Siege of Kabul, 1504

Babur's conquest of Kabul in October 1504 gave him a safe base to rebuild his fortunes after the Uzbek leader Muhammad Shaibani Khan expelled him from Samarkand and Babur's own family squabbles pushed him out of his own kingdom of Ferghana.

Until 1502 Kabul had been held by members of Babur's family. His uncle Ulugh Beg Mirza had ruled as an independent king until his death in 1501. His son, Abd-ur-razzak Mirza, was an infant, leaving a power vacuum which was soon filled by Muhammad Muqim, a member of the Arghunid dynasty of Kandahar. Muqim married a daughter of Ulugh Beg, and held the throne for the next two years.

During the same period Babur made an unsuccessful attempt to recover Ferghana which ended with him as a powerless refuge at the head of a band of 200-300 retainers. Despite this unpromising position he decided to attempt to capture Kabul, hoping to use it as a secure base in further wars against the Uzbeks.

Babur now received some fortunate reinforcements. Early in his career, when he had been the young king of Ferghana, Babur had benefited from the unexpected death of his uncle Sultan Mahmud Mirza of Samarkand, an event which had ended an invasion of Ferghana and led to political chaos in Samarkand. The wazir of Samarkand, Khosru Shah, had attempted to seize the city and treasury, but had been expelled by a popular revolt, and ended up in Kunduz (to the north of Kabul), where he became a semi-independent prince. He held the city against an attack from Khorasan, and when Samarkand felt to Babur for the first time offered shelter to Mahmud's son Baisanghar Mirza (1498).

In the next year Khorsu darkened his reputation. Baisanghar's older brother Mas'ud sought sanctuary with him, but was instead taken and blinded. Soon after this Baisanghar was murdered and Khorsu ruled as an independent prince. He was also increasingly threatened by the Uzbek leader Shaibani, who by 1504 was securing in control of Samarkand. As Babur advanced towards Kabul Khorsu's Mongol soldiers realised that he offered them a much better chance of long term success than Khorsu, and deserted to Babur in large numbers. Khorsu had no choice but to submit to Babur, and was allowed to leave with his personal goods, but leaving behind the military equipment in his camp.

It isn't entirely clear from Babur's own account of the campaign exactly when Khorsu's former troops joined his army, but it probably came after the one serious fight of the invasion. Part of Muqim's army, under his chief beg Sherak Arghun, had been posted away from the city, not to watch for Babur but to guard against a possible return by Abd-ur-razzak Mirza. Babur's army came across this force, and defeated it in a brief fight. Most of Sherak's force escaped, although 70-80 were taken prisoner. Sherak was clearly amongst them, for he joined Babur's service.

Babur never really rated his Mongol troops very highly, but they did mean that his army looked rather more impressive as it advanced on Kabul. Although there was some small scale fighting outside the city, Muhammad Muqim made no serious attempt to defend his position and almost immediately began negotiations with Babur. After a limited siege only ten days long he surrendered, and was allowed to leave the city with his dependents, goods and effects. A few days later he was allowed to return to his father in Kandahar.

Kabul was an ideal base for Babur. He was now reasonably secure from Shaibani, and was in a position from where he could operate against the Uzbeks or move into Hindustan. His first raid into northern India, later in the same year, was something of a failure, but it would only be the first of many such raids, which would eventually lead to the establishment of the Mogul Empire.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 April 2010), Siege of Kabul, 1504 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_kabul_1504.html

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