Ahmad Shah (1724-1773), founder of the Durrani dynasty in Afghanistan, was the son of Sammaun-Khan, hereditary chief of the Abdali tribe. While still a boy Ahmad fell into the hands of the hostile tribe of Ghilzais, by whom he was kept prisoner at Kandahar. In March 1738 he was rescued by Nadir Shah, who soon afterwards gave him the command of a body of cavalry composed chiefly of Abdalis. On the assassination of Nadir in 1747, Ahmad, having failed in an attempt to seize the Persian treasures, retreated to Afghanistan, where he easily persuaded the native tribes to assert their independence and accept him as their sovereign. He was crowned at Kandahar in October 1747, and about the same time he changed the name of his tribe to Durrani.
Two things may be said to have contributed greatly to the consolidation of his power. He interfered as little as possible with the independence of the different tribes, demanding from each only its due proportion of tribute and military service; and he kept his army constantly engaged in brilliant schemes of foreign conquest. Being possessed of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, and being fortunate enough to intercept a consignment of treasure on its way to the shah of Persia, he had all the advantages which great wealth can give.
He first crossed the Indus River in 1748, when he took Lahore; and in 1751, after a feeble resistance on the part of the Muslim viceroy, he became master of the entire Punjab. In 1750 he took Nishapur, and in 1752 subdued Kashmir. His great expedition to Delhi was undertaken in 1756 in order to avenge himself on the Mogul Empire for the recapture of Lahore.
Ahmad entered Delhi with his army in triumph, and for more than a month the city was given over to pillage. The shah himself added to his wives a princess of the imperial family, and bestowed another upon his son Timur Shah, whom he made governor of the Punjab and Sirhind. As his viceroy in Delhi he left a Rohilla chief in whom he had all confidence, but scarcely had he crossed the Indus when the Muslim wazir drove the chief from the city, killed the Great Mogul and set another prince of the family, a tool of his own, upon the throne. The Maratha chiefs availed themselves of these circumstances to endeavour to possess themselves of the whole country, and Ahmad was compelled more than once to cross the Indus in order to protect his territory from them and the Sikhs, who were constantly attacking his garrisons.
In 1758 the Marathas obtained possession of the Punjab, but on the 6th of January 1761 they were totally routed by Ahmad in the great battle of Panipat. In a later expedition he inflicted a severe defeat upon the Sikhs, but had to hasten westward immediately afterwards in order to quell an insurrection in Afghanistan. Meanwhile the Sikhs again rose, and Ahmad was now forced to abandon all hope of retaining the command of the Punjab.
After lengthened suffering from a terrible disease, said to have been cancer in the face, he died in 1773, leaving to his son Timur the kingdom he had founded.
Ahmad Shah (1722-72), Abdali Durrani. First Emir of Afghanistan and founder of the Sadozai dynasty of the Abdali tribe. In October 1747 elected King (Shah) of Afghanistan by an assembly of Pashtun chiefs the new leader of the Afghans changed his title from khan (chief) to shah (king in Persian) and assumed the name Durrani (Pearl of Pearls). Immediately he began to consolidate and enlarge his kingdom. He seized Kabul. He wrested from the Moghuls their territories west of the Indus. The Pashtun tribesmen rallied to his banner, and Ahmad Shah led them on nine campaigns into India in search of booty and territorial conquest. He added Kashmir, Sind, and the Western Punjab to his domains and founded an empire which extended from eastern Persia to northern India and from the Ammu Darya to the Indian Ocean. In 1756 he occupied Delhi and carried off as much wealth as possible, thereby enriching his treasury. By 1761, his kingdom was larger than present Afghanistan.
He led a contingent of his tribesmen in the service of Nadir Shah, king of Persia, who won control of most of Afghanistan and part of India. When Nadir died, Ahmad founded an independent Afghan kingdom. He invaded the Indian Punjab six times between 1748 and 1752, and he seized and sacked Delhi. In 1761 he defeated an Indian army at Panipat, India. Although he was a powerful military leader, Ahmad never succeeded in permanently ruling India; he subsequently withdrew into Afghanistan.
Ahmad Shah was an outstanding general and a just ruler. He governed with the help of a council of chiefs, each responsible for his own people. Thus all matters of national issues were centralized, but each chief ruled his own tribe. This kind of arrangement won the support of the people, and was prevailing political pattern in Afghanistan until the monarchy ended in 1973. Ahmad Shah's vast realm soon broke apart. Afghans were better fighters than administrators.
Ahmad Shah left twenty-three sons, but failed to nominate an heir. Ahmad Shah died of a natural death in April 1772. During the next 25 years the royal princes plotted and intrigued for possession of the Afghan throne while their empire fell apart around them. Three different brothers briefly secured the throne, one of them twice, each soon falling victim to one another, but extended to their royal supporters and advisors. In 1818, the youngest of the Mohammadzai sons, Dost Mohammad, challenged and defeated Shah Mahmud of the Sadozai family near Kabul.