In this article we will discuss about Mughul emperors and their attempts to conquer central Asia.
Mughul emperors always desired to conquer their ancestral homeland in Central Asia which included Trans-Oxina, Badakhshan, Balkh, Bhukhara, Samarqand etc. Except Aurangzeb, all Mughul emperors tried to occupy that territory particularly the city of Samarqand, the conquest of which they regarded prestigious.
Babur attempted several times to capture Samarqand and succeeded thrice but every time he had to leave it because of the opposition of the Uzbegs. However, he kept Badakhshan with himself. His son, Humayun, remained its governor from 1520-29 A.D. After Humayun, Sulaiman was appointed its governor. During the reign of Humayun, Sulaiman declared himself independent. Therefore, Badakhshan was lost to the Mughuls.
In 1598 A.D., Shah Rukh, a grandson of Sulaiman revolted against Sulaiman. It gave Abdulla Khan Uzbeg an opportunity to interfere in their affairs and he occupied Badakhshan. Therefore, when Akbar ascended the throne of Delhi, Central Asia was in the hands of the Uzbegs. Akbar gave shelter to Shah Rukh and he desired to capture Central Asia. But he could not do it.
He, being busy in Indian affairs, could not devote time to the affairs in Central Asia while Uzbegs maintained complete hold over it under their leader Abdulla Khan. During the reign of Jahangir, Central Asia was captured once by one descendant of Genghiz Khan but, again, it was occupied by Imam Quli Beg Uzbeg in 1611 A.D.
He appointed his younger brother, Nazr Muhammad as governor of Balkh. Imam Quli was a man of peaceful nature. He kept friendly relations with the Mughuls. He even assured his help to the Mughuls when Persia occupied Kandhar in 1622 A.D.
It was during the reign of Shah Jahan when a planned policy was adopted by the Mughuls to conquer Central Asia. There was reason and opportunity for that. The cause of quarrel between the Mughuls and the Uzbegs was their conflicting ambitions. While the Mughuls could not leave the temptation to conquer Asia, the Uzbegs always desired to capture Kabul and Kandhar.
Therefore, as a preliminary step both powers desired to capture and retain Balkh and Badakhshan which were the entry points to Kabul on the one hand and to Central Asia, on the other. When Jahangir died and accession of Shah Jahan on the throne was disputable, Nazr Muhammad attempted to capture Kabul. But before that, Shah Jahan had ascended the throne and had despatched an army immediately for the support of Kabul.
Nazr Muhammad, therefore, failed and returned. Shah Jahan complained of this to Imam Quli who begged pardon for the misdeed of his brother and assured good relations with the Mughuls. Later on, Nazr Muhammad himself expressed his regrets to Shah Jahan. In 1641 A.D., the political scene changed in Central Asia. Imam Quli became blind and his throne was occupied by Nazr Muhammad.
Nazr Muhammad attempted to abolish feudalism, restore the lands which were given to the people in charity or as reward in lieu of their services and tried to centralize power in his own hands. These measures created discontentment among his nobles and even his sons. One of his sons, Abdul Aziz revolted against his father in 1645 A.D., and declared himself king at Bhukhara.
Nazr Muhammad’s position became so critical that he requested for help to Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan, thus, got the opportunity to interfere in the affairs of Central Asia. He despatched a large army under his son Murad to attack Central Asia.
The Mughuls captured Khost, Qunduz, Badakhshan and Balkh. It was a great success of the Mughuls. Nazr Muhammad, therefore, became suspicious of the designs of the Mughuls. He attempted to displace them but failed and, thereafter, escaped to Persia.
Shah Jahan had himself reached Kabul and had kept the supply route from Delhi to Balkh safe. He was so encouraged by the conquest of Balkh that he dreamed of conquering Bukhara and Samarqand. But, before the Mughuls could get time for consolidation of their conquered territory, prince Murad turned back. Murad was brought up under ease and comforts. He could not tolerate for long the cold climate of Central Asia.
After the return of Murad, the Mughuls divided their conquered territory in four parts for the purpose of administration. But they felt the task very difficult. The climate of Central Asia did not suit them. Besides, the Uzbegs were attacking the Mughuls everywhere with a view to recover their lost territory.
In 1647 A.D., Shah Jahan deputed Aurangzeb there. By the time Aurangzeb reached there, the Uzbegs had recaptured larger part of their lost territory and had organised a larger force than the Mughuls. Aurangzeb defeated Uzbegs in several minor engagements and reached up to Balkh.
From Balkh, he proceeded to Taimurabad and defeated the Uzbegs there. He also captured Pashai. But, Aurangzeb had gone too far from Balkh, while Abdul Aziz and his brother Subhan Quli were moving forward to attack Balkh.
Therefore, Aurangzeb had to turn back. Aurangzeb met the combined armies of the two brothers near the bank of river Oxus and defeated them. He reached back Balkh safely. But no concrete result came out of this battle.
The Uzbegs failed to capture Balkh but Aurangzeb also could not move ahead from the river Oxus. After some time, both parties desired for peace. The Uzbegs had failed to defeat the Mughuls in face-to-face fighting, their treasury had become empty and different tribal chiefs were returning to their homes.
Dr R.P. Tripathi writes- “Nevertheless their difficulties were so serious that for want of money, their army dispersed like summer clouds, selling their horses to Mughuls.”
Thus, the Uzbegs were not in a position to continue fighting with the Mughuls. The position of the Mughuls too was difficult. They failed to check the occasional raids of the Uzbegs and were in short supply of everything. A single bread costed one or two rupees in their camp. Besides, while Nazr Muhammad had turned back after receiving help from the Shah of Persia, the Shah himself was contemplating to attack Kandhar.
Peace negotiations were started by Nazr Muhammad and Abdul Aziz and Shah Jahan welcomed them in the then circumstances. Aurangzeb also desired peace. Shah Jahan ordered Aurangzeb that he should accept peace on condition that Nazr Muhammad should beg pardon personally and accept the suzerainty of the Mughuls.
In that case, the kingdom of Nazr Muhammad was to be restored to him. Nazr Muhammad sent his grandson Qasim Sultan to Aurangzeb and begged pardon. Shah Jahan was satisfied with that also and Aurangzeb after handing over Balkh to Nazr Muhammad returned to India.
The Mughuls lost nearly rupees four crores and 5,000 soldiers in these campaigns of Central Asia. Not an inch of territory was added to their empire. Further, it became clear that the ambition of the Mughuls to conquer Central Asia was misdirected. It could create additional administrative, political and economic problems to the empire. Besides, the failures of these campaigns encouraged the Shah of Persia to attack Kandhar.
In 1648 A.D., he openly asked Shah Jahan to hand it over to him. Therefore, the policy of Central Asia of Shah Jahan failed. Yet, these campaigns were not entirely useless. The Uzbegs had suffered more losses as compared to the Mughuls. They had learnt the lesson that they could not attack the Mughul territory safely.
Therefore, they no more dared to attack Kabul. This was the only advantage which the Mughuls could draw from these campaigns. The Mughuls, therefore, no more attempted to conquer Central Asia.