Ahmad Shah Abdali had acquired a firm grip on Multan, Peshawar, and western portions of Lahore province---but the Sarhind and Jalandar divisions had remained outside his control due to the semi-independent position of Adina Beg and the Maratha invasion. By the sequence of events described above the Sikhs had become part of the Mughal-Maratha administration in the Punjab---after the death or expulsion of the former the Sikhs now became the sole defenders of the province. Their war bands were well-prepared from their light equipment, their lack of administrative responsibility, and their long experience in fighting the Mughals in Punjab for the expected guerrilla campaign against Ahmad Shah Abdali.
What the Sikhs were not prepared for then was a straight fight. The Abdali army, mounted on fresh horses, fully armed and supplied with munitions, and with no organized enemy force against them easily occupied the Punjab towns. As before they absorbed the old Mughal administration under their own nominees but pushed on to face the Marathas at Delhi. The main Sikh forces took shelter in the Jammu and Kangra hills while the smaller bands hid in the forests and waited for an opportunity to strike back.
The main Maratha forces were concentrated against the Nizam of Hyderabad at that time while in the north Maratha soldiers under Holkar and Sindhia had the multiple tasks of taming the Ruhelas and moving on through friendly Awadh to take Bihar. They were thus surprised and taken unawares when the refugees from the Punjab trooped into their camp with the Afghan cavalry following closely behind. Ahmad Shah united his forces with the Ruhelas and uncovered the Maratha right flank along the Yamuna River---Holkar and Sindhia sent their artillery and baggage away and attempted to fight with their light cavalry but their mounted spearmen were overcome by the fire of Afghan jizails. Guerrilla warfare, of the type their ancestors had fought against Aurangzeb, required a friendly local population to inform the warrior bands of the movements and plans of the enemy.
While the Afghans dug their heels in and found a new ally in the Nawab of Awadh, the Peshwa sent up a fresh Maratha army from the south. This army could not find any dependable ally in the north and, suffering from a lack of provisions, moved up from Delhi to attack and occupy the Afghan supply depot at Kunjpura.
By this time the Sikhs had seized the Abdali's Faujdar of Sialkot, Rustam Khan, and had secured a large ransom from him. Now on hearing of the Maratha capture of Kunjpura, and the consequent rupture of the Abdali's line of communication with Punjab, they were filled with the wildest confidence. The misls of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Jai Singh Kanhaiya, Gujar Singh Bhangi, Lehna Singh Ramgharia, and others gathered in unlimited numbers at Amritsar on the day of the Diwali festival. Most of the Afghan chiefs were with Abdali and Punjab was denuded of their troops---the Sikhs for the first time attacked Lahore and looted the inhabitants of the suburbs. The governor Buland Khan paid a ransom of Rs. 30,000 to protect the city from the horrors of a sack---to save the Abdali's face this ransom was delivered as Karha Prashad (food offering) to the Khalsaji.
After triumphing over the starving Maratha army in January 1761, Ahmad Shah Abdali turned his face towards Punjab. His decision to fight the Marathas instead of securing a ransom and making peace with them had been forced by the senseless bigotry of his soldiers---thus he was returning home as a bankrupt. But though Ahmad Shah Abdali stayed for some time to make new appointments to hold the Punjab towns the Sikh misls disappeared into the hills and forests and dared not thwart his march home.
In 1762 the new Lahore governor, Khwaja Abid Khan (an Uzbek officer of the former Mughal governors), attacked the Sukarchakia misl at Gujranwala. Some Sikhs in the Afghan army were corrupted by Charat Singh Sukarchakia and Khwaja Abid was defeated and driven back to Lahore. Flushed with confidence the misl attacked and defeated the Afghan Faujdars of Jalandhar---the other Sikh misls began plundering the highway from Sarhind to Sialkot. Combining their forces the Sikhs invested the Niranjani sect, old allies of the Afghans, in Jandiala---Akaldas the Niranjani Guru sent a messenger to the Abdali who had already set off from Kandahar to rescue his officers in the Punjab.
 Sadiq Khan Afridi and Sadat Khan.
 The Sikh faith was over 200 years old by this time and had already broken into many dissenting sects. A list of these sects can be read at http://www.sikh-heritage.co.uk/movements/Various%20sects/VASects.htm. According to the Amritsar Gazetteer, "In the conflict between the Sikhs and Ahmad Shah Abdali, the Niranjanis aided the latter with information. In revenge of this the Sikhs invested Jandiala." The Hussain Shahi states that the Niranjanis "were friendly to Islam and Nanakshahi faqirs, listening to the bang and salwat..."
