Pashtun–Ottoman War (1725–1727)

In 1725 AD, Ashraf Hotak succeeded Shah Mahmud. He started his career in an insecure situation. Because of death of Mahmud, he couldn’t expect any help from Kandahar nor from the Ghilzai leaders who suspected him of Mahmud’s murder. At about that time, court of Constantinople and St. Petersburg were said to be cherishing designs of overrunning Persia. Tahmasp Safavi had assumed the name and state of a King but his efforts to regain the crown of his ancestors were weak and insufficient. The Turkish government had seized Kakit near Tiflis while Gilan and the town of Baku, left equally defenseless, fell into the hands of Russians. The Persian prince had endeavored at different periods to negotiate with both Turkish and Russian courts, but no purpose. His ambassador reached Constantinople, but the court refused to receive him as an envoy and when he made his proposals as a petitioner, these were rejected. However, Ismael Beg, the envoy he sent to Petersburg, had reached the capital and was with Czar when Baku surrendered. He succeeded in concluding a treaty according to which the Emperor of Russia would expel the Afghans and establish Tahmasp upon the throne of Persia. The latter, in return, agreed to cede in perpetuity to the Russian monarch the towns of Dirband and Baku, along with the provinces of Daghistan, Shirwan, Gilan, Mazindaran and Astarabad.

While these negotiations were going on at Petersburg, the Turks were actively engaged in extending their conquests. All Kurdistan had acknowledged their authority and fall of Irwan, Khui, Nakhjawan and Margha made them masters of the whole Armenia and a greater part of Azerbaijan. From Azerbaijan to within three miles of Ardabil and from Tabriz to Hamadan and from thence to Kirman, the whole territory had been occupied by Ottoman empire. All the cities mentioned above and the whole of territory up to the Turkish frontier were to be detached from Persia and taken possession by the Ottoman Sultan. The Turks and Tahmasp contracted an agreement that if Tahmasp agreed to terms, he should receive such aid as would enable him to establish his power over other provinces of Persia.; and if he refused, the Turks would seize the cities specified and would appoint a person they deem most deserving to replace Tahmasp on the throne of Persia. However, it was agreed that they would, on no account, listen to any overtures from the Ghilzai as the establishment of the Afghans in Persia was not in their interest.

With Ashraf Hotak becoming their sovereign, the Afghans were confident that his disposition, conduct and valour would enable them to overcome all their enemies. At about that time, Queen Catherine succeeded her husband, Peter the Great, and appeared resolved to annex portions of Persia. However, conquests by Russia on the shores of Caspian were no comparison to what had been planned by the Turks, who, having occupied the cities assigned to them by the partition treaty, called upon the Russian to aid them in expelling the Afghans from Persia. Ashraf had sent an ambassador to Constantinople. The Sultan ignored the voice of ulema who protested against leaguing up with a Christian power against the Muslims. They bitterly opposed making war upon a Sunni monarch for the purpose of restoring to power a dynasty of Shia princes. The ministers satisfied the ulema that the connection formed with Russia was dictated by necessity and that Ashraf had placed himself in the condition of an enemy by refusing to acknowledge the supremacy of the Turkish Sultan as religious head of all the Muslims; the war, however, remained unpopular. After the Ambassador of Ashraf had been dismissed from the Turkish capital, hostilities commenced and Ahmad Pasha, who had captured Margha and Kazwan , advanced towards Isfahan. Prince Dalgarouki commanded the Russian troops on the coast of Caspian. He made no movement to support the Turks and Tahmasp remained in Mazindaran, a neutral spectator of a contest for his dominions.

The first year of Ashraf’s reign was spent in strengthening his internal government and in building a small square fort with lofty walls, defended by a bastion in the centre of the city of Isfahan. The fort was to harbour  the Afghan children and families. Its remains are still there and are referred to as the fort of Ashraf or ‘Ashraf Teppeh’. On the arrival of Turkish army near his capital, he laid waste the country on the routes that the Turks were using. he advanced with all the force he could assemble to check their progress. Ahmad Pasha, the Ottoman commander set a message to Shah Ashraf, stating that the Afghans were a miserable and unworthy race who had unjustly deprived a legitimate ruler of his sovereignty and that he (Ahmad Pasha) was coming to reinstate Shah Hussain. The enraged Shah Ashraf Hotak killed Shah Sultan Hussein in the prison. He sent the severed head of Shah Hussain to Ahmad Pasha with the message that he would answer him with his sword.

