(1504 - 1709)
An energetic contender in these games for power was an Uzbak youth whose early life mirrors to some extent the early life of Timur. Shaibani Khan (1451-1510), an orphan who had spent his youth as a soldier-of-fortune helping his grandfather keep rebellious chiefs in line, had, for services rendered, been given the governorship of a few outlying provinces far to the north of the Oxus. Thus established, the erstwhile adventurer began to dream dreams of empire, and these dreams assumed reality after he captured Samarkand in 1500. Sultan Husain Baiqara and his nobles in Herat turned deaf ears to please made by their kinsmen in the Samarkand area, and one by one these tiny kingdoms fell to the Uzbak and his riders.
One such was Zahiruddin Mohammad, known to history as Babur, through whose veins coursed the blood of both Genghis Khan and Timur. Only 17, but already ruler of the Kingdom of Ferghana, east of Samarkand, and sometime holder of Samarkand itself, he fought furiously and valiantly for his kingdom, but, with no assistance forthcoming, he was forced to flee, as others had before him, to the safety of the southern mountains in Afghanistan. In October 1504, he encamped outside Kabul, a city suffering under the rule of an usurper, whose citizenry offered him the city, if he could take it. The invitation was all Babur needed.
Victorious, he immediately began to secure what was still an extremely precarious position by deposing of rivals from within his own family and wooing the surrounding tribes. While he was so engaged Shaibani Khan continued to eat away at the Timurid empire by subduing Balkh and Kunduz. Then he struck out toward the heart, Herat. Babur responded to a hurried call for help from Sultan Husain but by the time he reached Herat he found Sultan Husain dead, the Timurid troops returned from a decisive defeat west of Maimana, and the nobles, according to Babur's own account, unconcernedly vying with one another in lavish wining and dining.
The House of Timur crumpled before the Uzbak, and Herat, easily taken in 1507, was deprived of a huge treasure but not de-stroyed. Babur was not in Herat when it fell. His visit had shown him clearly that it must fall, which left Kandahar the last defense between himself and his old enemy to whom he had already lost one kingdom. He hurried to Kabul to make preparations for its defense and, incidentally, to put down a rebellious step-grand-mother. Then he captured Kandahar.
Kandahar was held at this time by that same usurper from whom Babur had taken Kabul and naturally enough he did not take kindly to Babur's occupation of Kandahar. The usurper called Shaibani Khan to his aid and a siege began (1507) which was lifted when Shaibani Khan received news that his harem in Herat was being threatened by the advance of the King of Persia who, after numerous battles, finally trapped and killed Shaibani Khan (1510) in the vicinity of Merv, downstream from Bala Murghab.
On hearing the news of Shaibani's death, Babur put all interest in Kandahar behind him and immediately marched north hoping to regain his homeland. The Uzbaks, however, though they had lost their great leader, were still strong, and Babur had reluctantly to shift his dreams from a kingdom in the north to conquest in the south. This decision earned him an empire.
Babur left Kabul for India in 1525 and from that time on Delhi and Agra formed the center of his activities. He never lost his love for Kabul, however, and asked that he be brought back to that city for burial. His favorite garden where he was buried is today known simply as Babur's Gardens.
For over 150 years after the death of Babur (1530) the Afghan area swung on the periphery of two magnificent empires: the Mo-ghuls of India and the Safavids of Persia. On the borders, the division was quite clear: Herat was held by the Persians; Kabul zealously maintained by the Moghuls. To the north, however, Turkic Khans pushed their authority south of the Oxus River at the expense of both empires. There were, of course, sporadic successes and a beautiful marble mosque near the tomb of Babur is dedicated to one: the capture of Balkh by the Moghul Shah Jahan in 1646. The Moghuls never succeeded in establishing any permanent influence over the north, however, and Father Benedict Goes, travelling from Lahore in 1603, clearly pinpoints Charikar as the limit of Moghul domain. For this period the most outstand-ing monuments in Afghanistan are Uzbak, such as the Shrine of Khwaja Abu Nasr and the monumental arch from the madrassa built by Sayyid Subhan Quli, dating from the end of the 15th and 17th centuries respectively. They speak clearly of a continuance of Timurid Culture in the north without showing any Moghul influence.
One other remarkable Moghul monument does exist in Afghanis-tan. This is the Chihlzina, "Forty Steps," a stone chamber sitting at the top of some 40 steps hewn from the rock of a craggy cliff outside Kandahar. Inside it an exquisitely carved Persian inscrip-tion records the conquests of Babur. It remains unfinished, in-terrupted by the interminable game of see-saw which the Per-sians and the Moghuls played with Kandahar; taking it from one another through conquest or by intrigue they contested its owner-ship down through the 17th century.
It is perhaps fitting to pause a moment to reflect on the fact that the unfinished Moghul record of conquests sits directly above the Ashokan edict, inscribed some two thousand years before, beseeching man to live in peace. But man is not beloved of peace as the years of turmoil which follow attest.
- Afghanistan by Louis Dupree