The Hotak Empire was an extremely short-lived empire. However, I would not really call it weak. As it did manage to defeat the Safavid Empire of Persia. The Hotak Empire is one of the least known empires because of how short-lived it was. This dynasty only ruled for 29 years. Out of which, it existed as an empire for only seven years.
In the early gunpowder age, the region of Afghanistan was a battlefield between three great empires. To the west was the Safavid Empire of Persia, to the east was the Mughal Empire of Hindustan and to the north was the Khanate of Bukhara of the Uzbeks. The three empires waged wars for control over Afghanistan.
By the late 17th century, most of Afghanistan was under the control of the Safavid Empire of Persia. This included Kandahar, a region that the Safavid had previously wrestled away from the Mughal Empire.
The Safavid were a dynasty of Shia Muslims that drew a great deal of legitimacy and power from being the defenders of Shia Islam. The Safavid Empire tried to influence conversions to Shia Islam. This involved discrimination against the Sunni Muslims within the empire.
The Afghans/Pashtun people of Afghanistan were mostly Sunni Muslims. The discrimination against them resulted in revolts in the region. These were ruthlessly put down by Gurgin Khan, the governor of the eastern regions of the Safavid Empire. In 1709, Mirwais Hotak Khan led a rebellion in the region of Kandahar. In April, Mirwais Hotak and his followers ambushed the Persian forces under Gurgin Khan while they were outside of the city. The majority of the Safavid army in the region was destroyed, as well as Gurgin Khan himself.
The Afghans under Mirwais Hotak took the city and he was chosen as the leader in a Loy Jirga. The region of Kandahar had broken free of the Safavid hold and became an independent kingdom under the Hotak Dynasty. The Safavid Empire would send forces over the next few years to retake it, but they would be defeated. Mirwais Hotak died in November 1715 in Kandahar.
Mirwais Hotak was succeeded by his brother, Abdul Aziz Hotak. He wanted to make peace with the Safavid Empire and some believe that was even willing to submit to them once more. The Afghans were not very pleased with him and he was killed in 1717 by Mahmud Hotak, the son of Mirwais Hotak.
Mahmud decided to take advantage of the decline in the Safavid Empire and invade Persia. He launched multiple campaigns against the Safavid Empire. He defeated the Persians in the Battle of Gulnabad on 8 March 1722. This allowed his army to march on Isfahan itself, the capital of the Safavid Empire. The city of Isfahan was besieged. On 23 October 1722, Sultan Husayn of the Safavid Empire surrendered. He abdicated and gave the throne to Mahmud Hotak, who was now the new Shah of Persia.
His reign as the Shah of Persia was extremely short-lived. Mahmud Hotak was never truly accepted by the people as the new Shah of Persia. There were rebellions throughout Persia. Not to mention that the Ottomans and Russians used this weakness to claim parts of Safavid territory. His decision to execute many of the Safavid princes in February of 1725 was the last straw for many. Mahmud Hotak was killed by Ashraf Khan, Abdul Aziz Hotak’s son, with the help of the Afghan nobility. Ashraf Hotak became the new Shah of Persia. Back in Kandahar, Hussain Hotak (Mahmud’s brother) became the leader in the region.
The decline of the Hotak Empire began under Ashraf Hotak. Initially, he was able to defeat the Ottomans in battle. But this made little difference in the long run. Tahmasp II, son of the last Safavid Emperor Sultan Husayn, had declared himself as the Shah of Persia. Initially, he had found little support. However recently Tahmasp joined forces with a talented military commander, Nader Shah. The Afghans were decisively defeated by Nader Shah in the Battles of Damghan and Murchie-Khort in 1729. Ashraf Hotak and the Afghans were forced to abandon Iran and retreat back to the region of Afghanistan. These defeats against Nader Shah broke the Hotak military. Ashraf Hotak himself was captured and killed by Baloch tribesmen in 1730.
The Hotak dynasty lost most of its territory after the defeat at the hands of Nader Shah and the death of Ashraf Hotak. Kandahar still remained under their control, being ruled by Hussain Hotak. However, it was now a weak kingdom. Kandahar would remain under the control of the Hotak Dynasty till 1738 when it was conquered by Nader Shah. Hussain Hotak and his family were taken as prisoners. This was the end of the Hotak Dynasty and Empire.
Hussain Hotak, the last ruler of the Hotak Dynasty
What makes the Hotak Dynasty so interesting is how short-lived it was. This was a dynasty that defeated both the Safavid Empire and Ottoman Empire in battle. However, it only lasted for 29 years. At its peak, it controlled most of Afghanistan and Iran. Out of those 29 years, it controlled Iran for only 7 years. This means that the Hotak Empire was truly an empire for just 7 years. That is an extremely short-lived empire. Out of these seven years, it was at its prime for less than three years.
The Hotak Dynasty began as a rebellion against the Safavid Empire. Then it ruled the Kingdom of Kandahar. After that, it ruled a large empire consisting of both Afghanistan and Iran. Soon after, it ruled only Kandahar again. Less than a decade after that, the Hotak Dynasty was completely removed from power. All of this happened in less than three decades. That is what makes the Hotak Dynasty so interesting.