The Durrani dynasty

The commander of the Shah's 4,000-man Afghan bodyguard was Ahmad Khan Abdali, who returned to Qandahar where he was elected king (shah) by a tribal council. He adopted the title Durr-i Durran ("Pearl of Pearls"). Supported by most tribal leaders, Ahmad Shah Durrani extended Afghan control from Meshed to Kashmir and Delhi, from the Amu River to the Arabian Sea. The Durrani was the second greatest Muslim empire in the second half of the 18th century, surpassed in size only by the Ottoman. 

Ahmad Shah died in 1772 and was succeeded by his son, Timur Shah, who received but nominal homage from the tribal chieftains. Much of his reign was spent in quelling their rebellions. Because of this opposition, Timur shifted his capital from Qandahar to Kabul in 1776.

Zaman Shah (1793-1800).  

After the death of Timur in 1793, his fifth son, Zaman, seized the throne with the help of Sardar Payenda Khan, a chief of the Barakzay. Zaman then turned to India with the object of repeating the exploits of Ahmad Shah. This alarmed the British, who induced Fath 'Ali Shah of Persia to bring pressure upon the Afghan king and divert his attention from India. The shah went a step further, helping Mahmud, governor of Herat and a brother of Zaman, with men and money and encouraging him to advance on Qandahar. Mahmud, assisted by his vizier, Fath Khan Barakzay, eldest son of Sardar Payenda Khan, and by Fath 'Ali Shah, took Qandahar and advanced on Kabul. Zaman, in India, hurried back to Afghanistan. There he was handed over to Mahmud, blinded, and imprisoned (1800). The Durrani Empire had begun to disintegrate after 1798, when Zaman Shah appointed a Sikh, Ranjit Singh, as governor of Lahore.

Shah Mahmud (1800-03; 1809-18).

Shah Mahmud left affairs of state to Fath Khan. Some of the chiefs who had grievances against the King or his ministers joined forces and invited Zaman's brother Shah Shoja' to Kabul. The intrigue was successful. Shah Shoja' occupied the capital, and Mahmud sued for peace.

Shah Shoja' (1803-09; 1839-42).

The new king, Shah Shoja', ascended the throne in 1803. The chiefs had become powerful and unruly, and the outlying provinces were asserting their independence. The Sikhs of the Punjab were encroaching upon Afghan territories from the east, while the Persians were threatening from the west.

Napoleon, then at the zenith of his power in Europe, proposed to Alexander I of Russia a combined invasion of India. A British mission, headed by Mountstuart Elphinstone, met Shah Shoja' at Peshawar to discuss mutual defense against this threat, which never developed. A treaty of friendship was concluded (June 7, 1809), the shah promising to oppose the passage of foreign troops through his dominions. Shortly after the mission left Peshawar news was received that Kabul had been occupied by the forces of Mahmud and Fath Khan. Shah Shoja''s troops were routed, and he withdrew from Afghanistan and found asylum with the British at Ludhiana in 1815.


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