In the continuation of the previous blog, Karim Khan was also indignant about a frontier toll imposed on Iranian pilgrims to the Shiite shrines of Najaf and Karbala. Karim found the toll particularly irksome because, with the loss of Mashhad to the Afsharids, free access to the shrines of Iraq was more important to him than it had been to the Safavids or the Afsharids. Two factors favored the Zands. The weakness and disorganization of both Baghdad and Basra after the epidemic that devastated Iraq during 1772-1775, and the inability of the Ottoman government, chastened after its defeat by Russia in 1774, to render direct assistance to its nearly autonomous eastern province. In 1776 the Zand forces ﬁnally succeeded in conquering Basra, the Ottoman port at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. (This port had been diverting much of the trade with India away from Iranian ports.)
The Qajar rulers in the Caspian provinces, however, continued to be a nuisance for the Zands. Karim Khan attempted to reduce the problem through appeasement, by dividing the Qajars among themselves, and by taking hostages all without great success. On Mohammad Hasan Khan Qajar’s death, Karim Khan brought the Qajar prince Agha Mohammad Khan, then aged about eighteen, to Shiraz, where he treated him with exceptional kindness. Agha Mohammad Khan, however, nursed a hatred toward the world in general, undoubtedly because he had been castrated by Nader Shah Afshar’s successor Adel Shah Afshar in 1748.
His rage increased at the news of Zeki Khan’s unnecessarily cruel military paciﬁcation of the Qajar realms, and the massacre of his fellow tribesmen, who were in revolt. Agha Mohammad Khan was to wreak an act of grisly revenge on the Zands after Karim Khan’s death in 1779. In his almost insane fury, he would exhume Karim Khan‘s bones, bring them to Tehran, and throw them under the stairs of his Golestan Palace. There are more stories told of Karim Khan’s kindness, simplicity, generosity, and justice than about those of any other Iranian monarch. As the archetype of the good king with a genuine concern for his people, he overshadows both Khosrow the Just and Shah Abbas the Great.
Although these and other rulers surpass him in military glory and international prestige, the Zand Khan quietly retains even today an unparalleled place in his countrymen’s affections as a good man, who became a good monarch, and who remained such. As a Vakil (Regent), he retained his simple tastes in clothing and furniture and took advantage of his lofty position only to the extent of having a bath and a change of clothes once a month, an extravagance that is said to have shocked his fellow tribesmen. Mention is often made of his physical courage, and the history of his campaigns sufﬁciently illustrates that what he may yield to Nader Shah in military genius he more than recoups in the tenacity of purpose and resilience under apparent defeat.
That which above all else made his reign a success was his closeness to his subjects, with the resulting tolerance and magnanimity he showed to all classes.However, since the policies of whatever regime was sure to end with the death of the governor, so it was that Zand’s rule, which began in a wave of relative popularity and military expansion, ended with Karim Khan’s death. Soon his country relapsed into civil turmoil and economic stagnation.
No sooner had the Vakil breathed his last than his high-ranking kinsmen’s malice and folly, concealed during his reign, erupted unchecked to blast apart all that he had created. Karim Khan’s death was followed by internal dissensions and a vicious struggle for supremacy. Between 1779 and 1789 one after another of six Zand princes ruled brieﬂy. First, Mohammad Ali Khan, Karim Khan’s second son, came to power. Afterward, Abul Fath Khan, his elder brother, removed him from the throne. Abulfath’s short rule was terminated by Sadiq Khan, brother of Karim Khan Zand, who has proclaimed shah in 1779. He was killed by Ali Murad Khan, who was himself replaced by Jafar Khan, son of Sadiq Khan. The last Zand ruler was the gallant Lotfali Khan, the only one of Karim Khan’s successors to have won admiration for his courage and integrity.
His rule, however, was also very short. Deserted by his army and betrayed by his former allies in the face of a determined Qajar assault, Lotfali Khan was forced to retreat to the eastern provinces. Although defeated again and again by the powerful Qajar opponents, he fought on undauntedly and made his ﬁnal stand in Bam, where he was seized by the local governor and handed over to the Qajars. The revengeful and bloodthirsty Agha Mohammad Khan had his last Zand enemy blinded and cruelly tortured before taking him to Tehran for execution.
The end of Lotfali Khan is all the more poignant because, according to the chronicles, he possessed a remarkable personality, and might have become a great ruler with the potential for changing the entire course of subsequent Iranian history. Lotfali Khan’s indomitable courage and resilience had imparted a certain nobility to the death throes of the Zand dynasty. Despite this, the urban governors and headmen, the tribal chiefs and regional warlords, justiﬁably disillusioned with the Zands and not yet familiar with the Qajars, elected to turn a new page in Iran’s history. The Zand rule was thus supplanted by that of the Qajars.