Kandhar, situated on the boundary of Persia and the Mughul empire, was always a bone of contention between the two. It had both political and economic importance for both the empires. Whosoever was master of it had the facility to attack the other. From economic point of view it was the centre of the trade between the east and the west.
Therefore, both the empires desired to keep it under their control. They rivalled against each other for its occupation and the rivalry became keen during the rule of the Mughuls in India as both empires were powerful at that time.
Babur occupied Kandhar in 1522 A.D. After the death of Humayun, Persia occupied Kandhar in 1558 A.D. Sultan Hussain Mirza and after him, his son, Muzaffar Hussain Mirza were appointed as its governor. Later on Muzaffar Hussain was harassed by the Uzbegs while he received no help from the Persian emperor.
He, therefore, opened negotiations with the Mughul emperor Akbar and handed over the fort peacefully to the Mughul governor, Shah Beg Khan. After the death of Akbar when prince Khushrav revolted against his father, Jahangir, Shah Abbas Safai tried to capture Kandhar. He himself pretended to go to fight against the Turks but gave secret orders to his nobles at Khurasan to attack the fort.
Shah Beg Khan defended the fort valiantly. Jahangir too immediately sent an army to support him. The Persians, therefore, were forced to raise the siege. Thus this attempt of the Persians in 1607 A.D. to capture Kandhar failed. Shah Abbas told Jahangir that it was the folly of his officers for which he was sorry. Jahangir felt satisfied. Yet, he left an army of 15,000 soldiers under the command of Ghazi Khan in the fort to defend it.
Realising that the use of force would be futile, Shah Abbas moved diplomatically. He wrote letters to Jahangir convincing him of his friendship and good intentions towards him. He also deputed his ambassadors at the court of Jahangir regularly. In 1611 A.D. Yadgar Ali, in 1615 A.D. Mustafa Beg, in 1616 A.D. Riza Beg and, in 1620 A.D., Jambal Beg came to the court of Jahangir as his ambassadors.
These ambassadors informed the Shah of the politics at the Mughul court and also convinced Jahangir of the friendship of Shah so that he felt that there was no danger of any attack of Persia on Kandhar. Jahangir also deputed Khan-i-Alam to the Persian court as his ambassador.
The Mughuls, therefore, became a little neglectful towards the security of Kandhar. The Shah also came to know the growing differences between Shah Jahan and Begum Nur Jahan in 1621 A.D. The Shah got the opportunity which he desired. The Persians besieged the fort in 1622 A.D.
Jahangir ordered Shah Jahan to go to the rescue of the fort which he avoided. Therefore, the Mughuls failed to reach in time for the support of the besieged ones and the fort was surrendered after forty-five days. Shah Abbas wrote a letter to Jahangir in which he justified his action.
He reported that the fort legally belonged to him and as Jahangir was not prepared to hand it over voluntarily to him he had to take it forcefully. Jahangir did not accept his version and blamed the Shah of treachery. But he failed to attempt to recapture the fort because, by then. Shah Jahan had revolted. Thus, Kandhar was lost by the Mughuls to Persia during the later period of the reign of Jahangir.
When Shah Jahan ascended the throne. Shah Abbas sent him a congratulatory letter and also assured him of his help if needed. He, however, died in 1629 A.D. and was succeeded by Shah Safi. Shah Jahan sent a congratulatory letter to Shah Safi and assured him of his help. Thus, diplomatic relations were maintained between the two empires. Shah Safi called Shah Jahan his uncle and Shah Jahan advised him on occasions. But these were merely diplomatic moves.
In fact. Shah Jahan desired to capture Kandhar. He could get success in 1638 A.D. Shah Safi was not satisfied with his governor of Kandhar, Ali Mardan Khan as he had not paid annual tribute for many years. He deputed another governor with a force to take charge of the fort. Ali Mardan Khan felt danger to his life and negotiated with the Mughul governor at Kabul.
Shah Jahan took Ali Mardan Khan in his service and ordered his governor Sayeed Khan to capture the fort. Sayeed Khan occupied the fort immediately and forced the army of Persia to retreat. Shah Jahan conveyed to the Shah that as the fort legally belonged to the Mughuls, the Shah should not mind its capture by them. Shah Safi remained busy in wars elsewhere and therefore, could not attempt to recapture Kandhar though he never forgot the loss of it.
