Q. Discuss the causes of the Safavid -Mughal conflict under Jahangir and Shahjahan. जहागीर और शाहजहां के अन्तर्गत सफाविद-मुगल संपर्ष के कारणों की विवेचना कीजिए। [UPPSC, 2010]

Q. Discuss the causes of the Safavid -Mughal conflict under Jahangir and Shahjahan. जहागीर और शाहजहां के अन्तर्गत सफाविद-मुगल संपर्ष के कारणों की विवेचना कीजिए। [UPPSC, 2010] 


Following the break up of the Timurid empire in the second half of the fifteenth century, three powerful empires—the Uzbek, the Safavid and the Ottoman—established themselves in Trans-Oxiana (Central Asia), Iran, and Turkey. ©

The Ottoman threat from the west made the Persians keen to befriend the Mughals, particularly when they had to face an aggressive Uzbek power in the east. It was natural for the Safavids and the Mughals to ally against the Uzbek danger, especially as there were no frontier disputes between them with the exception of Qandhar.

The dread of Uzbek power was the most potent factor which brought the Safavids and the Mughals together, despite the Uzbek attempt to raise anti- Shia sentiments against Iran, and the Mughal dislike of the intolerant policies adopted by the Safavid rulers.

Causes of the Safavid -Mughal conflict under Jahangir and Shahjahan:

  • The only trouble spot between the Mughal and Safavids was Qandhar the possession of which was claimed by both on strategic and economic grounds, as well as on considerations of sentiment and prestige.
    • Sentimental and prestige value:
      • Qandhar had been a part of the Timurid empire and had been ruled over by Babur’s cousins, the rulers of Herat, till they were ousted by the Uzbeks in 1507.
    • Strategic value:
      • Qandhar was vital for the defence of Kabul. The fort of Qandhar was considered to be one of the strongest forts in the region, and was well provided with water.
      • Situated at the junction of roads leading to Kabul and Herat, Qandhar dominated the whole southern Afghanistan, and occupied a position of immense strategic importance.
      • The Kabul-Ghazni-Qandhar line represented a strategic and logical frontier; beyond Kabul and Khyber, there was no natural line of defence.
      • The possession of Qandhar made it easier to control the Afghan and Baluch tribes.
    • Economic value:
      • Qandhar was a rich and fertile province and was the hub of the movement of men and goods between India and Central Asia.
      • The trade from Central Asia to Multan via Qandhar, and thence down the river Indus to the sea steadily gained in importance, because the roads across Iran were frequently disturbed due to wars and internal commotions.
      • It was an alternative route for pilgrims and the goods traffic to Mecca.
    • Taking all these factors into account, it would appear that Qandhar was not as important to the Persians as to the Mughals. For Iran, Qandhar was more of an outpost, an important one no doubt, rather than a vital bastion in a defence system.
  • Relations between Iran and the Mughals continued to be cordial, despite the Mughal reconquest of Qandhar in 1595 by Akbar (Earlier Shah Tahmasp had captured Qandhar taking advantage of the confusion following Humayun’s death).
  • During Jahangir, Shah Abbas I (1588–1629), the Safavid ruler, was keen to maintain good relations with the Mughals.
    • There was a regular exchange of embassies and costly gifts, including rarities, between him and Jahangir.
    • Shah Abbas also established close diplomatic and commercial relations with the Deccani states but this was not objected to by Jahangir.
    • Neither side felt threatened, and there is an imaginary portrait by a court artist showing Jahangir and Shah Abbas embracing each other, with a globe of the world beneath their feet.
    • Culturally, too, the two countries came even closer to each other during the period with the active help of Nur Jahan.
  • But the alliance proved to be more useful to Shah Abbas than to Jahangir, for it led the latter to neglect cultivating friendship with the Uzbek chiefs, as he felt secure in the friendship of Shah Abbas.
    • In 1620, Shah Abbas sent a polite request for the restoration of Qandhar, and made preparations for attacking it.
    • Jahangir was taken by surprise, for he was diplomatically isolated and militarily unprepared. Hasty preparations for the relief of Qandhar were undertaken, but Qandhar passed into the hands of the Persians (1622).
    • Although Shah Abbas tried to erase the bitterness over the loss of Qandhar by sending a lavish embassy to Jahangir, and offered facile explanations which were accepted by Jahangir formally, the cordiality which had marked the Mughal relations with Iran came to an end.
  • After the death of Shah Abbas (1629), there were disturbances in Iran.
    Taking advantage of this, and after being free of Deccan affairs, Shah Jahan
    induced Ali Mardan Khan, the Persian governor of Qandhar, to defect to the
    side of the Mughals (1638).

    • But the conquest of Qandhar was only the means to an end. Shah Jahan was more concerned with the serious danger of recurrent Uzbek attacks on Kabul, and their intrigues with the Baluch and Afghan tribes.
    • This led to Shah Jahan’s Balkh campaign in which in spite of victory, Mughals were unable to hold Balkh and they had to retreat.
    • The setback of Mughals in Balkh campaign of Shah Jahan led to a revival of Uzbek hostility in the Kabul region and Afghan tribal unrest in the Khyber-Ghazni area, and emboldened the Persians to attack and conquer Qandhar (1649).
    • This was a big blow to Shah Jahan’s pride and he launched three major campaigns, one by one, under princes of blood to try and recover Qandhar.
      • The first attack was launched by Aurangzeb with an army of 50,000. Though the Mughals defeated the Persians outside the fort, they could not conquer it in the face of determined Persian opposition.
      • A second attempt led by Aurangzeb three years later also failed.
      • The most grandiloquent effort was made the following year (1653) under Dara, the favourite son of Shah Jahan.
        • Dara had made many boastful claims, but he was unable to starve the fort into a surrender with the help of his large army, and an attempt at capturing it with the help of two of the biggest guns in the empire which had been towed to Qandhar was also of no avail.
  • The failure of the Mughals at Qandhar showed the inherent strength of Qandhar fort if held by a determined commander, and the ineffectiveness of medieval artillery against strong forts.
  • However Shah Jahan’s attachment to Qandhar was more sentimental than realistic. With the growing enfeeblement of both the Uzbeks and the Safavids, Qandhar no longer had the same strategic importance as it had earlier. It was not so much the loss of Qandhar as the failure of the repeated Mughal efforts which affected the Mughal prestige. But still the Mughal empire remained at the height of its power and prestige during Aurangzeb’s reign. ©

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