The Yusufzai and Afridi Revolts during the Reign of Aurangzeb Alamgīr

Portraits of Aurangzeb and Khushhal Khan Khatak

The Afghans inhabited the area between Peshawar and Qandahar. They were born soldiers and natural democrats. The mountainous region in which they lived had very meagre resources to sustain them, so their age-long profession was robbery. They used to plunder the plain areas and the caravans going to Qandahar from Peshawar.

They were divided into many clans like, Yusufzais, Afridis, khataks, Shiranis, Duldais etc. etc. Unlike the Rajput clan organization, the clan organization of the Afghans was weak in the sense that the individual would obey the leader only until it was in his interest. So the basic need of the society was the family.

It is also said that one of the saints of the area cursed the Afghans – in fact a blessing in disguise – that they will always be free but never united.

An attempt was made during the reign of Akbar to subdue the Afghans effectively. And the Mughal army consisting of 8000 soldiers and headed by Birbal, had been killed to the last man by the Afghans. Man Singh during the Battle of Ali Masjid had revived the Mughal prestige. Akbar’s policy of not attacking the caravans or disturbing the peace in that region and pay a subsidy to the Afghans in view of their meagre resources had continued during the reigns of Jahangir and Shahjahan.

After his accession, Aurangzeb stopped the subsidy being paid to the Afghans just to keep quite. But one should remember that there is no direct evidence for this subsidy being stopped or reduced; it is only a conjecture.

In 1667 the Yusufzais revolted and Aurangzeb immediately deputed Shamsher Khan to suppress the rebellion. Shamsher Khan inflicted a crushing defeat on the Yusufzais, but in some isolated incidents, Mughal outposts were also beaten back. Aurangzeb thus felt the need to send re-enforcements. Thus Muhammad Amin was now deputed. He took over the charge from Shamsher Khan and sent an army detachment in the main Yusufzai territory. Due to the hard blows inflicted, the Mughal army was able to suppress the Yusufzais. However, heavy casualties were suffered on both the sides.

There is another angle from which the Yusufzai uprising can be analysed. That angle is that Yusufzais were zamindars in that area and one will recall that it was during this period that the pressure of Jagirdar as Jagirdar on zamindar as zamindar had started. So apart from stopping the subsidy and following a vigorous policy by Aurangzeb, this was also a factor. There is no evidence that they revolted due to Jagirdar’s pressure. But two things are certain. Perhaps they were zamindars and perhaps they revolted as Jagirdars and not as zamindars. Yusufzais were Muslims and they were not agriculturists but nobles. So theirs was not a peasant uprising. It was not a Hindu reaction or a peasant rebellion. Their rebellion took place in 1667 and they were suppressed.

But in 1672, a serious crisis developed. That was the Afridis revolted. Bhagu, who was the leader of the Afghans invited different clans to join the uprising and called it a ‘National Uprising’. All joined in. At this time, Muhammad Amin Khan, the subahdar of Kabul, was coming from Kabul to Peshawar. Against the better judgement of his lieutenants and commanders, he carried on this path. They advised him not to proceed at this moment. He was the wealthiest man of the Empire and the son of Mir Jumla. He contemptuously rejected the sane advice of his commanders. Result was that the army of Muhammad Amin Khan was surrounded in the mountains and the stream from which he was drawing water was cut off. This cutting off of the water-supply resulted in a confusion in his camp. The Afghans attacked him from all the sides and rolled down stones on his army. The entire army of Muhammad Amin Khan perished and all his goods and cash of around 2 crores was plundered. With great difficulty he was able to flee himself. His daughter and wife were rescued from captivity by paying heavy ransom. His wife ultimately refused to come and became a nun in Central Asia.

Aurangzeb was extremely angry with Muhammad Amin Khan and he was transferred. But the result of the attack on the camp of Muhammad Amin Khan enhanced the prestige of the rebels and they started attracted recruits from all the directions. This posed a serious problem for the Mughal administration: the treasures which came into the possession of rebels attracted other Afghans over to them.

Aurangzeb realized the gravity of the situation and left for Hasan Abdal with a huge army.

In spite of the fact that the emperor was at Hasan Abdal and all the important commanders were there, Mahabat Khan was recalled from the Deccan. The main problem of Aurangzeb was that the army of the Afghans and the Mughals practically fought with the same weapons. Secondly, numerically the Afghans were superior to the Mughal army. Thirdly the Afghans were fighting in their homeland and were expert in the mountain fighting. Further, the Mughal soldiers were not very enthusiastic to fight in the broken terrain and the mountainous region. They were experts in fighting in the plains with cavalry which was most effective for them.

The strong point for the Mughals was their artillery: the Afghans were not experts in the firearms nor did they have en effective artillery. But then another weakness for the Mughals was that most of the Afghan fighters had served the Mughals and thus knew the weaknesses of the Mughal army.

Thus for about one year, Aurangzeb made all possible efforts to break the confederacy of the Afghans and used the famous sentence: ‘Breaking the bones by striking one against another’. The Mughal diplomacy also played its havoc along with the Mughal arms amongst the Afghan clans. Thus some clans broke from the Afridis and joined the Mughals.

Aurangzeb remained in HasanAbdal for one and a half years and ultimately succeeded in breaking the Afghan confederacy. The subsidy was restored and Amir Khan was appointed as the subahdar of Kabul. He also followed the policy and divided the Afghan clans against each other. A stage was reached that he became the arbiter between the various disputing Afghan clans.

In spite of the fact that the Afridi revolt was suppressed, it had important consequences for the empire. The most important consequence was that the best generals were withdrawn from the Deccan qnd concentrated in the North-Western frontier. Thus Shivaji got the chance to declare himself as the king as no force was left to stop him from his designs.

Secondly there was a lack of confidence between the emperor on the one hand and the Afridids on the other, with the result that the Mughal army was deprived of the Afridis who could have fought well. So the nature of the Yusufzai and the Afridi uprisings was different from the Jat, Satnami or the Sikh uprisings. The Yusufzai and Afridi uprisings cannot be explained in terms of agrarian or anti-Hindu policies of Aurangzeb. It had national overtones and at a moment gave the impression of a national uprising. Songs circulated which were composed by Khushhal Khan Khatak who had been in the prison of the Mughals. They had a national fervour appealing to the Afghans. Perhaps it was because of this that Aurangzeb spent 18 months at Hasan Abdal.

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A history buff interested to unravel the past as it was!

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