ABDALI, ancient name of a large tribe, or more particularly of a group of Afghan tribes, better known by the name of Dorrani since the reign of Ahmad Shah Dorrani (or Ahmad Shah Abdali: 1747-72). This tribal confederation groups the Pashtun clans of the west, who are to be distinguished from the Ghilzi (sing. Ghilzay), comprising those of the east. The eponymous ancestor of the Abdali is said to be Abdal, son of Tarin, son of Kharshbun. Tradition claims that Abdal bore this surname (laqab) because he had been in the service of one of the abdal, who represent the fifth degree in the hierarchy of Sufi saints. It is not possible to ascertain if this is only popular etymology or reflects historical reality.
The Abdali are divided into two branches: (a) The Zirak, who, especially in the region of Qandahar, include the clans of the Popalzai, the Alikozai, the Barakzai, and the Achakzai. The last king of Afghanistan (1933-73). Mohammad Zaher Shah, was a Mohammadzai of the clan of the Barakzai. The Mohammadzai had reigned since 1826, just as the Sadozai, an offspring of the Popalzai, had reigned from 1747 to 1818. This illustrates their long political power. (b) The Panjpao, which include the Nurzai, the Alizai and the Eshagzai or Sakzai, reside for the most part in the west of the country (Helmand, Farah, Sistan and Herat).
One of the Most Prominent Abdali Personality is Ahmad Shah Abdali. He was the founder of the Durrani monarchy, rose from the mere character of a partisan, to a distinguished command in the service of the Persian conqueror; Nadir Shah. Of the family of the Saddozis, and chief of the tribe of Ahdali, the most illustrious family of the Afghans, he was, in his youth, imprisoned in a fortress, with his elder brother Zulfikar Khan, by Husain Khan, governor of Kandahar for the Ghalzis, which powerful tribe of Afghans, after overrunning the whole of Persia, had, a few years previously, trodden the throne of the sufis in the dust, and conquered that mighty empire.
Ahmad Shah and his brother, whose tribe were at feud with the Ghalzis, owed their freedom to Nadir Shah who in the year A.D. 1736-37, laid siege to Kandahar, which he captured. The brothers, with a powerful body of their clansmen, followed the fortunes of the conqueror; and greatly distinguished themselves in the war with the Turks; and were rewarded with the lands now held by the Durrani tribe in the vicinity of Kandahar.
On the day subsequent to the murder of Nadir Shah, (the particulars of which, as belonging to Persian history, need not be here detailed, although one among the causes of it has been attributed to his attachment to the Afghan troops in his service) a battle ensued between the Persians on the one side, and the Afghans and Uzbaks on the other; but the event does not appear to have decided any thing. But after this affair; Ahmad Shah saw that no time was to be lost in looking to the safety of himself and clansmen, and he accordingly fought his way through the greater part of Khura-san with a small force of between 2000 and 3000 horsemen, and repaired, by rapid marches, to Kandahar, which had now become the head-quarters of the Abdali tribe, and chief city of south-western Afghanistan. Here he intercepted an immense treasure, which had been sent from India for the use of Nadir Shah, which Ahmad appropriated, after compelling the Durranis, who had first siezed upon it, to give it up.
In October of the same year, Ahmad, then but twenty-three years old, assumed the title of Shah or King of Afghanistan, and was crowned at Kandahar; with great pomp, the different chiefs of the various Afghan tribes, with but few exceptions, and the Kazal-bash, Baluchis, and llazarahs, assisting; thus laying the foundation of the Durrani monarchy. And although the warlike and indepciident people, who now became his subjects, had never been accustomed to a sovereign's yoke, save in being compelled to pay tribute to a foreign ruler; yet such were his energy and capacity for government, that he was successful in gaining the affection of his own tribe; and with the exception of the Ghalzis, ever a most turbulent and unruly sept, he succeeded in instilling among the other Afghan tribes a spirit of attachment to their native monarch; and also in others, not Afghans, but dwelling in Afghanistan. With the Balüch and Hazarah tribes, his neighbours, he formed an offensive and defensive alliance.
Having first brought the refractory Ghalzis into subjection, Ahmad Shah began his conquests; and such was the uninterrupted tide of his success, that by the summer of 1751 he had conquered the whole of the countries, extending as far west as Nishapur in Persian Khursan. In 1752 he conquered Kashmir, and obtained from the Mughal Emperor of Hindustan, a cession of the whole of the tract of country as far east as Sirhind, thus laying the founda-tion of a kingdom, which soon became formidable to surrounding nations.
Ahmad Shah had now leisure to turn his attention to internal affairs, and to the settlement of Afghanistan and the newly-acquired provinces. He thus passed the next four years in tranquillity, and appears to have had time to devote himself to literature. He used to hold, at stated periods, what is termed a Majlis-i-Eeulama, or Assembly of the Learned, the early part of which was generally devoted to divinity and civil law-for Ahmad Shah himself was a Molawi and concluded with conversations on science and poetry. He wrote a Collection of Odes in Pushto his own native tongue, tinged, as usual, with the mysticisms of the sufis, and from that work the following specimens have been taken. The work is scarce, particularly in eastern Afghanistan. He was also the author of several poems in the Persian language.
In the year 1756 Ahmad Shah had again to buckle on the sword, and advance into the Panjab, which the Mughals about this time attempted to recover; but he quickly regained all that had been lost; drove them out of the Panjab; and advanced straight upon Dilhi, which he entered after but a faint opposition. His troops having become sickly, from passing the whole of the hot season in India, warned Ahmad Shah to return, which he did soon after, having compelled the Mughal Emperor to bestow the Panjab and Sindh upon his son Timur; who had already been married to a Mugbal princess. Ahmad Shah passed the next winter at Kandahar; but was obliged to set out soon after, for the purpose of quelling disturbances in Persia and Turkistan.
