genius in Ahmad Shah Abdali. He would have
the ability to conquer, but unlike Babur he lacked the political sagacity and
skillful agents to make good his conquest. Babur had adventurers from Persia
and Turkistan, to draw on as well as Afghan chiefs. For the most part they
were untroubled by fanaticism and were, used to dealing with diverse people
and creeds. The Mughuls were ‘kings by profession’ and their officers
imperialists by instinct; the Afghans were turbulent and fanatical hillmen who
knew how to conquer but not how to conciliate. They could die for a cause,
but not compromise for it.
Ahmad Shah’s first attempt on the empire failed at Sirhind in 1748. If the
Mughul empire had continued to be vigorous, no more would have been
heard of him east of the Indus. However, the Emperor Muhammad Shah died
the same year and was succeeded by his son Ahmad Shah. Under his
nerveless control in Delhi dissensions revived and Ahmad Shah Abdali was
quick to take advantage of them.
In 1749 he appeared again, but was bought off by the governor of Lahore.
In 1751–52 he appeared again and captured Lahore after a four months’
siege. This time the imperial government itself bought him off by allowing
the cession of Panjab and Multan.
By 1756 the empire was further weakened by civil war and political
assassinations. This time Ahmad Shah sacked Delhi and appointed the
Rohilla chief Najib Khan (entitled Najib-ud-daula) as the guardian of the new
empire. Local forces then rallied and called in the Marathas from the Deccan.
THIRD BATTLE OF PANIPAT
Ahmad Shah entered India for the fifth time in 1759 and found himself
confronted not so much by the Mughals as with the resurgent power of the
Marathas. The moves and counter-moves of the next eighteen months
culminated in the battle of Panipat on January 14, 1761.
There is nothing more eloquent of the enfeebled state of the empire than
that Afghans should return to their hills because Delhi could not provide
them with pay. Ahmad Shah was compelled to lay aside the scepter within