The Pashtun soldiery and nobility of the Mughal empire

The Pashtuns had a chequered history within the Mughal nobility. The short-lived Sur dynasty, followed by the Mughal restoration, made the Pashtun chiefs suspects in the eyes of the Mughals. Akbar thoroughly disliked the Pashtuns as a body. According to Manucci, Akbar left it as a law to his descendants that the that Pashtuns should never receive a higher pay than 4000 rupees per year. That they were not appointed governors and should only be employed as soldiers. In another place Manucci remarked, “In the whole of Hindustan, from Kabul to the confines of Bengal, there may be one hundred fortresses. To these the King sends faithful governors. Generally, they are men in his service, being princes, whose fidelity have already been tested. They are Rajputs, Saiyids and Mughals. But the Pathans are never allowed to hold any of these for fear that they may plot some treason, as they did to King Humayun.”

In 1595 A.D there were 98 mansabadars of the rank of 500 zat and above who were alive out of these only two were Pashtuns. But as soldiers and officers of lower ranks, they were freely recruited because of their valor in battlefields.

Emperor Jehangir realized that if the Pashtuns, who constituted a large part of the Mughal army, could be won over, they might render valuable services to him. So, he promoted certain Pashtuns to higher ranks. During the reign of of Jehangir Mughal policy towards the Pashtuns was modified to the extent that they were admitted into service without much prejudice, but promotions to high ranks and appointments to important assignments were not still easily given. Shah Jahan also showed much caution and restraint towards Pashtuns.

Manucci who came to India in 1656 and was an eyewitness to events during Aurangzeb’s reign, between 1659-1707, wrote, ” It is a rule in the Mughal empire not to trust the race of Pathans “. Likewise, Bernier who lived in India from 1658-1667, and was closely associated with Mughal courts, states that Mughals were forced to employ the Pashtuns because of their martial qualities. They, as well as Rajputs, were used to quell disturbances, as also to counter-balance each other.

Aurangzeb as a prince seems to have made an attempt to win over the Pashtuns. The Pashtun general Daud Khan Daudzai distinguished himself in many a campaign in his reign. Still Aurangzeb never entrusted him with an independent army command. In 1683, Diler Khan was fighting against the Bijapuris as second in command to Prince Shah Alam. Shah Alam intended to rebel against his father and seize the throne. He tried to induce Diler Khan to join him. Failing to win him over, the prince secretly poisoned him. Manucci says that Aurangzeb was grieved at the death of so faithful a general, for whom he had considerable affection, in spite of him being a Pashtun.

Manucci’s writings further reveal the distrust of the Mughals to the Pashtuns. He says, “Upon birthdays, days of festival, and New Year’s Day, the emperor and the princes are weighed. On those days, the chief ladies of the court are obliged to attend at the palace to make their compliments to the queens and princesses. From this ceremony the wives of the Pathan captains are exempted “.  The exclusion of the Pashtun ladies from festive occasions shows that although the Mughals continued to enlist the services of the Pashtuns, yet they would not rely on them even in the reign of Aurangzeb. The writings of the French traveler, who lived in India from 1658 to 1667 and was intimately connected with the Mughal court express the same spirit of distrust of the Mughals towards the Pashtuns. They confirm that it was a military necessity only which obliged the Mughal emperor to engage the Pashtuns in his service.

The Pashtuns came from a tribal society and even when they were appointed Mughal officers, they still remained tribal leaders and employed men from their own tribes and clans. Manucci points out that they wore aristocratic dress only for the court. When they returned, they put away the dress for the simple costumes of their race.  

Diler Khan Afghan (Daudzai) , painting by Mihir Chand in 1770 A.D . Now in the Chester Beatty Dublin.



A portrait of an Afghan noble, North India, mid-17th century

Portrait of Khan Jahan lodi. c.1610-15 (made). Victoria and Albert Museum



1- Manuccui, Storia Da Mogor or Mughal
2- Rita Joshi, “The Afghan nobility and the Mughals”
3- Bernier, Travels in the Mughal empire
4- Mirza Nathan, Baharistan-i-Ghaibi
5- Tuzk-i-Jehangiri
6- Abdul Aziz, “The Mansabdari sytem and Mughal army”
7- Athar Ali, “The Mughal nobility under Aurangzeb
8-  Afzal Hussain, “Afghan Nobility under Akbar and Jahangir—The Family of Daulat Khan Lodi “





Categories Blog

Leave a comment