Ahmad Shāh Durrānī (c.1723-1773) also known as Ahmad Shāh Abdālī (احمد شاه ابدالي) and born as Ahmad Khān Abdālī, was the founder of the Durrani Empire and is regarded by many to be the founder of modern Afghanistan. After the assassination of Nader Shah Afshar, he became the Amir of Khorasan and later became the founder and ruler of his own Empire. The Pashtuns of Afghanistan often call him Bābā ("father").
In around 1731, Nader Shah Afshar, the new ruler of Persia, began enlisting the Abdalis in his army. After conquering Kandahar in 1737, Ahmad Khan and his brother were freed by the new Persian ruler. The Ghilzai were expelled from Kandahar and the Abdalis were allowed to settle there instead.
Popular history has it that the brilliant but megalomaniac Nader Shah could see the talent in his young commander. Later on according to Pashtun legend, it is said that in Delhi Nader Shah summoned Ahmad Khan Abdali and said, "Come forward Ahmad Abdali. Remember Ahmad Khan Abdali, that after me the Kingship will pass on to you. But you should treat the descendants of Nader Shah with kindness." The young Ahmad Shah's response was, "May I be sacrficed to you. Should your majesty wish to slay me I am at your disposal. There is no cause or reason for saying such words!".
Despite being younger than other claimants, Ahmad had several overriding factors in his favour:
One of Ahmad Shah's first acts as chief was to adopt the title "Durr-i-Durrani" ("pearl of pearls" or "pearl of the age") because Nader Afshar always used this title for him.
Ahmad Shah began his military conquest by capturing Ghazni from the Ghilzai Pashtuns and then wresting Kabul from the local ruler, and thus strengthened his hold over eastern Khorasan which is most of present-day Afghanistan. Leadership of the various Afghan tribes rested mainly on the ability to provide booty for the clan, and Ahmad Shah proved remarkably successful in providing both booty and occupation for his followers. Apart from invading the Punjab three times between the years 1747-1753, he captured Herāt in 1750 and both Nishapur (Neyshābūr) and Mashhad in 1751.
Ahmad Shah first crossed the Indus river in 1748, the year after his ascension - his forces sacked and absorbed Lahore during that expedition. The following year (1749), the Mughal ruler was induced to cede Sindh and all of the Punjab including the vital trans Indus River to him, in order to save his capital from being attacked by Ahmad Shah. Having thus gained substantial territories to the east without a fight, Ahmad Shah turned westward to take possession of Herat, which was ruled by Nadir Shah's grandson, Shah Rukh of Persia. The city fell to Ahmad Shah in 1750, after almost a year of siege and bloody conflict; Ahmad Shah then pushed on into present-day Iran, capturing Nishapur and Mashhad in 1751.
Meanwhile, in the preceding three years, the Sikhs had occupied the city of Lahore, and Ahmad Shah had to return in 1751 to oust them. In 1752, he invaded and reduced Kashmir. He next sent an army to subdue the areas north of the Hindu Kush. In short order, the powerful army brought under its control the Turkmen, Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara peoples of northern, central, and western Afghanistan.
Then in 1756/57, in what was his fourth invasion of India, Ahmad Shah sacked Delhi and plundered Agra, Mathura, and Vrndavana. However, he did not displace the Mughal dynasty, which remained in nominal control as long as the ruler acknowledged Ahmad's suzerainty over the Punjab, Sindh, and Kashmir. He installed a puppet Emperor, Alamgir II, on the Mughal throne, and arranged marriages for himself and his son Timur into the Imperial family that same year. He married the daughter of the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah. Leaving his second son Timur Shah (who was wed to the daughter of (Alamgir II) to safeguard his interests, Ahmad finally left India to return to Afghanistan. On his way back he couldn't resist attacking the Golden Temple in Amristar and filled its sarovar (sacred pool) with the blood of slaughtered cows and people. Golden Temple is to the Sikhs what Mecca is to the Muslims hence his transgressions were of great proportion. Ahmad Shah captured Amritsar (1757), and sacked the Harmandir Sahib popularly known as the Golden Temple. This final act was to be the start of long lasting bitterness between Sikhs and Afghans.