During the next year; matters had gone on badly in India; and Prince Timur was unable to stem the tide of Maharata conquest. which had now rolled upon the Panjab. The Maharatas had taken Sirhind, and were advancing from the west, which put Prince Timur under the necessity of retiring across the Indus with his troops. The Maharatas, being now unopposed, pushed on as far as the Hydaspes or Jhilum, and also detached a force to take possession of Multan.
These events happened in the summer of 1758; and Ahmad Shah was preparing to march into India, when he was detained by the rebellion of the Baluchis and although this matter was subsequently settled by negociation, it was not until the winter of 1759 that he could cross the Indus and advance towards Hindustan, the Maharatas retreating before him towards Dilhi, with the intention of covering that city. After totally defeating them at Budli, Ahmad Shah again captured Dilhi. He afterwards pursued his conquests in the Do-ab; but subsequently encamped at a place near Anup-ahahr, where, being joined by the Wazir of Hindustan, with the few available troops of the Mughal Emperor; he prepared for passing the monsoon, or rainy season, and for the final struggle with the Maharatas, upon which the fate of India rested.
The strength of Ahmad Shah's army consisted of 41,800 horse, his own subjects, on whom he chiefly relied; 28,000 Rohilahs- Afghans, who were descended from those tribes who had emigrated from Afghanistan at different periods, and settled in India and about 10,000 Hindustani troops, under their own chiefs. He had also 700 zamburaks, or camel swivels, small pieces carrying balls of about a pound weight, and a few pieces of artillery.
The Maharata army, under Wiswas Rao, and Saeddasheo Rao-better known as the Bhow-consisted of about 70,000 horse, 15,000 infantry, trained after the European fashion, and 200 pieces of artillery, besides numberless shutturnalls, or zamburaks.
At length, on the 7th of January 1761, after facing each other for some months, the Maharatas, who had been blockaded in their own intrenched camp at Panipatt, a few miles from Dilhi, were, from the extremities to which they were put, for want of food and forage, under the necessity of attacking the Durrani army. The details of this great and important battle need not be enlarged on here: suffice it to say, that Ahmad Shah was completely successful. The Maharatas were entirely defeated and put to flight; and Wiwas Rao, the heir-apparent of the Maharata empire, and almost the whole of the army, perished in the flight or pursuit.
The crowning victory at Panipatt, which was fatal to the power of the Maharataa, laid Hindustan at the feet of Ahmad Shah; but he, seeing the difficulty of retaining so remote a dominion, adhered to the wise plan he had, from the first, carved out, and contented himself with that portion of India that had formerly been ceded to him, bestowing the rest on such native chiefs as had aided him in the struggle.
In the spring of 1761, Ahmad Shah, returned to Kabul; and from that period, up to the spring of 1773, was actively employed against foreign and domestic foes; but at that time his health, which had been long declining, continued to get worse, and pre-vented his engaging in any foreign expeditions. His complaint was a cancer in the face, which had afflicted him first in 1764, and at last occasioned his death. He died at Murghah, in Afghanistan, in the beginning of June 1773, in the fiftieth year of his age.
The countries under his dominion extended, at the time of his death, from the west of Khurasan, to Sirhind on the Jumna, and from the Oxus to the Indian Ocean, all either secured by treaty, or in actual possession.
The character of Ahmad Shah has been so admirably depicted by Mountstuart Elphinstone, that I shall not hesitate to give it here in full.
"The character of Ahmad Shah appears to have been admirably suited to the situation in which he was placed. His enterprise and decision enabled him to profit by the confusion that followed the death of Nadir, and the prudence and moderation, which he acquired from his dealings with his own nation, were no less necessary to govern a warlike and independent people, than the bold and commanding turn of his own genius.
His military courage and activity are spoken of with admiration, both by his own subjects, and the nations with whom he was engaged, either in wars or alliances. He seems to have been naturally disposed to mildness and clemency; and though it is impossible to acquire sovereign power; and perhaps, in Asia, to maintain it, without crimes; yet the memory of no Eastern Prince is stained with fewer acts of cruelty and injustice.
"In his personal character he seems to have been cheerful, affable, and good-natured. He maintained considerable dignity on state occasions, but at other times his manners were plain and familiar; and with the Durranis he kept up the same equal and popular demeanour which was usual with their Khans or Chiefs before they assumed the title of King. He treated Moollahs and holy men with great respect, both from policy and inclination. He was himself a divine and an author, and was always ambitious of the character of a saint.
"His policy towards the different parts of his doniinions was to rely principally on conciliation with the Afghans and BalUchIs with this difference between the nations, that he applied himself to the whole people in the first case, and only to the chief in the other. His possessions in Turkistan he kept under by force; but left the Tartar chiefs of the country unremoved, and used them with moderation. The Indian provinces were kept by force alone; and in Khurasan he trusted to the attachment of some chiefs, took hostages from others, and was ready to carry his arms against any who disturbed his plans.
The handsome tomb of Ahmad Shah stands near the palace at Kandahar. It is held in great estimation by the Durranis, and is respected as a sanctuary, no one venturing to touch one who has taken refuge there. It is not uncommon for persons of even the highest rank, to give up the world, and spend their lives at the monarch's tomb; and certainly, if ever an Asiatic King deserved the gratitude of his country, it was Ahmad Shah, the "Pearl of the Durranis."
Ahmad Shah was the grandfather of the unfortunate Shah-Shujase-ul-Mulk, whom the British re-seated on the throne of the Durranis in 1839, which affair terminated so unfortunately for all concerned.