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Towards an Agrarian Empire: Agricultural Development in the Durrānī Polity (1747–1818)
This paper focuses on the themes of land use and agriculture in the Afghan polity founded by Aḥmad Shāh Durrānī (r. 1747-1772). While often represented as an empire of conquest predicated on a booty economy, far less attention has been accorded to the agricultural activities promoted by the Afghan state—that is, the efforts of Aḥmad Shāh and his immediate successors to develop the agrarian economies of the domains under Durrānī authority. Drawing on a range of understudied primary sources outlining the administrative system of the early Durrānī period (1747-1818), this paper highlights the “agricultural imperative” of the Afghan state by exploring two interrelated developments: i) the efforts of Durrānī rulers to develop the agrarian economies of their domains through the assignment of land grants in exchange for services rendered to the state, and ii) the formation of a Persianate administrative system, based on Safavid and Mughal antecedents, aimed at drawing tax revenues from the provinces of Khurasan and Hindustan that fell within the purview of the Durrānī state. Seen in the light of this agricultural imperative, this paper argues that the Durrānī empire’s campaigns in Khurasan and Hindustan were not merely aimed at benefitting from short-term gains offered by the booty economy, but part of a broader effort to establish a regularized bureaucratic system designed to extract revenues from local agrarian economies as a means of sustaining the Durrānī imperial project.
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