Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

Baba – The Leader of Leaders


Baba – The Leader of Leaders

There are many Leadership traits which differentiates great leaders from legends and between legends and immortals. But it is not about which traits are followed. It’s all about how and when were the traits used and in which situation and to what extent for what reasons. The right mixture makes a champion. Legendary leaders are all open, social, friendly, humble, sensitive, flexible, honest, and down to earth.
But to become immortal a leader needs to be perceived‘larger than life’. Charisma plays largest part in this perception. Leaders who have charisma are able to arouse strong emotions by embedding a vision, which unites and captivates followers. Using this vision, leaders motivate subordinates to reach toward a future goal by tying the goal to substantial personal rewards and values. Ahmed Shah did exactly that.
Ahmad Khan Abdali (c. 1722 – 16 October 1772) also known as Ahmad Shah Durrani was the founder of the Durrani Empire, hailing from Abdali tribe, and is regarded as the founder of modern of Afghanistan. He began his career by enlisting as a young soldier in the military of Afsharid kingdom, and quickly rose to become a commander of the Abdali Regiment- the cavalry of brave 4000 strong Abdali Pashtun soldiers.
Perhaps the first step of being a good leader is to be a good follower. To become a good teacher one has to be a good student first. So Ahmad Shah ‘baba’ (as he is lovingly called) did exactly that. At first he was just a young soldier who was learning the art of being in an army. To be accepted amongst his people he knew that learning the techniques of being a soldier to enhance warfare skills, is an absolute must. This shows that he had intelligence to know what sort of basic skills he needs, to exhibit leadership in future.
Nader Shah, after conquering Kandahar, freed Ahmad Shah and kept him as his personal attendant. Ahmad Shah proved himself in Nader Shah’s service and was promoted from personal attendant to command a cavalry of four thousand soldiers and officers- the Abdali Regiment. Nadir Shah saw the talent in him and because of his “impressive personality and valor”, as well as his highest loyalty to Nadir Shah.
He was spotted by Nadir Shah at a very young age amongst thousands. This proves he had the basic raw-materials of leadership imbedded in him. Ahmad Shah also showed his leadership, in choosing the right leader as follower and became extremely loyal to Nadir Shah as both their mentality and skills matched. Ahmed Shah first showed his interpersonal skills by being his assistant and then showed his war skills by being his commander. As all great leaders, Ahmad Shah sharpened his leadership skills from his master.
Nader Shah’s rule abruptly ended in June 1747 when he was assassinated by his own guards. The guards involved in the assassination did it secretly so to prevent the Abdalis from coming to their King’s rescue. Despite the danger of being attacked, Ahmad Shah rushed either to save Nadir Shah or to confirm what happened. After reaching Nadir Shah’s tent, he was only to see a body and severed head. Having served him so loyally, Nadir Shah first wept at having failed his master. Then, Ahmed Shah “removed” the royal seal from Nader Shah’s finger, and the Koh-i-Noor diamond tied around the arm of his deceased master.
Ahmed Shah was the greatest leader of Afghanistan ever. There are many concepts that describe a great leader. But nothing can precede the Great Man theory- the idea of “cometh the time, cometh the man”. Right at the time when Nadir Shah was starting to take complete control, via Iranians taking over higher admin positions, and keeping Pastuns as just hired fighters in his reign, Nadir Shah’s death “happened”. Sense of timing is a special asset of great leaders too, and not to mention the asset of knowing when to lead from the back and when to come up in front. Everything is fare is love and war. At least sometimes.
Effective and successful leaders transcend. They find ways to achieve perfect combination of charisma, enthusiasm and self-assurance along with a healthy dose of luck and timing probably added to the mix. Ahmad Shah was no exception to that. Leaders like him are the visionaries, knowing that when to seize opportunities and how to rally the followers to work hard toward goals. Greatness doesn’t come cheap.
After Nadir Shah’s death, realizing that his life was in jeopardy, if he stayed among the Persians who had murdered Nader Shah, he decided to leave the Persian camp, and with his 4,000 troops he proceeded to Kandahar. On their way back to Kandahar, the Abdalis had “unanimously accepted” Ahmed Shah as their new leader. Hence he ‘assumed the insignia of royalty’ as the “sovereign ruler of Afghanistan”. Along the way by sheer luck, they managed to capture a huge caravan with very expensive items being transferred by almost unarmed businessmen from India. He and his troops were suddenly rich, moreover, they were experienced fighters and thus formed a formidable force of young Pashtun soldiers who feared nothing.
All these are proofs of great leadership. If there is anything that is more enigmatic than Great Man, then it is Charismatic. Ahmed Shah had it. That is why he was chosen by all 4000 without doubt. As Pashtuns always need a Role Model to follow, a father figure to look upon, he started in that new role. These sorts of Situational leadership characteristic traits he had in him to automatically create the right image that is needed for his followers. He even took the tool of ‘story-telling’ which today became a legend that Nadir Shah once told him that after his death Ahmad Shah will ‘take over’ his empire. That is really something. Plus he was aided by other traits like ‘self-awareness’ and ‘intuitiveness’ regarding whom to trust or not.
Ahmed Shah, like all great leaders, knew brand building. Even though his followers had already renamed him from Ahmed Khan to Ahmed Shah (as the right hair to Nadir Shah), but he ‘emphasized’ on the word Durrani, which he adopted as his last name and name of his Empire. It is because his leadership foresight told him that the word Abdali is a tribe’s name, so to stand out in history, he needed a unique word; and no other word he loved so much that the nickname Nadir Shah gave him; meaning ‘the pearl of pearls’.
Ahmad Shah began his military conquest by capturing Ghazni from Ghilzais. This depicts his ‘dominance’ trait as the Ghilzais had arrested his father and he had flee & grow up alone in India. He then took Kabul from the local ruler, thus strengthening his hold over eastern Khorasan, comprising most of present-day Afghanistan. Leadership of the Afghans rested on the ability to provide booty for clan, and Ahmad Shah proved remarkably successful in providing both booty and military action for his followers in quick time. This depicts his other leadership trait, conscientiousness- his sense of duty and his strive for excellence.
The ‘social boldness’ trait for ‘risk taking’ was always in him. That flourished further, when he decided to attack Punjab. He crossed the Indus and sacked Lahore. He had conquered the whole of Afghanistan in 2 years but after Lahore he took 6 years to reach Delhi. This shows his trait of ‘mental stability’. He was bit compulsive, but when it came to bigger matters, he was a cool Type B personality; like all great leaders.
He did not replace the Mughals in India. He converted then as puppets under him, and after looting and plundering returned back to Kabul. This shows the great trait of believing in “know thyself and know thy enemy and half the battle is won”. He saw that the British had started to encroach Asia via starting with India. He knew that although he had won against Marathas / Sikhs in the emotional name of Jihad but this will be a different ball game. So he stayed aloof of it, plus his booty was filled up for many years to come.
There will never ever be another Ahmed Shah for Afghans. He stands out as the ‘pearl of all the pearls’.

The author is Indian citizen who has spent 9 years in Kabul working in Government (Wezarat a Mukhabrat), private (Ghazanfar Bank), and been into corporate level training as well as Masters level teaching in Kabul working for Bakhtar & UMEF Universities. He has been into Biz. Dev., Marketing, HR, Admin & Operations.

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