Pashtuns dominated the horse trade between Central Asia and India

During the medieval period, Pashtuns dominated the horse trade with India even through the horses were bred by Turkoman and Uzbek nomads in Turkestan. After the Pashtun dealers had bought the horses at low prices from the nomadic tribes of Turkestan, they were fattened for one or two months in the various meadows around Kabul. During October and November, the horses were brought to India and sold through extensive network of horse fairs or melas. 

Figures for horse trade between Central Asia and India during the Mughal period, range from 25,000, as mentioned by Bernier, to Manucci’s 100,000. The eighteenth-century figures have about the same range. Babur himself mentions that in the early sixteenth century, about 7 to 10,000 horses were imported through Kabul into India. Based on the statistics of the A’in-i Akbari, Moosvi calculates that about 16,000 horses must have been imported annually to replace the existing number of Turkish horses in the Mughal army, arriving at an Indian total of 1,000 Persian and 21,000 Turkish horses. This would result in a massive trade volume of at least three million rupees. The horse trade was important not only in terms of horses delivered for the Mughal army but also in terms of taxes that could be raised. According to Abul Fazl, Akbar enforced a tax of two to three rupees on every horse imported through Kabul and Qandahar. According to Manucci, horse-dealers had to pay 25 per cent of the value of their horses on crossing the Indus. In the end, however, overtaxing could always endanger supply itself or force dealers to look for alternative outlets. 

The Pashtuns had a widely acclaimed reputation for using the horse trade as a springboard to gain political power. For example, the Lodi sultans of Delhi had started their careers as horse-traders from the North-West. This fairly common pattern in which the horse trade ushered in, directly or indirectly, political power and even state formation, once again repeated itself during the eighteenth century when we see the emergence of a string of Pashtun chieftaincies along the major horse-trading routes from Kabul to southern and eastern India.

The military threat posed by the Pashtun horse- traders is demonstrated in one of the anecdotes of Aurangzeb, in which the emperor reprimanded Amir Khan, his governor in Kabul, for letting into the country 11,000 horses fit for service but accompanied by one groom for every two horses. According to Aurangzeb:

 It is a very strange act of negligence on the part of Amir Khan who has been trained by me and knows my mind. It is as if 5,500 brave Turanis have entered the imperial territory from foreign parts. Well, such [was the number of the] men who wrested the kingdom of Hindustan from the hands of the Afghans. . .. In future, he should know it to be his duty to avoid this sort of action, and he should remedy the past in this way, that whenever the droves of horses arrive, he should allow only one groom to every 20 horses, and that groom should be a useless old and helpless man.

Ref: “Mughal Warfare: Indian Frontiers and Highroads to Empire 1500-1700” by J.L.L.Gommans 

Afghan horse trade
Nine Pashtun horse merchants, 1816 (c). From Fraser’s album.
Afghan horse trade
Pashtun horse merchants and others, 1816 (c). From Fraser Album. The men in the colorful dresses are Pashtuns. All the men in the painting are Afghans except the white-bearded man in plain white clothes. The figures in the painting are named as follows: 1st figure. Khodadad Khan son of Meerza Bahram. 2d. Meerza Bahram, an Afghan born at Caubul, a horse merchant. 3d. Seyyeed Khan, a Dooraunee Patan, a merchant of Candahar. 4th. Nunmoo Lahoree, a trooper, and residing at Delhee. 5th. Moolah Seyed Oollah, a Dooraunee Patan, a horse merchant of Caubul. Source
Afghan horse traders
Eight Pashtun horse merchants, 1816 (c). From Fraser’s album.



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