Ahmad Pasha sent 6,000 of his men to reconnoiter the Afghan position. They were misled by a guide to Shah Ashraf’s trap and killed to the last man. This success gave confidence to the Afghans and greatly discouraged the Turks who immediately halted and surrounded their camp with entrenchments. Ashraf took advantage of this lull period and sent Afghan religious scholars to the Turks. They pleaded that since the Afghans and Turks were all of Sunni faith, hence it was forbidden to shed blood of each other. With this articulate reasoning, they influenced the Kurds and some Turks. The Kurds took advantage of the resulting confusion and pillaged the Turkish camp which Ahmad Pasha hastily evacuated.  To quote Malcolm ;-

” The Afghan prince made every effort to persuade the Turkish soldiery that the war, in which they were engaged, was unlawful. His private emissaries were, at this period, most actively employed in disseminating these opinions and in corrupting the integrity of the Kurdish chiefs, who had joined the Ottomans, and to give more effect to these intrigues, he sent a deputation of four priests, who were alike venerable for their age and character, to Pasha’s camp. When these holy men were introduced to the general, one of them exclaimed with a loud voice; “Our sovereign, Ashraf, bade me ask you, why you war upon Muhammadans, who have obeyed the divine precepts of the law in subverting the power of Persians. Why do you league with a Christian prince to deprive a follower of our holy prophet, of a kingdom to which he has, by all laws, human and divine, such just rights?……Before the conference had terminated, the call for prayer was heard and the venerable deputies of Ashraf joined with the Turkish officers in their devotion, which they concluded by repeating aloud an earnest petition to the Almighty, that he would turn the hearts of true believers from disunion and war and establish peace and harmony among those who truly served him.”

After prayers, a large body of Kurds, accompanied by some Turks, followed the Afghan priests, declaring that they would not fight against the dictates of their conscience and the laws of their religion. Nevertheless, Ahmad Pasha, the Ottoman commander, attacked Ashraf. Ashraf though very inferior in point of numbers, did not refuse the challenge. Seventy thousand Turks marched out of the lines, supported by seventy pieces of artillery; whilst the Afghans mustered but thirty- three thousand, and forty Harquebus on camels. At six in the morning, the Turks began the contest, by opening a fire from ten guns. The Afghans returned these with five. Three several times the Serasker bravely charged them with his right wing, and was as often repulsed, though supported by a furious cannonade: and at three in the afternoon, was forced to retire to his entrenchments, after a loss of twelve thousand men. Ahmed retired during the night to Kermanshah, leaving his artillery and baggage in the hands of the conqueror. Hither Ashruf pursued him, on his approach Ahmed retreated on Baghdad.

Ashraf sent another deputation to his Ahmed Pasha with a message that he didnt deem the spoils he had taken from misguided Muslims as lawful and that as he considered himself a prince and not a robber, Ahmad Pasha might send for his treasures and property; everything belonging to him, or those under his command, except arms, would be returned. Ashraf, not only did what he promised but also released all the prisoners he had made during the war. By this wise step, he became so popular through the Ottoman dominions that the court of Constantinople was compelled to conclude a peace treaty which stipulated that Ashraf would acknowledge the Ottoman Sultan as the spiritual head of all the Muslims ; in return he was recognized as sovereign of Persia. The provinces, namely Kurdistan and Khuzistan, a part of Azerbaijan and several cities in Iraq, including Sultaniya and Tehran, the present capital of Iran which the Ottoman government possessed, were granted in perpetuity.

An Afghan Warrior, Tehran, 1848 by Jules Joseph Augustin



1- Laurence Lockhart, “The fall of the Safavi Dynasty and and the Afghan occupation of Persia”
2- Malcolm, “The History of Persia” Volume-II
3- Tadeusz Jan Krusiński, “The Chronicles of a Traveller: Or, a History of the Afghan Wars With Persia”
3- Haroon Rashid, “The history of Pathans” Volume-III



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