On the mere report of his approach the Sikhs broke their siege and fled---but this time, instead of seeking shelter in the eastern hills, they crossed over into Sarhind and began looting the villages in concert with the Phulkia Sikhs. The faujdar Zain Khan Mohmand came out of Sarhind fort to subdue them and joined forces with the Nawab of Malerkotla---by this time the Abdali had crossed the Beas and Sutlej along the foothills and now sent couriers to Zain Khan, instructing him to attack the Sikhs from the front. In the fighting the Afghan vanguard was defeated and driven back to Malerkotla with the exception of Murtaza Khan Bharech who held his ground on a hillock. A detachment under the Afghan Wazir, Shah Wali Khan, joined him there and rallied Zain Khan's forces while the Abdali's main force attacked the Sikhs in the flank.
From noon till the evening of the 5th of February the running fight continued for over forty kilometers; the Sikhs were defeated and driven beyond Barnala with the loss of 10,000 men---the day is marked in Sikh history as the ghallu-ghara (great scrimmage). Ahmad Shah next attacked Ala Singh for aiding the Sikhs from across the Sutlej and forced him to submit. Taking the Patiala chief with him the Abdali marched back to Lahore---on the way he demolished the Sikh Temple, Harmandir Sahib, at Amritsar and desecrated the waters of the reservoir by killing cows and throwing their grisly remains in it. At Lahore Ahmad Shah halted for the rest of the year and received envoys from the Ruhelas, Jats, and other Indian powers where he tried to negotiate a political settlement with the Marathas---something that should have been done at Panipat a year ago. The failure to make that settlement would come back to haunt the Afghan chief again and again as he fought relentlessly against the Sikhs over the next few years.
But while the talks continued Ahmad Shah dispatched a force to take back Kashmir in alliance with the Raja of Jammu, as described above. Due to his stay at Lahore the roads in Punjab became open once again and the fear of highway robbers disappeared, but with no increase in prosperity because his own unpaid and starving soldiers robbed the cultivators and drove them to join the Sikh faith. Worse, the Sikhs reappeared in strength that summer in Sarhind---this time Zain Khan bought them off with 50,000 Rupees but a fight was forced by his undisciplined troops.
Ahmad Shah spent the whole of 1763 in subduing a rebellion in the distant Khurasan province. On hearing of his troubles the Dal Khalsa assembled at Amritsar once again on Diwali (4th November) and restored their shrine.
 It was a practice with Ahmad Shah to never make plans in the camp, where many spies and other civilians were present, but to issue orders while out on a hunt so that his men were already prepared for marching.
They attacked first the Nawab of Kasur, the local ally of the Abdali, and then on the Chenab River defeated Sardar Jahan Khan who was coming down from Kabul with a compact force. The Sikhs next turned to Lahore in February 1764 and killed Khwaja Abid in a battle outside the city. His deputy Kabuli Mal made peace by paying money and cutting off the noses and ears of the butchers who had killed the cows at Amritsar in 1762. Ahmad Shah reached Lahore in March but a civil war had broken out in Afghanistan, his own troops were mutinying for their pay, and there was a sheer lack of foodgrain in the region. The Abdali left Punjab within a fortnight escorted for some distance by Kabuli Mal---at this Lehna Singh, Gujjar Singh, and Sobha Singh occupied the masterless city of Lahore with their forces.
Another Sikh band in all this time had swerved into Sarhind to take out the Nawab of Malerkotla---an Afghan family that had supported every invasion of the Abdali. The faujdar of Sarhind who should have protected Malerkotla was busy in amassing a personal fortune. Zain Khan had stopped paying his soldiers cash and instead forced them to subsist by raiding villages---on hearing of the rebellions against Ahmad Shah he had formed the plan of carving out his own independent principality in alliance with the neighboring hill-Rajas. When a force of 40,000 Sikhs bore down on Sarhind, Zain Khan, abandoned by his chief lieutenants, came out with a starving army and was easily defeated and killed. The Sikhs entered Sarhind and looted that luckless city for the fourth time.
