Between 1747 and 1834, Durrānī Afghan rulers built webs of alliance to political, economic, and religious elites in Peshawar. The village of Chamkanī serves as a useful case study of these networks. Chamkanī housed an influential Indian merchant family, Afghan landed nobility, and a powerful Sufi lineage. Reflecting the fundamental tension between the Durrānī ideal of universal sovereignty and the reality of diffuse power, these groups both cooperated and clashed with royal authority, and maintained ties between themselves. Ultimately, the most durable legacies of Durrānī rule were left by these local elites.
In 1763, Aḥmad Shāh Durrānī sent an embassy to the Qianlong emperor. The envoy caused offence by refusing to prostrate himself. Still, the Qing court fêted his embassy. It seemed the beginning of a promising relationship, but the two empires never had contact again. The Qing court presented the embassy as a tributary mission, but in the pragmatic world of Qing frontier policy, contact with the Durrānīs was deliberately avoided. Why did no relationship develop? This attitude stemmed from Qianlong’s distrust of Central Asian rulers, and his understanding of the Afghans not as a tributary, but a rival imperial power.