughal India, vol-ii, p-453
18- Bhimsen, Tarikh-i-dilkusha, p-85