Shah Jahan's Balkh Campaign - Medieval India



Shah Jahan's only aim following the conquest of Qandahar in 1638 was to annex Transoxiana, which he referred to as his "ancestral land." The much-desired Persian-Mughal alliance was made possible by a massive Uzbek invasion of Maruchaq along Persian frontiers in April or May 1640. The idea was to invade Balkh together. Balkh and Badakhshan, which surrounded Kabul and were held by Timurid lords until 1585, were intended to be ruled by a friendly monarch under Shah Jahan. 
Shah Jahan's Balkh Campaign - Medieval India

Background of Shah Jahan's Balkh Campaign

•    But Qandahar's conquest was merely a means to an end. Shah Jahan was more worried about the real danger posed by the Uzbek raids on Kabul on a regular basis, as well as their machinations with the Baluch and Afghan tribes.
•    Both Bokhara and Balkh were now under Nazr Muhammad's rule. With the aid of Afghan tribesmen, ambitious Nazr Muhammad and his son Abdul Aziz mounted a number of attacks against Kabul and Ghazni.
•    However, soon after, Abdul Aziz staged a mutiny against his father, leaving only Balkh under Nazr Muhammad's rule. Shah Jahan was then asked for help.
•    Shah Jahan swiftly agreed to the appeal because the Persians were on his side.
•    He relocated from Lahore to Kabul and sent Prince Murad and a sizable army to support Nazr Muhammad. 

Conquest of Balkh

•    A Rajput contingent together with an army of 10,000 foot soldiers, 10,000 horses, and musketeers, rocketeers, and gunners left Kabul in the middle of 1646.
•    Prince Murad was given specific instructions by Shah Jahan to treat Nazr Muhammad with dignity and to give him Balkh if he behaved submissively and humbly.
•    The prince was also obligated to support Nazr Muhammad if he indicated a wish to take back Samarqand and Bokhara.
•    It is clear that Shah Jahan wanted a benevolent monarch in Bokhara who relied on the Mughals for help and support.
•    The scheme, however, was wrecked by Murad's haste. Without waiting for orders from Nazr Muhammad, he marched towards Balkh and gave the order for his soldiers to go into the fort where Nazr Muhammad was staying.
•    Nazr Muhammad ran away, unsure of what the prince planned to do. Balkh was taken over and held by the Mughals despite a hostile inhabitants. Nazr Muhammad was impossible to replace.
•    In order to defeat the Mughals in Trans-Oxiana, Abdul Aziz, the son of Nazr Muhammad, united the Uzbek tribes and amassed a force of 120,000 soldiers to cross the Oxus River.
•    Prince Murad, who was away from home, was replaced by Prince Aurangzeb in the meantime. The Mughals made no attempt to guard the Oxus because it could be forded easily.
•    Instead, they carefully posted pickets while keeping the main force consolidated so that it could easily march to any threatened locations.
•    Abdul Aziz reached the Oxus, but the Mughals engaged the Uzbeks in a protracted fight outside Balkh in 1647, routing them.

Negotiations With Uzbeks

•    The Mughals' victory at Balkh made talks with the Uzbeks possible. As the number of Uzbek allies of Abdul Aziz decreased, he started courting the Mughals.
•    In addition to seeking asylum in Persia, Nazr Muhammad wished for the Mughals to return his empire.
•    Shah Jahan deliberated before deciding on Nazr Muhammad. Nazr Muhammad was first instructed to apologize to Prince Aurangzeb and submit humbly.
•    This was a mistake because the arrogant Uzbek king was unlikely to degrade himself in this manner, especially given the fact that he was aware the Mughals would not be able to hold onto Balkh for very long.
•    The Mughals departed Balkh in October 1647 because winter was approaching and there were no supplies in Balkh after waiting in vain for Nazr Muhammad to personally show up.
•    The withdrawal almost became a rout as hostile Uzbek forces hovered nearby.
•    Despite Aurangzeb's resolve, the Mughals suffered significant losses.

Balkh Campaign of Shah Jahan: Importance

•    The Balkh campaign of Shah Jahan has generated a great deal of discussion among contemporary historians.
•    It is evident from the preceding description that Shah Jahan did not want to fix the Mughal frontier along the so-called "scientific line," the Amu Darya (the Oxus). It was difficult to defend the Amu Darya line.
•    Shah Jahan was not driven by a desire to capture the Mughal 'homelands,' Samarqand and Farghana, despite the Mughal rulers regularly mentioning it.
•    Balkh and Badakhshan, regions surrounding Kabul that were held by Timurid kings until 1585, appear to have been Shah Jahan's priority in terms of securing a favorable ruler.
•    He thought that doing this would assist to quell the unrest among the Afghan tribes that resided in the Khyber Pass and the area surrounding Ghazni.
Shah Jahan's Balkh Campaign - Medieval India

Balkh Campaign of Shah Jahan: Military Success

•    Military victories included the conquest of Balkh and the defeat of Uzbek attempts to overthrow the Mughals.
•    Shah Jahan had cause to celebrate when India's armed forces achieved their first sizable success in the area.
•    However, it was beyond the Mughals' capacity to continue exerting power in Balkh for a protracted period of time.
•    Politically, it was also challenging to accomplish given the hostile locals and the sour Persian attitude.
•    Overall, the Balkh campaign did little to advance Mughal politics, albeit it temporarily increased the reputation of their armies.
•    Perhaps if Shah Jahan had steadfastly adhered to Akbar's painstakingly created Kabul-Ghazni-Qandahar line, the Mughals would have benefited more and would have saved a large amount of soldiers and money.


For the duration of his reign as king of Balkh, Nazr Muhammad maintained good relations with the Mughals, and the two nations frequently exchanged envoys. As a result, the Balkh expedition was successful in preventing the development of a single Uzbek state, which would have been dangerous for the Mughals in Kabul.

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