Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Afghan Rebellions (1709–1727)

Afghan Rebellions (1709–1727)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Ghilzai and Abdali Afghans (with Uzbek participation) vs. Safavid Persian rulers of Afghanistan

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Afghanistan and Persia


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Afghan forces sought independence from the Safavid Persians.

OUTCOME: An independent Afghan state was established, but much of Afghanistan remained under Persian rule until the PERSIAN-AFGHAN WAR (1726–1738).

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Unknown; at the important battle of Herat (1719) the Persians fielded at least 30,000 men.

CASUALTIES: At Kandahar in 1709 the Persians lost 24,000; at Herat the Persians lost 10,000.


In 1709 the Ghilzai Afghans rebelled at Kandahar against their Persian overlords after the Persians attempted to impose Shiite religious doctrine on the mostly Sunni Ghilzai. Kandahar quickly fell to the Ghizai, and all Persian attempts to retake the city during 1709–10 failed. In 1711 Khusru Khan (d. 1711) led a new expedition against the city, setting up a siege. The Ghilzai defenders were on the verge of surrender when Afghan raiders menaced the attackers. Seeing that the Persians were vulnerable, the Ghilzai, led by Mir Vais (d. 1715) took the offensive, sallying out from the city and killing Khusru Khan and 24,000 of his 25,000-man force. Mir Vais then declared Afghanistan independent.

The example of the Ghilzai triumph at Kandahar inspired another Afghan people, the Abdali of Herat, to rise under the leadership of Asadullah Khan (fl. 1717–25) in 1717. After liberating their city, the Abdali joined forces with the Uzbeks and invaded the Persian province of Khorasan.

The Persians responded in 1719 with a 30,000-man army sent to retake Herat. Outnumbered two to one, Asadullah nevertheless defeated the invaders, inflicting some 10,000 casualties while suffering 3,000 killed and wounded.

In 1720 the Ghilzai invaded Persia, taking the city of Kurman. However, the invaders were driven back before the end of the year. War between Afghanistan and Persia settled into a series of border raids until January 1722, when the Ghilzai again took Kerman. From there they invaded Gulnabad, just 11 miles east of the Persian capital of Isfahan. A Persian army of 50,000 was sent against the invaders but was itself driven off, and the Ghilzai laid siege to Isfahan for the next six months. The city’s garrison surrendered in October 1722, Shah Husain (1702–48) abdicated, and Mahmud Khan (d. 1725), son of Mir Vais, established an Afghan government in Isfahan.

As the Safavid Persian collapse became apparent, Russian and Turkish forces rushed into the country in an attempt to seize power (see RUSSO-PERSIAN WAR [1722–1723]). The Ghilzai Afghans, however, fought on, taking Tehran in 1725, then defeating the forces of the Ottoman Turks as well as the Russians. In the meantime, a new and powerful leader, Nadir Khan (1688–1747), rose among the Persians and delayed the final liberation of Afghanistan until mid-century.

Further reading: Mohammed Ali, A Short History of Afghanistan (Kabul: N. Pub., 1970); Louis Dupree, Afghanistan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973).

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