While the new viceroy, the Persian officer Muhammad Amin Khan, took his post in Kabul, his deputy in Jalalabad came into conflict with the Afridi tribe. Under the leadership of Akmal Khan, the Afridis closed the Khyber Pass in the spring of 1672, and proclaimed war against the Mughals calling on all Pathan clans to join them.
Akmal Khan went so far as to strike coins in his name as a sign of independence.
The haughty Mughal viceroy, who had been passing the winter at Peshawar, moved to Kabul for the summer months, disregarding his officer's advice. He had with him all his family and camp followers, which slowed down the rest of his army, and doomed them to an ambush in the narrow gorge at Ali Masjid.
the hill and fort of Ali Masjid at Khyber
The Persian nobleman opened negotiations with the Afghans but the price they demanded was too high and he tried force. In the battle that followed the Afghans rained down arrows, bullets, and stones from the hill-tops on the Mughals. The army broke into a confused mass into which the triumphant enemy chargedâ€”â€”Muhammad Amin Khan and his officers escaped with their lives to Peshawar but in the words of the Mughal chronicler:
Ten thousand men fell under the enemy's sword in the field, and above two crores of rupees in cash and kind was looted by the enemy. They captured 20,000 men and women and sent them to Central Asia for sale.
Amin Khan's own family, including his wife, were among the prisoners but he secured their release by paying a huge ransom. All the Mughal lands across the Khyber Pass were lost to the Afghan tribesâ€”â€”only Jaswant Singh continued to hold post at Jamrud beneath the pass.
Jamrud leading to the mountain pass of Khyber
General Afghan rising
News of this great victory, and of the immense riches gained by Akmal Khan, spread like wildfire among the Pathans. Many of them came over to his army; other tribes raised the banner of revolt against the Mughals. The recently supressed Yusufzai's recovered their lands from Mughal occupation.
The Khattak tribe, located in the southern portions of Peshwar, rose under their chieftain Khushal Khan, who had recently served in the Mughal campaign against his hereditary enemies the Yusufzais. Khushal joined up with Akmal and inspired the Afghans with his poetry and by his victories over the isolated Mughal posts.
Aurangzeb heard of the disaster in May 1672. He first sent the viceroy of Lahore, Fidai Khan, to hold Peshawar against any further advance by the exultant enemy. Mahabat Khan, viceroy of the Deccan then engaged in fighting the great Shivaji, was appointed to recover Kabul since he had governed the province thrice before.
But the now old Mahabat had no interest in fighting the tribes and he came to a secret understanding with them. Aurangzeb then sent Shujaet Khan in the winter of 1673-74 as an independent commander to open the road to Kabul.
Shujaet avoided the besieged Khyber Pass and took his army towards the lesser known Karapa Pass
a little to the north of the River Kabul. But a heavy snowfall on 21 February, booged down his army, the vigilant Afghans followed close behind and surrounded the Mughals from the hill-tops.
From this vantage point they launched bullets, arrows, and stones throughout the nightâ€”â€”charging the shaken enemy at dawn. Shujaet Khan was killed but a portion of his army was saved because Jaswant Singh had wisely sent up a body of 500 Rajput cavalry with guns who broke through the enemy's cordon.
Aurangzeb takes command
Aurangzeb was now convinced that an all-out campaign under his own command, and with better resources, was required to crush the Afghans. Accompanying him were Fidai Khan (now appointed viceroy of Kabul
), the Turk noble Aghar Khan, and the Afghan (i.e. Indian Pathan from UP
) noble Dilir Khan known to us from his battles against Shivaji
His young son Akbar marched by way of Kohat (blue portion in map south of Peshawar), accompanied by Asad Khan and Jaswant Singh, and avoiding the Khyber route captured Kabul in 1674. The Khyber Afghans were now trappedâ€”â€”from Peshawar Mughal detachments entered the lands of the Ghorai, Shirrani, and Yusufzai tribes, burnt their villages and took thousands of prisoners, and sold them into slavery.
These victories cowed the Daudzai, Tarakzai, and Tirahi tribes into submission. Cracks appeared within the families of the rebels. Akmal Khan's relatives offered to arrest him if they were pardoned, Bhagu's son joined the Mughals, Khushal Khan's son also took up Mughal service. The Bangash and other tribes i nthe region came to the Mughal side.
Meanwhile Agahar Khan had been trying to force open the Khyber Pass. He had first defeated the Mohmands posted on the south flank and then ousted the main Afghan army of 40,000 from the Ali Masjid defile. Followed by Fidai Khan, the new viceroy, he captured Jalalabad and tried to link up with the Mughals at Kabul by way of the Jegdalek Pass.
Jegdalek village with the pass in the background
The Ghilzai tribe had sworn to hold the pass but were ousted by him after a long battle. Fidai Khan reached Kabul and Prince Akbar returned to Peshawar. But the Afghans had not been crushedâ€”they retreated to remote valleys to lick their wounds, recoup losses, and waited for another chance.
Fidai Khan on his return from Kabul in the Spring of 1675 was attacked in the Jegdalek Pass, losing many of his soldiers and camp-followers, but Aghar Khan came up from Gandamak and rescued him.
The crisis of the war was overâ€”â€”all the Mughal posts were strongly held, revenue was collected from the obedient tribes, and caravans went through the Khyber and other passes. All that remained now was to crush the old die-hards.
The new governor Amir Khan, appointed in 1677, brought over the remaining Afghan chieftains to his side by paying them subsidies. He created divisions among the followers of Akmal Khan by pointing out how the greater share of plunder was going into the hands of the Afridi tribe. On his death the tribe submitted to the Mughals. Khushal was betrayed by his son and captured soon after.
But before all this, a more momentous event that would change the history of India
, took place towards the end of 1678. Maharaja Jaswant Singh, holding the post of Jamrud with his army, died that winter, and this event gave Aurangzeb the opportunity to annex his kingdom (Jodhpur), divide the Hindu territory of Rajputana into two separate halves that could be crushed in detail, and impose jaziya on the Hindu populationâ€”â€”bringing to life his long-cherished dream of making India an Islamic State.
NOTE: All the Afghan lands were not involved in this war, which centred on the Peshawar-Jalalabad-Kabul axis. Afghan tribes in North Baluchistan and the Sulaiman Range remained unaffected by this conflict.
The Turk Aghar Khan because of his numerous victories over the Afghans created such terror among them that Afghan mothers used to hush their children to sleep on taking his dreaded name.
This same story has been repeated for generals in other ages. Kunwar Man Singh in Akbar's time, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa in the 19th Century, and to British generals in a later period.