Siege of Kandahar, 1520-6 September 1522

The siege of Kandahar of 1520-6 September 1522 was a major victory for Babur that removed the last major obstacle in Afghanistan to his planned invasion of Hindustan. 1520 started with Babur's third expedition into Hindustan, but he had been forced to return to Kabul after learning that Shah Beg Arghun of Kandahar or some of his supporters were raiding Babur's Afghan lands. Babur decided to remove this threat once and for all, and prepared to attack Kandahar.

The siege was complicated by Babur and Shah Beg's relationships with Shah Isma'il of Persia, and the recent history of Khorasan. Until 1507 Khorasan, with its capital of Herat, had been held by members of Babur's Timurid dynasty, but in that year it was captured by the Uzbek conqueror Shaibani Khan. Several members of the deposed Baiqara family fled to Babur, and were still members of his court in 1520.

In 1507 Kandahar had been governed by Zu'n-nun Arghun, officially for the rulers of Herat. He was killed in battle with Shaibani, and his sons inherited Kandahar. They asked for help from Babur, but when he approached at the head of his entire army changed their minds and called for help from Shaibani. Babur defeated the Arghuns in a battle outside Kandahar, appointed his brother as governor of the city and then returned to Kabul. Soon after this Shaibani arrived at Kandahar and besieged the place. Babur's brother managed to escape from the siege, and eventually Shaibani was forced to abandon it to respond to a threat to his harem, leaving the Arghuns free to reoccupy the place. Babur had planned to attack Kandahar in 1517, but had been prevented by illness, and his attention had turned to India.

Babur's own relationship with the Shah was also complex. After Shaibani's death in 1510 Babur had accepted an alliance with the Shah in which he was clearly the junior partner, and during the negotiations that accompanied the siege of Kandahar the Shah's officials wrote to Babur as if he was still acting for the Shah. Shah Beg is portrayed as an insubordinate vassal of the Shah. The main Persian concern was that Babur would attack Herat after taking Kandahar, taking advantage of apparent weakness in Persia - the Shah was engaged in a losing fight with the Sultan of Rum, while Herat was attacked by the Uzbeks during 1521.

Kandahar was a very strongly fortified place in 1520, with three lines of walls around the city and a strong central citadel overlooking the town. Babur arrived outside the city in 1520, and began a regular formal siege, attempting to undermine the walls. The defenders were soon struck by a pestilence, which spread out from the city into Babur's camp, and in June 1520 he abandoned the siege and returned to Kabul. This gave Shah Beg a chance to build up a store of food inside the city, and prepare for a resumption of the siege in 1521.

There are two different accounts of the end of the siege. In both versions Babur returned in 1521 and resumed the siege. The defenders were soon reduced to a poor state. In both accounts Shah Beg's possessions in Sind play a role. In the first Shah Beg was worn down by Babur's persistence, and eventually agreed to hand the city over the Babur after he had enjoyed the possession of it for one more year. This would give him the time he needed to move his family and dependents to Sind.

In the second Shah Beg also ended 1521 by moving to Sind, but this time in the belief that the Persian emissaries had convinced Babur to abandon the siege in return for Shah Beg accepting Babur as his overlord. 'Abdu'l-baqi was left in command of Kandahar, and in 1522 he betrayed his master and handed the city over to Babur. This second account is the most likely, coming from the contemporary account written by Khwand-amir, whose nephew is said to have handed the keys over to Babur.

Whichever version of the end of the siege is true, we do know that the keys of Kandahar were handed over on 6 September 1522, a date recorded on a victory monument erected by Babur. The possession of Kandahar removed the last major threat to Babur's base at Kabul, and allowed him to turn his attentions back to India.  

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 May 2010), Siege of Kandahar, 1520-6 September 1522 ,

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