Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Pashtun soldiery and nobility of the Mughal empire

By Khan Barmazid

The Pashtuns had a chequered history within the Mughal nobility. The short-lived Sur dynasty, followed by the Mughal restoration, made the Pashtun chiefs suspects in the eyes of the Mughals. Akbar thoroughly disliked the Pashtuns as a body. According to Manucci,  Akbar left it as a law to his descendants that the that Pashtuns should never receive a higher pay than 4000 rupees per year. That they were not be appointed governors and should only be employed as soldiers. In another place Manucci remarked , "In the whole of Hindustan , from Kabul to the confines of Bengal , there may be one hundred fortresses. To these the King sends faithful governors . Generally they are men in his service, being princes whose fidelity have already been tested. They are Rajputs, Saiyids and Mughals. But the Pathans are never allowed to hold any of these for fear that they may plot some treason, as they did to King Humayun."

The reaction of Emperor Akbar to the news of the death of a petty Pashtun officer , Daulat Khan Lodi at Ahmadnagar in 1601, expresses his distrust of the Pashtuns. The Emperor is said to have remarked, "This day Sher Khan Sur has departed from the world". This indicates the distrust with which Akbar still regarded the Pashtuns even at a time when his empire had reached the zenith of its prosperity. Although Pashtuns took part in many of the Akbar's campaigns and distinguished themselves, yet they were never entrusted with a major army command.  But as soldiers and officers of lower ranks, they were freely recruited because of their valor in battlefields.

Emperor Jehangir realized that  if the Pashtuns, who constituted a large part of the Mughal army, could be won over , they might render valuable services to him. So he promoted certain Pashtuns to higher ranks. The information contained in Tarikh-i-Khan-Jahani and Zakhirat-ul-Khawanin indicates that his Mughal nobility was sharply divided on the question of admission and promotion being even to the Pashtuns. The faction which was particularly hostile to them , was led by Sharif Khan, Jehangir's great favorite and principle advisor of his early years. Those favouring the Pashtuns included Mirza Aziz Koka , an old Akbar Shahi noble. Those who were against the Pashtuns represented that it was unpolitic to shower so much favour on a Pashtun, and went to the extent of saying that Pashtuns were the enemies of the Mughal empire , and should be expelled from its borders. Farid Bukhari adds that even orders to this effect had been issued. But Mirza Aziz Koka protested that there were a large number of Pashtuns throughout the country and that the order would lead to a great  disturbance. Jehangir accepted Mirza Aziz Koka's argument and the order was withdrawn.

During the reign of of Jehangir Mughal policy towards the Pashtuns was modified to the extent that they were admitted into service without much prejudice , but promotions to high ranks and appointments to important assignments were not still easily given. This might have been because of their extensive tribal feelings. Farid Bukhari says that after the fall of the Kandahar , chieftains of Kakar, Tarin, Abdali and Panni tribes from near Kandahar came to Khan Jahan Lodi in Multan on account of tribal feelings and offered to serve in his army in large numbers till they had conquered Isfahan provided he promised to pay them three Tankas a day to the horsemen and two Tankas a day to the field soldiers. Khan Jahan Lodi refused , saying that if the King came to know of this agreement , he would never allow him to live.

Shah Jahan also showed much caution and restraint towards Pashtuns. In 1640 Emperor Shah Jahan appointed his distinguished Pashtun general Bahadur Khan Daudzai in Bundelkhand to suppress the Bundelas and gave him the fief of Islamabad there. Immediately after the apartment , Shah Jahan thought that he had acted unwisely in sending Bahadur Khan Daudzai alias Rohilla to Bundelkhand and he feared that he might convert Bundelkhand into Rohilkhand . So, he recalled him. 

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 " . Likewise Bernier who lived in India from 1658-1667, and was closely associated with Mughal courts , states that Mughals were forced to employ the Pashtuns because of their martial qualities. They , as well as Rajputs, were used to quell disturbances , as also to counter-balance each other.

