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ZAMAN SHAH – THE LAST GREAT DURRANI RULER

Zaman Shah Durrani in Durbar
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After Timur’s death in 1793 there followed a period of badshahgardi or palace revolutions, as his sons fought each other in a vicious civil war and were not up to the task of maintaining the Empire which fell to pieces. As each Prince sought power for himself, so the actual power of the Durrani Empire ironically diminished . Timur’s successor and son from his favourite Yusufzai wife was Zaman Shah. Zaman Shah was observed in Ramadan 1215 AH/January 1801, by a Persian spy named Mahomed Sadick, sent by the East India Company who stated:
“The king’s own establishment consisting of the Nukkara Khana, elephants, palanquins, shatars, tents and were very splendid and magnificent – I saw him when he left Cabul when he wore a great number of Jewels, particularly four Tikkas in his cap.”
Zaman Shah’s army was not composed solely of Muslims, in Kashmir for example, there was a force of “15000 Horse which are constantly kept up in that district and are composed of Kuzzulbashies, Afghans, Seiks and Dogras ( a tribe of Hindoos).”

Shah-Zaman-Khan

Zaman Shah tried to establish a centralised Afghanistan, including having a national army by so doing he alienated Pashtun nobles who had traditionally provided tribal levies for the Afghan military. This in turn led to Pashtun tribal uprisings, which needed to be quashed and all the time the British and the Sikhs were increasing in power. At the same time Zaman Shah’s wazir, chief minister, Payendah Khan Barakzai, who had also been Wazir under Timur Shah, was not seeing eye to eye with the young Zaman Shah. In particular Payendah was not prepared to accept a centralised Afghanistan free from tribal influences.
Zaman Shah was a popular ruler, but not the most intelligent of men and was under the domination of Payendah Khan as Mahomed Sadick a Persian spying for the British narrated:
“With regard to the disposition of the people towards Zemaun Shah’s Government, I have only to remark that the Raieets (farmers) in general are very well contented both with the King and Wuffadar Khan as that minister is very particular in causing every thing to be paid for that is taken from them on account of the Government.
The army and the warlike tribes in general are well affected towards the King though they have lately begun to be much displeased at his retaining Wuffedar Khan as Vizier he being extremely unpopular amongst them – The reason why the principal Sirdars and many of the great offices of state have such a strong dislike to the Minister is that he engrosses all patronage to himself and will permit no one to have access to the king but by means of his own introduction and he is extremely jealous of his influence that whenever he perceives any person likely to get into personal favor with Zemaun Shah he makes a point of getting him dismissed immediately.

Zaman Shah Durrani in Durbar, surrounded by attendants, Lahore, 1799. British Museum

Zaman Shah’s character is described by Mahomed Sadick in the following words:
“Zemaun Shah is humane, generous and sincere – he is not possessed of much penetration being easily imposed upon by a plausible story and generally believing what he last hears without making deep reflections. He is more of a scholar than a Soldier and spends most of his time in reading and writing the Koran. He is a strict observer of the precepts of religion and his moral character is upon the whole very good”.
Since Payendah and Zaman were striving for different agendas, Payendah resolved to overthrow Zaman Shah and instead appoint Zaman’s full brother Prince Shuja ul Mulk as the new Shah. Payendah sought an elected system of leadership whereby the Shah could be replaced if he was deemed unfit for office. Regretfully for Payendah his coup plans were leaked and Payendah paid with his head. The execution of Payendah heralded deep tribal splits between the Saddozai leaders and the Barakzai tribe of which Payendah Khan had been leader.

DURRANI KINGS. Zaman Shah. AH 1207-1215 / AD 1793-1800. AR Double Rupee. Kabul, yr 5. Scarce !

Zaman Shah, whatever his shortcomings may have been, was a leader with a vision who hoped to outwit his foreign rivals: and while the British and Russians contested for power with Napoleon in Europe, Zaman sought to create a great army and conquer India thereby keeping the British out . Indeed Napoleon and Tipu-Sultan had an alliance against the British and had wanted to persuade Zaman Shah to attack India with them in order to put an end to British power in India, “In 1797 he despatched an embassy to Zeman Shah Abdali, ruler of that country, proposing an alliance between that prince and the Muslim powers of India to drive out the English and the Brahmins (Marathas).” Tipu Sultan wrote the following letter to Zaman Shah, “It has become proper and incumbent upon the leaders of the faithful, that uniting together, they exterminate the (British) infidels. I am very desirous of engaging in this pursuit … my exalted ambition has for its object a holy war” . Furthermore Tipu stated “the supremacy of the English was the source of evil to all God’s creatures.” There existed a long-standing relationship between Afghanistan and Mysore. Yet Mysore much to the vexation of the East India Company was a reminder that India was far from British. However, the alliance of the Afghans under Zeman Shah and Mysore under Tipu Sultan, offered a tantalising vision of a free and altogether different India, where the British would have no role whatsoever. The tiger of India, would meet the British lion in battle to decide the future of India. The East India Company alarmed by these moves sent a native agent named Ghulam Sarwar to the little known Kingdom of Shah Zeman. Sarwar compiled considerable intelligence about the Durrani states financial and military affairs, which the Company would put to good use. Afghanistan in the Age of Empires (2018).

ذریعہ Farrukh Husain

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