The foreign policy of the Mughals was related to the interaction with the three great powers of the period namely the Uzbek empire of Central Asia, the Safaid empire of Persia (Iran) and the Ottoman empire of Turkey.
The Mughals’ original home was in Central Asia. They were driven out by the Uzbeks. The Uzbeks were Sunni Muslims.
The Safaid rulers of Persia were Shia Muslims and they considered themselves supreme and true successors of the Prophet Muhammad. The Muslims rulers of Turkey claimed themselves to be the true representatives of the Khalifa of Baghdad. They were Sunni Muslims.
Main objectives of the foreign policy of the Mughals:
The foreign policy of the Mughals was guided by the following objectives and principles:
1. To safeguard India from foreign invasions.
2. To maintain balance of power among the Uzbeks, the Safaids and the Turks (Ottoman empire).
3. To increase trade and commerce with other countries.
4. To conquer their ancestral land in Central Asia—homeland from where Babur had been turned out.
5. To check the power of the Afghan tribes, that lived in the mountain region between Punjab and Kabul.
Relations of the Mughals with the Uzbeks in Central Asia:
Before analyzing the relations among the three powers, it would be desirable to understand their location.
Central Asia included Trans-Oxina:
Trans-Oxina (the region in which the Amu Darya) earlier called Oxus river flowed, Badakhan, Balk, Bukhara, Samarqand etc. The Uzbek empire, a land of desert land scapes was in the heart of Central Asia. It was north of Persia and Afghanistan. Its western frontier touched the Turkish empire and south-western touched the Persian empire. Turkey is between the Black sea and the Mediterranean Sea and Persia is between Turkey and Afghanistan. Although both the Mughals and the Uzbeks were Sunni Muslims, their political interests clashed.
Babur and the Uzbeks:
Babur’s homeland was Fargana. He was defeated by the Uzbeks and was deprived of Fargana and Samarqand. After leaving his homeland, Babur moved towards Kabul and he captured Kabul and Kandhar. The Uzbeks had friendly relations with Turkey. Persia’s borders and the newly created kingdom of Babur were linked.
Persia had been defeated by Turkey. The Uzbeks had friendly relations with Turkey. To maintain balance of power, Babur leaned towards Persia. However, Babur’s efforts to capture Fargana and Samarqand failed. Babur occupied Kandhar and there was not much opposition from Persia.
Humayun, in his wanderings took shelter with the Shah of Persia who helped him in regaining India.
The Uzbek ruler wanted that Akbar should have no friendship with Persia. This proposition was not acceptable to Akbar and he politely declined.
Akbar and the Uzbek ruler entered into a treaty which included the following terms:
(a) The Mughal ruler not to take any interest in Badakshan and Balkh.
(b) The Uzbek ruler not to interfere in Kabul and Kandhar.
During the reign of Jahangir, Persia snatched Kandhar from the Mughals and Baghdad from the Turks. Then Jahangir, the Uzbeks and the Turks collaborated together to start a triangular fight against Persia. This collaboration was short-lived.
Shah Jahan sent several expeditions to conquer Bukhara from the Uzbeks but had to suffer heavy losses. In the beginning of the campaigns prince Aurangzeb had an upper hand and he had even captured Bukhara. But on his return journey, his victory was turned into a rout. The Mughal forces suffered grievous losses—in men and money. It exposed the hollowness of Shah Jahan’s power.
Aurangzeb made no attempt to recapture the areas occupied by the Uzbeks. He maintained friendly relations with them. There was frequent exchange of ambassadors and gifts from both sides.
The Mughals and Persia:
The relations between the Mughal rulers and Persia hanged on the superiority over Kandhar which was situated on that passage which linked India with Persia and countries of Central Asia.
Each party asserted an exclusive claim over it on account of the following reasons:
1. Kandhar was very rich and had fertile land.
2. For the Mughals from the political point of view the possession of Kandhar was important as from it they could easily check the foreign invaders to India.
3. Kandhar occupied a very strategic position from the point of view of Persia also.
4. With the possession of Kandhar, it was easy to exercise check on the Afghans, the Baluchis and the hill tribes.
5. The passage of Kandhar had great significance for the pilgrims going to Mecca.
6. Economically the control over Kandhar was important as it was the starting point of traders from China and the Mediterranean sea ports.
7. The possession of Kandhar was claimed by both powers for consideration of prestige and sentiments.
Babur and Persia:
Kandhar had been once ruled by Babur’s cousin. In the beginning of the 16th century Kandhar was ruled by semi-independent rulers who according to their convenience sided with the Mughals or Persia. Babur conquered Kandhar before becoming the ruler of India. He pacified the ruler of Persia by addressing to him a very conciliatory letter.
Humayun and Persia:
Humayun received great help from the ruler of Persia after his defeat at the hands of Sher Shah. The Shah of Persia gave him shelter and help on the condition that after his victories is Hindustan, Humayun would hand over Kandhar to him. However, Humayun after his victories did not hand over Kandhar to Persia. After the death of Humayun, Persia captured Kandhar.
Akbar and Persia:
Akbar made no attempt to capture Kandhar till the Uzbeks posed a threat to it. An opportunity came when the Uzbeks attacked Kandhar. The governor of Kandhar failed to get any help from Persia. The governor of Kandhar surrendered Kandhar to Akbar after getting some concessions. Nevertheless the relations between Persia and the Mughals remained cordial.
Jahangir and Persia:
Jahangir and the Persian ruler exchanged ambadassors and valuable gifts for several years. However the Mughal ruler neglected the defence of Kandhar and Persia all of sudden captured Kandhar to the great surprise of Jahangir. The ruler of Persia tried to make out that Kandhar belonged to Persia and Jahangir himself should have restored it Persia. On account of the revolt of prince Khurram, Jahangir lost Kandhar.
Shah Jahan and Persia:
Shah Jahan made several efforts to conquer Kandhar but without any success. Only for a very short period he could exercise control over Kandhar. Kandhar remained in the hands of Persia. Kandhar campaigns caused a great loss to the Imperial Treasury of the Mughals.
Aurangzeb and Persia:
There was no conflict worth mentioning between the Mughal ruler and the ruler of Persia. Aurangzeb made no serious attempt to take Kandhar.