The Mughal power in northern India had been declining since the reign of Aurangzeb, who died in 1707; the Marathas, who already controlled much of western and central India from their capital at Pune, were straining to expand their area of control. After Ahmad Shah sacked the Mughal capital and withdrew with the booty he coveted, the Marathas filled the power void; in 1758, within a year of Ahmad Shah's return to Kandahar, the Marathas secured possession of the Punjab, and succeeded in ousting his son Timur Shah and his court from India.
Amidst appeals from Muslim leaders like Shah Waliullah, Ahmad Shah chose to return to India and face the formidable challenge posed by the Maratha Confederacy . He declared a jihad (Islamic holy war) against the Marathas, and warriors from various Pashtun tribes, as well as other tribes such as the Baloch, Tajiks, and Muslims in India, answered his call. Early skirmishes ended in victory for the Afghans. By 1759, Ahmad Shah and his army had reached Lahore and were poised to confront the Marathas. By 1760, the Maratha groups had coalesced into a great army that probably outnumbered Ahmad Shah's forces. Once again, Panipat was the scene of a confrontation between two warring contenders for control of northern India. The Third battle of Panipat (January 1761), fought between largely Muslim and largely Hindu armies who numbered as many as 100,000 troops each, was waged along a twelve-kilometre front, and resulted in a decisive victory for Ahmad Shah.
The victory at Panipat was the high point of Ahmad Shah's and Afghan power. His empire was among the largest Islamic empires in the world at that time. However, this situation was not to last long; the empire soon began to unravel. As early as by the end of 1761, the Sikhs had begun to rebel in much of the Punjab. In 1762, Ahmad Shah crossed the passes from Afghanistan for the sixth time to crush the Sikhs. He assaulted Lahore and Amritsar. Within two years, the Sikhs rebelled again, and he launched another campaign against them in 1764, resulting in a severe Sikh defeat. During his 8th Invasion of India, the Sikhs vacated Lahore, but faced Abdali's army and general, Jahan Khan. The fear of his Indian empire falling to the Sikhs continued to obsess the Ahmad Shah Abdali's mind and he let out another campaign against Sikhs towards the close of 1766. This was his eighth invasion into India. The Sikhs had recourse to their old game of hide and seek. They vacated Lahore, but faced squarely the Afghan general, Jahan Khan at Amritsar, forcing him to retreat, with six thousand Abdali's soldiers killed. Jassa Singh Ahluwalia with an army of about twenty thousand Sikhs roamed in the neighbourhood of the Afghan camp plundering it to his heart's content. Never before Ahmad Shah Abdali had felt so helpless, his dream of capturing the whole of India was dying before his own eyes. The Sikhs thereafter ruled the region till Peshawar until 1849 losing to the British in the Second Anglo-Sikh War. 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. He was succeeded by his son, Timur Shah Durrani.
At the same this policy ensured he did not continue on the path of other conquerors like Babur or Mohammad Ghori and make India the base for his empire. What he did accomplish was create the basis for Afghanistan as a modern-day nation. Indeed, the name "Afghanistan" finds official mention for the first time ever in history, in the Anglo-Persian peace treaty of 1801. Ahmed Shah has therefore earned recognition as "Ahmad Shah Baba", the "Father" of Afghanistan.
His victory over the Marathas also influenced the history of the subcontinent and in particular British policy in the region. His refusal to continue his campaigns deeper into India prevented a clash with the East India Company and allowed them to continue to acquire power and influence after their acquisition of Bengal in 1757. However, fear of another Afghan invasion was to haunt British policy for almost half a century after the battle of Panipat. The acknowledgment of Abdali's military accomplishments are reflected by British intelligence reports on Panipat, which referred to Ahmad Shah as the 'King of Kings'. Fear of an alliance between the French and Afghans led in 1798 to a British envoy, to the Persian court, being instructed to stir up the Persians against the Afghan Empire.
The most important historical monument in Kandahar is the mausoleum of Ahmad Shah Durrani, in his tomb his epitaph is written:
The King of high rank, Ahmad Shah Durrani, Was equal to Kisra in managing the affairs of his government. In his time, from the awe of his glory and greatness, The lioness nourished the stag with her milk. From all sides in the ear of his enemies there arrived A thousand reproofs from the tongue of his dagger. The date of his departure for the house of mortality Was the year of the Hijra 1186 (1772 A.D.)
Wrote Mountstuart Elphinstone of Ahmad Shah:
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.