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SHAH ZAMAN, son of Taimur Shah and grandson of Ahmad Shah Durrani, became the ruler of Afghanistan in May 1793 at the age of 23. As soon as Shah Zaman came to the throne, he proclaimed his intention of reestablishing the Afghan sway in India. His first attempt to conquer India brought him as far as Hasan Abdal; he had to return to Afghanistan to put down a revolt by his brother, Mahmud. Two years later he was back in the Punjab again and, in addition to retaking Hasan Abdal, he captured Rohtas from the Sukkar chakkias, Ranjit Singh thus being the first Sikh chieftain to suffer aggression at his hands. Once again Shah Zaman had to return home, this time to prevent an invasion of his own country from me west. 

Ranjit Singh did not have much difficulty in recovering Rohtas, but the Punjab had not yet seen the last of Zaman and his armies.In the autumn of 1796 Shah Zaman crossed the Indus for the third time with the intention of proceeding to Delhi. He had a well equipped army of over thirty thousand men, and was assured of help from many quarters. As the news of the invasion spread, Sikh chiefs evacuated their families to the hills and forgathered in Amritsar. The two Sikh chiefs whose territories lay on the Afghans` route to Lahore were Sahib Singh Bhangi and Ranjit Singh.

Sahib Singh made a feeble attempt to halt the invaders. Ranjit Singh also left his district and repaired posthaste to Amritsar. The majority of the sardars who met in Amritsar felt that the best they could do was to retreat to the hills, and close in on the Afghans when they were returning home with the booty. Ranjit Singh exhorted them to stay in the plains to defend the people from whom they had been receiving a protection tax for many years.

Many chiefs agreed to support him and he, taking command of the Sikh forces, cleared the Lahore countryside of the Afghans and threw a cordon round the city. Every night he organized raids on different suburbs, keeping the invaders on the defensive. In January 1797, Shah Zaman received intelligence that his brother, Mahmud, was again up in arms against him. He left his ablest officer, Ahmad Khan Shah an chibashi, with twelve thousand Afghan soldiers in the Punjab and took the road back to Kabul.

The Sikhs followed closely at his heels, harassing him all the way up to the Jehlum. Ahmad Khan, who attempted to attack Sikhs from the rear, was trounced at Ram Nagar. Ranjit Singh decimated his columns fleeing towards Gujrat. On 27 November 1798, Shah Zaman again entered Lahore. An Afghan detachment was sent towards Amritsar.

Ranjit Singh accompanied by other Sikh sardars met it about 10 km outside the city and, after a fierce three hour encounter compelled the Afghans to retreat.The Afghans were pursued to the walls of Lahore. Shah Zaman was compelled to return to Afghanistan where his brother, Mahmud, was again stirring up trouble. As soon as the news of Shah Zaman`s departure for Afghanistan reached the Sikhs at Amritsar, they broke camp and hurried back to reclaim their estates. Ranjit Singh quickly reoccupied Gujranwala and went in pursuit of the Afghans, keeping up a running fight with them right up to Attock.

Shah Zaman, still ambitious of establishing an empire in Hindustan, made overtures to Ranjit Singh by sending him presents of horses and expensive dresses.Ranjit Singh responded by restoring to him cannon the Shah had lost in the Jehlum river in his hurry to escape. Shah Zaman, who made four attempts to conquer India, was overthrown by the Barakzais who installed Mahmud in his place. Mahmud put out Zaman`s eyes and turned him out of Kabul.

The blind and dethroned Shah Zaman took asylum at Rawalpindi where he was met by Ranjit Singh who invited him to come and stay in Lahore. Ranjit Singh settled upon him a monthly allowance of 1,500 rupees and on his (Shah zaman`s) arrival in Lahore accorded him a welcome befitting his rank. Shah Zaman died many years later a quiet and neglected pensioner of the British government at Ludhiana.

References :

1. Sun, Sohan Lal, `Umdat ut-Twarikh. Lahore, 1885-89
2. ShahamatAli, The Sikhs and Afghans [Reprint], Patiala, 1970
3. Burnes, Alexander, Cabool, London, 1843
4. Ganda Singh, Ahmad Shah Durrani. Bombay, 1959
5. Gandhi, Surjit Singh, Struggle of the Sikhs for Sovereignty. Delhi, 1980

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