Zaman Shah was determined to restore the royal authority, which
had eroded since the death of Ahmad Shah in 1773, and one of his
chief projects was the reconquest of the Punjab. Secure control
over Indian revenues would have made him more independent of the
western tribes. 2
But Zaman was never able to accomplish his goals. If he marched
in one direction there would be invasions or revolts from the
opposite direction. He had to keep moving between the Punjab and
Khorasan. Zaman also had to face continuing opposition from the
great tribal chiefs. In 1799, after discovering a plot to depose
him, he executed several tribal leaders, including Painda Khan.
Painda Khan's oldest son, Fateh Fhan, escaped and joined Zaman's
brother, Mahmud, who had previously fled to Persia. 3
Mahmud had revolted unsuccessfully several times with Persian
backing, but now with Fateh Khan's help he was able to defeat
Zaman who was captured and blinded. Mahmud's position was insecure
however. Persian invasions threatened, the tribes were discontented,
and another brother of Zaman, Shuja-ul-Mulk, was in arms against
him. In 1803 Shuja succeeded in toppling Mahmud after three years
in power. But Shuja's rule was effective only in Kabul and Peshawar
since Mahmud's brother Firuz held Herat, and Fateh Khan controUed
the country around Kandahar. Mahmud escaped from the prison where
he had been confined and in 1809 he and Fateh Khan defeated Shuja,
who eventually fled to India where he was given a pension by the
British, and Mabmud returned to power.
As Mahmud's right hand, Fateh Khan was given a free rein and
he energetically suppressed rebellious tribes and provinces and
in 1816 he was given an opportunity to extend his power to Herat.
Herat had been practically independent under Firuz-ed-Din, who
was appointed governor in 1801 by his brother Mahmud. The revolts
and upheavals at Kabul made this quasi-autonomy possible, but
at the same time they prevented Kabul from aiding Herat against
Persia. Firus was obliged to acknowledge Persian sovereignty and
pay tribute from 1800 to 1811. When the Persians marched on Herat
again in 1816, Firuz appealed to Kabul for aid. Fateh Khan came
to Herat with an army although the resulting battle with the Persians
was indecisive. Fateh's supporters then seized control of Herat,
deposing Firuz and all his officials. There was some plundering
and Fateh's brother, Dost Mohammed Khan, even entered Firuz's
During his years in power Fateh Khan had made many enemies
including Mabmud's son Kamran, and most recently Firuz. At this
point Fath Ali Shah of Persia sent Mahmud an ultimatum to dispose
of Fateh Khan or face a massive Persian invasion. 5
These combined factors, persuaded Mahmud to sacrifice his vizier.
Fateh Khan was seized, blinded, kept prisoner, and finally cut
to pieces in 1818. 6
Like Zaman, Mabmud had destroyed the man who was keeping him on
the throne and his fall was equally swift. Fateh Khan's brothers
led a general revolt and assumed control themselves while Mabmud,
Kamran, and Firuz fled to Herat.
At first the brothers offered the throne to Shuja but when
he would not agree to their conditions they parceled the provinces
out amongst themselves. Their mutual amity did not last long.
In 1822 total chaos ensued as they began fighting among themselves
and each province became in effect an independent principality.
Kabul was the main prize and Dost Mohammed Khan finally secured
it in 1826. The rise of Dost Mohammed provided some improvement
in stability but only at Kabul. None of his brothers could ever
get a solid grip on their provinces. Herat was also the scene
of power struggles. By 1824 control had passed into the hands
of Kamran. His father Mabmud, became a puppet and remained so
until his death in 1829. 7
These continued civil wars and the division of royal authority were disastrous for Afghanistan. Herat was cast adrift and now isolated and surrounded by enemies. On the west, the Persians were eager to make good their long-standing claim to the city. On the east, only the disunity of Fateh Khan's brothers prevented them from avenging him. Herat might have fallen to either one if it had not first begun to arouse the interest of outside powers.