Foreign policy of Akbar

Foreign policy of Akbar

The foreign policy of Akbar largely refers to the steps taken to secure the North- western frontiers of India apart from dealing with the other ruling powers within the Indian subcontinent.

There were three major powers to which Mughals had to deal with while executing their Northwest frontier policy:

  • Uzbegs in Central Asia who were Sunnis.
  • Safavids of Iran who were Shias.
  • Ottomans who were Turk Sunnis.

Apart from these three, Mughals had to deal with several Afghan tribes like Afridis, Yasufzais, Gilzais etc. who were provoked by Uzbegs against Mughals. ©

Main considerations of Mughal’s foreign policy with respect to Northwest frontier:

  • Emotional dimension of foreign policy:
    • Many historians like Abul Rahim, Riyazul Islam have presented the view that Babur from the beginning harboured idea of conquering his ancestral land.
    • This influenced the vision of his successor and shaped Mughals’ foreign policy.
  • Maintenance of safe frontier in North-West.
  • Maintenance of Kabul-Kandhar line as a natural frontier of Mughal Empire.
  • Defence of India
  • Both diplomatic and military means used
  • Checks on Uzbegs aggression:
    • Uzbegs and Mughals were old contestants.
    • Uzbegs were natural enemies of the Mughals, having been responsible for the expulsion of Babur from Samarqand.
    • Annoyed at the alliance of the Mughals with Iran, Uzbegs used to provoked Afghan and baluchi tribes.
  • Friendly relation with Safavi of Iran except on Kandhar issue
    • Both Safavi and Mughal aspired for friendly relations mainly because of Uzbegs threats
  • Promotion of commercial and trade interest and Kabul-Kandhar were twin gateways of trade between Kabul to Central Asia and Kandhar to Iran.
  • Subjugation of rebellious tribes along the Northwest frontiers.
  • Equality of status among all powers e.g. Mughals did not accept superiority claims made by Ottoman as the successor of Caliph.
  • Mughals refused the Uzbegs proposals for a tripartite alliance of Ottoman-Mughal-Uzbeg sunni alliance against the Iranians as it would have upset the Asian Balance of Power.

The foreign policy of Akbar:

  • With the North-West Frontier:
    • Three phases of the Mughal-Uzbeg relations under Akbar.
      • 1572-1577:
        • With his designs on territories like Badakhshan and Qandahar, Abdullah (Uzbek ruler) strove to develop friendly relations with Akbar and sent two embassies in 1572 and 1577.
        • The dangers threatening Akbar at his North-Western frontiers e.g.,
          • rebellious attitude of Mirza Hakim (ruler of Kabul) and the latter’s friendship with Shah Ismail II of Persia;
          • the possibility of triple alliance between Abdullah, Mirza Hakim and Ismail II; and
          • Akbar’s own inability to become involved in external affairs necessitated a friendly attitude towards Abdullah Khan.
        • Hence, an embassy was sent in 1578 to Akbar. Akbar rejected the proposal for a joint attack on Persia.
          • For Akbar, a strong Iran was necessary to keep Uzbek on check. It seems that the reaction of Abdullah to this letter was not quite favourable since no further embassies were sent to Akbar for about a decade.
        • From 1577 onwards, a shift is noticeable in the respective positions of Abdullah Khan and Akbar which also brought about a change in their policies towards each other.
          • While Abdullah had improved his position and was now adopting a bolder and demanding attitude towards Akbar, the attitude of Akbar himself had become more conciliatory.
          • Great Uzbeg king Abdulla Khan conquered Balkh in 1570 then he conquered Khurasan then Badakshan. Now quite near Mughal Empire, there was threat to Kabul. He also encouraged Afghan and baluchi tribes against Mughals.
          • The difficulties of Akbar had increased further. There were troubles in Kashmir and Gujarat, and also tribal commotions in Kabul, Sawad and Bajaur. The frontiers for Akbar had become even more insecure after the death of Mirza Hakim (1585). The Persian Empire had also become weak now under the incompetent and half-blind ruler Khudabanda (1577-1588).
        • Akbar had no desire to set embroiled with Uzbek, unless threat to Kabul. This was key to Akbar foreign Policy.
      • 1583-1589:
        • Abdullah sent another embassy to Akbar in 1586. Akbar responded by sending Hakim Humeim in 1586 as his envoy.
          • The purpose of this embassy from Abdullah was to prevent him from sending any assistance to the Persian ruler in case of an attack on Persia.
      • 1589-1598:
        • The dispatch of Ahmad Ali Ataliq from Abdullah’s court marks the beginning of the third phase in the Uzbeg-Mughal relations. Through the letter sent with this envoy, Abdullah sought friendship and sent counsel for ‘exerting ourselves to strengthen the foundations of concord and make this Hindukush the boundary between us’.
          • Nevertheless, the formal acceptance of this offer of peace was confirmed by Akbar only in 1596 after the conquest of Qandahar.
        • Akbar stayed in Lahore from 1586 to 1598 (Abdulla Uzbeg died in 1598) to tackle Uzbeg danger and suppressed revolting tribes apart from thwarting Uzbegs aggressive moves. Akbar’s designs upon Qandahar and was finally successful in persuading the Mirzas to come to India.
        • After the conquest of Qandahar, Akbar felt the need of reviving his contacts with Abdullah Khan.
        • Uzbeg asked Akbar for tripartite alliance of Sunni powers (Mughal, Uzbegs and Ottomans) to which Akbar replied:
          • Difference in law and religion is not a sufficient ground for conquest.
        • The fear of the Uzbegs continued, particularly, in view of the fact that Abdullah Khan had opened correspondence with the new Ottoman ruler Mohammad and had even proposed a joint attack of Persia.
          • After the occupation of Qandahar, Akbar realized the urgency of sending an embassy to Abdullah through Khwaja Ashraf Naqshbandi and showed his willingness to accept the Hindukush as the boundary between the two kingdoms. ©
    • Mughal – Persia relation under Akbar:
      • The seizure of Qandahar by the Shah Tahmasp had strained Persian relations. It was because of this that Tahmasp’s embassy in 1562 under Said Beg Safavi to Akbar (to condole Humayun’s death and to congratulate him on his accession) remained unanswered.
      • With the accession of Khudabanda in November 1577, Persia was plunged in turmoil. In 1583, Prince Abbas sent Murshid Tabrizi to Akbar to ensure consolidation of his position in his province of Khurasan.
      • Akbar was unhappy with the Persians over the loss of Qandahar. He ignored, says Abul Fazl, “the petition of a rebel son against his father”.
      • In 1591, Shah Abbas again sent an embassy under Yadgar Rumlu as he faced a major threat from the Uzbegs. In November 1594, another envoy Ziauddin arrived, nevekheless, the silence suggestive of a cold and stiff relationship continued till March 1594-1595 when the Mughal forces finally entered Qandahar and conquered Zamindawar and Qarmsir.
        • Akbar acquired Kabul in 1585 and Kandhar in 1595.
      • In 1596, Akbar sent his first embassy to Shah Abbas through Khwaja Ashraf Naqshbandi. In the letter, he justified his conquest of Qandahar in view of the suspected loyalty of the Mirzas towards the Shah and explained away his complete silence owing to his inability to offer timely help to Shah because of the Uzbeg embassies.
      • Overall, Qandahar remained most important point of contention between Mughals and Persian kings.
    • He conquered Sindh in 1591, Kashmir 1585, Baluchi 1595 in order to consolidate power in Northwest.
    • He maintained Kabul-Kashmir-Kandhar as a natural line of defence.
    • He promoted commercial interest.
    • He maintained cordial relations with Safavids, despite Kandhar issue (which both Mughal and Safavids claimed) due to strategic and commercial interest.
  • Policy towards the Deccan States:
    • Akbar wanted the Deccan rulers to accept his overlordship.
      • It was during the campaigns in Gujarat during 1572-73 that Akbar, after being fully secured in the North, made up his mind for the conquest of the Deccan states because the rebels, driven out of Gujarat, used to take refuge in Khandesh, Ahmadnagar and Bijapur.
      • Moreover, with the conquest of Gujarat, Akbar wished to assume the rights which previous rulers of Gujarat had enjoyed in relation to the Deccan states, i.e., the rights of overlordship.
    • Internal conflict among the Deccan states also motivated the Mughal ruler to intervene in their affairs.
    • Akbar’s desire to protect the trade route towards the Gujarat sea-ports and to establish his domination there was one of the important factors that guided his Deccan policy. Besides, Akbar wanted to assert Mughal suzerainty over the Deccan states in order to drive the Portuguese away from the western coast of India.
    • The first contact between Akbar and the Deccan states was established after 1561 when Akbar, after the conquest of Malwa, ordered its governor Pir Muhammad to subdue Asirgarh and Burhanpur where the former ruler of Malwa, Baz Bahadur, had taken refuge.
    • In 1591, Akbar sent four diplomatic missions to the four rulers of the Deccan in order to find out the real state of affairs there and also to see whether they were willing to acknowledge his suzerainty.
      • Only Raja Ali Khan (the Sultan of Khandesh) reaffirmed the acknowledgement of Akbar’s supremacy.
    • The Mughals besieged Ahmadnagar fort in 1595. As Bijapur had sent reinforcements to Ahmadnagar and the Mughal forces had become worried of the siege, they opened negotiations with the besieged. A treaty was signed between the Mughals and Chand Bibi. The treaty however foiled to bring peace and the Mughal attack against Ahmadnagar continued. In 1600, Chand Bibi ultimately decided to surrender the fort.
    • Overall, Khandesh was annexed and became Mughal province. And parts of Ahmadnagar was annexed.
    • The fall of Ahmadnagar and Asirgarh frightened the other Deccani rulers. The rulers of Bijapur, Golconda and Bidar sent envoys to Akbar who were graciously received by him. Akbar also sent his envoys to them.
    • Later, the challenge posed by Malik Ambar and Raju Deccani, mutual bickerings and rivalries among the Mughal generals as well as the prevailing situation in the North persuaded Akbar to adopt diplomatic manouvers rather than military might to consolidate Mughal authority in the Deccan.
  • Apart from the conflict with the Rana of Mewar relationship with other ruling Rajput houses was cordial in nature. His suzerainty was recognized by almost all the Rajput kingdoms.

To conclude, the foreign policy was mostly guided by securing boundaries, the strategic and commercial perspective. Religious and sectarian factors hardly played any role in shaping the Foreign policy of Akbar. He was not only able to maintain the natural boundary but also succeeded in the expanding the territory. ©

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