Shah Safi died in 1642 A.D. and was succeeded by Shah Abbas II who was only eleven years of age at that time. In 1648 A.D. Shah Abbas II became major and took up the reins of government in his own hands. He concluded peace with Turkey and the Uzbegs and then paid his attention towards Kandhar.
Shah Jahan come to know about the preparation of the Shah and took proper precautions for the defence of the fort. The governor of Kabul sent 5,000 soldiers and rupees five lakhs for the assistance of Daulat Khan, governor of Kandhar.
Shah Jahan himself made preparations to shift to Kabul after winter season. But Shah Abbas was a shrewd person. He knew that the Mughuls did not want to face the severe cold of Kandhar during winters and also did not expect attack from Persians during that season.
Therefore, he did not want to lose that season. First, he tried diplomacy and also attempted to bribe the Mughul governor but when these attempts failed, he attacked the fort and besieged it in December 1648 A.D.
He could succeed in winning over some Mughul officers to his side by bribing them. Daulat Khan, governor of Kandhar was disheartened as he did not receive the expected help from the Emperor in time. He surrendered the fort to the Persians in February 1649 A.D. Thus, the Mughuls lost the fort to the Persians.
The principal causes of this loss were the attack of the Persians during the winter and the nervousness of Daulat Khan who failed to realise that the Persians were facing the difficulty of short supplies and therefore, were not in a position to prolong the siege.
Shah Jahan received the news of Kandhar after a month of its siege by the Persians. He had already despatched prince Aurangzeb and Vazir Sadulla Khan for the support of Kandhar. But, Aurangzeb reached the fort in May 1649 A.D. when the Persians were in possession of it. Shah Jahan himself reached Kabul at that time.
Aurangzeb attempted to capture the fort both by bribing Persian officers and war, but failed. The Mughuls succeeded in defeating the Persians in face-to-face fighting, particularly the battle of Shahmir was a grand success to them when they defeated the Persian force twice their number. But, the Mughuls could not breach the wall of the fort.
Aurangzeb felt the difficulty of short supply of everything. It became difficult to continue the siege during the winter and help was received by the besieged from Persia. Therefore, Aurangzeb raised the siege after three and a half months in September 1649 A.D.
In 1652 A.D., Aurangzeb and Sadulla Khan were deputed again to capture Kandhar. Aurangzeb had made complete preparations this time but his artillery could not compete with that of the Persians. At the same time, the Uzbegs attempted to capture Ghazni. If they would have succeeded, the return-passage of the Mughuls would have been blocked. Therefore, Aurangzeb raised the siege after two months and turned back.
In 1653 A.D. Shah Jahan despatched prince Dara Shukoh to Kandhar. He had a large army and good artillery as well with him. Dara conquered neighbouring place around Kandhar including the forts of Bist and Girshik. The fort of Kandhar itself was besieged in April 1653 A.D.
The wall of the fort was breached but the artillery of the Persians again proved superior to the Mughuls. Dara persisted with the siege till he exhausted his ammunition. But he could not get success and turned back in October.
Thus, all the three attempts by the Mughuls to capture Kandhar during the reign of Shah Jahan failed and Kandhar remained in the hands of Persia. When Aurangzeb became the emperor he did not attempt to conquer it. In fact, the fort of Kandhar was a strong fort and it was difficult to capture it by force. The Mughuls could get it during the reign of Akbar and Shah Jahan because of the treachery of Persian governors.
The same way, when Persia captured it, it was due to nervousness of the Mughul governors. All attempts of Shah Jahan to recapture the fort by force failed. The primary cause of the failure of the Mughuls was their weak artillery.
The Persians had a wider-range of artillery. Therefore, the Mughuls could not breach the wall around the fort. Besides, the Mughuls could not remain there during winters and so could get only short time to attempt for the capture of the fort.
Shah Jahan lost nearly rupees twelve crores and thousands of his soldiers in these campaigns. It showed his military weakness also. That is why Shah Abbas dared to threaten to attack India during the reign of Aurangzeb. However, one fact became clear that if the Mughuls could not extend their empire towards the north-west, the Persians also could not move towards the east.