The Maratha Empire
at its peak in 1760
Pakistan has named one of its SRBM-class missiles Abdali-I, after the eighteenth century Afghan warlord Ahmad Shah Abdali (also known as Ahmad Shah Durrani). Do the politicians of this country realize that Abdali was responsible for destroying the Islamic regimes of Lahore, Kashmir, and Delhi, and that he was responsible for killing tens of thousands of Muslims? Do they realize that the final blow to the Mughal Empire, which is venerated by the Pakistanis, was dealt by Abdali?
The Islamic theologian Shah Waliullah Dehlawi had a role to play in motivating Abdali to invade India. In 1730, Waliullah had gone to Arabia to perform Hajj. In the two years that he spent there, he was introduced to the philosophy of the controversial Hanbali theologian Ibn Taymiyyah. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who would later become the founder of the Hanbali reform movement called Wahhabism, was studying Taymiyyah’s philosophy in Medina over the same period. It is not known if Waliullah and Wahhab directly interacted with each other but during their time in Medina both developed a similar hardline view of Islam.
When Waliullah came back to Delhi, he was convinced that he was ordained by Allah to guide the Muslims and restore Islamic supremacy in India. In one of his dreams narrated in Fuyooz-ul Haramain, he expressed his desire to annihilate the Marathas, who were then seen as the archenemies of the Islamic regimes in India.
In the early 1750s, Waliullah wrote a letter to Abdali inviting him to invade India and free this country from the Marathas. Waliullah must have thought that Abdali would destroy the Marathas and create a Wahhabi regime in India. But Abdali’s invasions had the opposite effect—he caused more damage to the Islamic regimes than to the Marathas. He sacked and burned Lahore, invaded and plundered Kashmir, and destroyed the Islamic empire (the Mughal Empire) of Delhi. The Islamic regimes of North India never recovered from Abdali’s barbaric invasion.
He defeated the Marathas in the 1761 Battle of Panipat, but his victory came at a terrible cost. A significant part of his army was destroyed in the fierce fighting. What made things worse from Waliullah’s point of view, the Marathas quickly recovered from the defeat and continued to control Central India. The Sikhs and the British were able to take advantage of the power vacuum created in North India, due to Abdali’s wars, massacres, and plunder, to cement their own power.