The rise of Afghans as a significant political entity in Indo-Muslim India in the 16th century.
It is necessary to study this aspect as the Afghans were the main adversaries of the Mughals among the Muslim nationalities and the Mughals owed much to the legacy of the administrative genius and organizational capabilities of a unique Afghan, Shershah Suri or Shershah Sura and his successors for their rule of 15 years in the 16th century.
The Afghans after sub-planting the Turks and the Persians became the most powerful and widely spread foreign Muslim group in northern India.
Burton Stein’s statement, “Alone of the Muslim ruling clans from 1200, the Afghan clan leaders persistently and successfully planted roots in the Indian communities to which their military officers took them, whether in the Gangetic plain or in distant Deccan” explains the rise of the Afghan power on the Indian soil.
The head of the Afghan Lodi clan Bahlul Khan seized the throne of Delhi in 1451 and laid the foundation of the first Afghan kingdom in India. While Bahlul Khan provided the scope for the Afghan dominance, his son Sikandar continued his father’s efforts very successfully till 1517. Though Sikandar proved it easy to control the inter-tribal conflicts among the Afghan nobles, his successor Ibrahim failed in the endeavor and it is a well-known established fact that one of his disaffected nobles, Daulat Khan Lodi, the governor of Punjab invited Babur to invade. But, Babur, by using matchlocksmen and field cannons against the Afghan cavalry won the war of Panipat. It is this technological advantage, which was responsible for the victory of Babur.
Added to this technological disadvantage carving out petty kingdoms of Jaunpur, Meerut, Bayana, Dholpur, Gwalior, Rapri, Etawa, Kalpi and Sambhal, etc., by the Afghan chieftains weakened the Afghan power. Though there is a strong view that the enmity of the Rajputs was more formidable than that of the Afghans on religious differences, the reality does not appear to be so. Decline and disintegration of the Lodi power gave a way to Suras to fit into the shoes of the Lodis. The greatest of the Sura lineage, which lasted for a very short time in between Humayun and Akbar as a brilliant interlude has to be remembered with admiration and respect.
Sher Shah’s grandfather Ibrahim Sur and his father Hussain migrated from Afghanistan to India in search of new pastures. The father and son pair in the beginning joined the service of Bahlul Lodi in the Punjab. It is said that Farid, the later-day popular hero and sovereign Sher Shah, was born in Punjab in AD 1472. During the tenure of Sikandar Lodi, Hussain became the Jagirdar of Sasram, Khawanpur and Tanda. Farid learnt and practised the art of administration for full 21 years as the future ruler of his father’s Jagir with the blessings of his benefactor Jamal Khan. But Farid had to face the stiff opposition of his stepmother as she was determined to ruin him.
There was a civil war between brothers for the possession of the family Jagir and Farid had also to face the opposition of the Lohanis and other Afghan nobles. As there was no other solution to his problem, Farid joined the Mughal Service in 1527, and as a reward for his loyal service, Babur granted his Jagir to him. Not able to withstand the vanity of the Mughal ruler Babur, he gave up his service with the Mughals in 1528, and in due course he became a ruler of reckoning.
Sher Shah proved to be a better match to Humayun, and made Humayun wander from place to place and in the meanwhile Sher Shah ruled from 1538 to 1545, when he finally died in the battle. In his brief reign, Sher Shah proved himself to be a military genius of the calibre of Babur and an extraordinary man of vision as an administrator like Akbar the Great.
At the time of his death, the Sura political power extended from the Punjab to the eastern borders of the Ganges delta including the town of Chittagong and from the Narmada valley to Kashmir in the north. The extent of his political sway is equivalent to that of Akbar at the end of his reign and greater than the Lodis at their highest glory.
Leaving behind two sons, Adil and Jalal, Sher Shah died in 1545 while in battle to capture Kalanjar fort. His son Jalal, by assuming the title of Islam Shah ruled from AD 1545 to 1553. He was succeeded by Muhammad Adil who ruled for four years from 1553-57. With the victory of Humayun in the second battle of Panipat the second Afghan empire came to an end.