Mongols at the doorstep of Pakistan

Mongols on the Doorstep

Under the reign of Iltutmish the sultanate—and the region that is now Pakistan—contended with the depredations of armies of Mongol nomads that swept into the region led by Chinggis, or Genghis Khan, (ca. 1162–1227). Chinggis Khan and the Mongols fi rst came to the area in 1221 in pursuit of Jalal–ud-Din Mengüberdi, son of the shah of Khwarezm, Ala-ud-Din Muhammad II. The Mongols had overrun Khwarezm in 1220. Ala-ud-Din Muhammad had escaped but died soon after, and Mengüberdi (r. 1220–31) fl ed east with a small army. The Mongols caught and defeated them at the Battle of the Indus. Mengüberdi and some of his followers escaped into India. Chinggis Khan continued into the subcontinent as well, plundering and sacking his way through Punjab and Multan. Iltutmish is said to have declined Mengüberdi’s request for sanctuary in Delhi.

By the end of Iltutmish’s reign the Mongols controlled much of what is now Pakistan as well as most of Central Asia and parts of Europe. Now that the silk routes were under their jurisdiction, the Mongols switched from raiding caravans to taxing them. In the Pakistan region, towns west of the Indus submitted to Mongol rule while the Delhi Sultanate claimed all lands east of the river. Local rulers in the Indus region tried to remain neutral.After the death of Chinggis Khan the Mongol empire split into four parts. Present-day Pakistan came to be known as Chaghatai, named after the descendants of Chaghatai, Chinggis Khan’s second son.

Mongol raids continued to ravage the region, ultimately depopulating the provinces of today’s Baluchistan and NWFP. Marco Polo (1254–1324) was held pris-oner here, and after his escape wrote of the Chaghatai: “They know well the localities . . . they come here by the dozen thousands, sometimes more, sometimes less. Once they seize a plain, no one escapes, neither men nor cattle. If they make their mind to plunder, there is nothing that they cannot take hold of. When they take a folk in captivity they slay the old and take away the young whom they sell as slaves” (Hussain 1997, 145). The raids also drew Baluchi and Afghan tribes into the western Pakistan area, as the land was now emptied, introducing two important ethnic groups into the population of Pakistan.

On the east side of the Indus Iltutmish was succeeded by his daugh-ter Razia Sultana (r. 1236–40). But military leaders were unwilling to recognize her rule. Turkish nobles rebelled against her and seized power, but were unable to agree on a leader. Iltutmish’s youngest son, Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud (r. 1246–66), was his last descendant to rule the sultanate. He spent most of his time in prayer, turning the affairs of the state over to a Turkish slave, Ghiyas ud Din Balban, who gradually gained control of the empire. Balban (r. 1266–87) took the throne upon Nasir-ud-Din’s death.

The sultanate had grown in part due to the ambitious corps of Turkish offi cers that led its military victories. Their contributions were refl ected in the rule by consensus previous sultans had observed. Balban dispensed with this practice and shifted composition of the military garrisons from Turkish to Afghan forces, lessening the chances of an attempted coup by these offi cers. Concurrently he introduced pomp and ceremony into the state’s affairs. From his subjects’ point of view, his major contribution was the construction of forts from the Indus to Delhi, built to protect the region from the Mongols. He also rebuilt towns and villages throughout Punjab the marauders had destroyed, including the reconstruction of Lahore. Balban’s eldest and most capable son, Muhammad, governor of Multan and Sind, engaged the Mongols successfully in several skirmishes, but died in battle.

Balban was succeeded by his inexperienced and undisciplined 18-year-old grandson, Muiz ud din Qaiqabad (r. 1286–90). Four years later, after suffering a debilitating stroke, Qaiqabad named his three-year-old son Kayumars (r. 1290) as ruler in his stead. A group of Turkish nobles asked Jalal-ud-din Firuz Khalji (r. 1290–96) to step in, and the elderly general accepted. But the sultanate was in decline, as it had been since the reign of Iltutmish. The corps of ambitious Turkish offi cers who helped create the kingdom now gave in to avarice over the spoils of the dynasty’s demise, further fragmenting the empire. Some resented the increasing power of the Khalji clan, considered to be of Afghan rather than Turkish origin.