Aurangzeb as a prince seems to have made an attempt to win over the Pashtuns. In a letter he expressed surprise that his proposal for promoting a Pashtun officer is turned down by the Emperor simply because of his race . But 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 a Pashtun chief Sardar Tarin was found to be in league with the rebel prince Akbar). But through the complicated political conditions of his reign , the rise of the Shivaji and Marathas in the Deccan, wars against the Deccani sultanates , the alienation of the Rajputs and the rebellion of Jats and the Satnamis, Aurangzeb in fact had to depend more on the arms of the Pashtuns. The Pashtun general Daud Khan Daudzai distinguished himself in many a campaign in his reign. Still Aurangzeb never entrusted him with an independent army command. In 1683, Diler Khan was fighting against the Bijapuris as second in command to Prince Shah Alam. Shah Alam intended to rebel against his father and seize the throne. He tried to induce Diler Khan to join him. Failing to win him over, the Prince secretly poisoned him. Manucci says that Aurangzeb was grieved at the death of so faithful a general , for whom he had considerable affection, in spite of him being a Pashtun.

Manucci's writings further reveals the distrust of the Mughals to the Pashtuns. He says, "Upon birthdays, days of festival, and New Year's day, the emperor and the princes are weighed. On those days, the chief ladies of the court are obliged to attend at the palace to make their compliments to the queens and princesses. From this ceremony the wives of the Pathan captains are exempted ".  The exclusion of the Pashtun ladies from festive occasions shows that although the Mughals continued to enlist the services of the Pashtuns , yet they would not rely on them even in the reign of Aurangzeb. The writings of the French traveler , who lived in India from 1658 to 1667 and was intimately connected with the Mughal court express the same spirit of distrust of the Mughals towards the Pashtuns. They confirm that it was a military necessity only which obliged the Mughal emperor to engage the Pashtuns in his service. 

The Pashtuns came from a tribal society and even when they were appointed Mughal officers, they still remained tribal leaders and employed men from their own tribes and clans. Manucci points out that they wore aristocratic dress only for the court. When they returned, they put away the dress for the simple costumes of their race. Manucci states that the Pashtun nobles relied more upon their tribe, and employed in their contingents men of their own clan .Relating to their haughty nature, Bhimsen tell us how on a small issue Diler Khan Daudzai became angry with his Pashtun soldiers and ordered them to be fired at by his topkhana. The Pashtun soldiers , instead of surrendering to their master, fought and as many as 600 Pashtuns gave up their lives.

In Central Asian campaigns of Mughals 1645-46, the Pashtuns along with the Rajputs were associated with vanguard of the army , under the supreme command of prince Murad Bakhsh . Aurangzeb, when arrived in Afghanistan appointed Bahadur Khan Daudzai in-charge of the vanguard of his army . As the Pashtuns 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 Pashtun clansmen , who formed the storming party , lost their lives. These included important Pashtun lieutenants, like Ahmad Khan Lodi , Asadudduin Ahmad Daudzai and many other men of artillery.

Some of the Pashtun tribesmen were noted for their superior archery skills. A Mughal officer Mirza Nathan had a contingent of Dilzak Pashtuns who are described in his book, Baharistan-i-Ghaibi, to be very good archers .These Dilazak Pashtuns were deported to India from their native place by Jehangir and large number of them were recruited 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.


1- Manuccui, Storia Da Mogor or Mughal
2- Rita Joshi, "The Afghan nobility and the Mughals"
3- Bernier, Travels in the Mughal empire
4- Mirza Nathan, Baharistan-i-Ghaibi
5- Tuzk-i-Jehangiri
6- Abdul Aziz, "The Mansabdari sytem and Mughal army"
7- Athar Ali, "The Mughal nobility under Aurangzeb
8-  Afzal Hussain, "Afghan Nobility under Akbar and Jahangir—The Family of Daulat Khan Lodi "

Shahjahan receives his son Aurangzeb in court at Lahore fort

Shah Jahan in Old Age , circa 1650