Figure 5 The ruins of Sarhind from http://travels.ndtv.com/
Flushed with confidence they, for the first time, crossed the Yamuna and began plundering the villages in the estate of Najib Khan Ruhela, the ally of Ahmad Shah. Najib at that time was holding Delhi (see RMA-II) and had exhausted his treasures in the fight against the Jats of Bharatpur---his army did not have the strength to fight the vigorous new enemy and he paid the Sikhs a ransom of 11 Lakh Rupees. Failure to make a settlement with the Marathas at Panipat had proved to be a fatal mistake for the Ruhela chief as much as it had been for the Abdali.
 At Amritsar the Sikhs struck coins as a sign of independence with the Persian phrase Degh wa tegh wa fath wa nusrat-i-bedirang yaft az Nanak Guru Govind Singh (Guru Govind Singh received from Nanak, brotherly union, the sword, and victory through mutual assistance). In this period some mosques were demolished and captive Afghans were made to wash their foundations with the blood of pigs in retaliation for the Abdali's sacrilege at Amritsar.
The Dal Khalsa had formed into two distinct bodies by this time, the Budha Dal (comprising the established misls) and the Taruna Dal (comprising the new Sikh bands). In 1765 the Budha Dal crossed over once again into Sarhind and Saharanpur and then down towards Delhi where the new Jat ruler, Jawahir Singh had besieged Najib Khan Ruhela. Jawahir sought an alliance with the Sikhs but conscious of their growing power they made him approach their council on foot and announced him as a supplicant for aid, "Jawahir Singh, the son of Suraj Mal, who has sought shelter with the Khalsaji and become a Sikh of Nanak."
While these allies were attacking Delhi, Ahmad Shah Abdali had tided over his financial and administrative troubles and had set off for Punjab in November 1764. This time he had taken the aid of the Nasir Khan of Kalat and his Baloch tribal levy. The Baloch army approached from the south via Multan and Ahmad Shah from Kabul, fighting and dispersing the lesser Sikh bands along the way. Ahmad Shah left his baggage and equipment at Lahore and once again attacked Amritsar and demolished the newly-built Sikh temple. Crossing into Sarhind the Afghan army avoided the main road and instead marched along the foot of the hills massacring Sikhs and non-Sikhs for two months. At Kunjpura Ahmad Shah learnt that Najib had concluded a peace treaty with Jawahir Singh Jat and that the latter's Sikh allies had disappeared when they heard of his capture of Lahore.
Unlike his campaign against the Marathas in 1759-61 none of the former Indian allies of Ahmad Shah came to his aid against the Sikhs. There was no one to quarter his army in secure camps through the dreaded Indian summer (as Najib Khan Ruhela had done in the Panipat campaign) and no one to finance his expenses for the long and sustained campaign, which was needed to convincingly defeat the Sikhs. Ahmad Shah hurriedly returned to his lands losing more soldiers in crossing the flooded Chenab than in any fight with the Sikhs. The Afghans were practically beaten.
Sarhind was now a secure Sikh base and from this town in November 1765 the Sikh bands invaded Najib Khan's estates---one group entered Saharanpur and another led by Jassa Singh, Tara Singh, Sham Singh and others came towards Delhi. They sent a force of 7000 men to Jawahir Singh Jat to aid him in his fight against the Marathas. In 1766 these Sikhs fought several running battles with Najib Khan where the Ruhela veteran held his men together in columns and kept the Sikhs back with artillery and musket fire allowing them no rest till they had crossed back across the Yamuna. Foiled in this raid these bands sought compensation by attacking the territory of Amar Singh of Patiala, who had been made a tributary ally by Ahmad Shah. Through the intervention of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia peace was made with Amar Singh paying a subsidy to the Dal Khalsa.
 They also shooed away Jawahir's huqqa-bearer because smoking is an abomination among the Sikhs.
 Kalat led a coalition of Baloch states and tribal belts until its recognition as a princely state under the victorious British. In 1948 the state was forcibly annexed along with the rest of Baluchistan by the Pakistan Army.
But there was little unity even within the trans-Sutlej Dal Khalsa. The misls had carved up the lands between the Jhelum and the Sutlej among themselves---predatory guerrillas had been weighed down with the burden of administrative duties. The misls fought over delineation of their boundaries and over the natural instinct of the strong to loot the villages of the weak. In the midst of these quarrels Ahmad Shah Abdali crossed the Jhelum in January 1767.
Charat Singh Sukarchakia fled to the Jammu hills while Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was defeated and wounded in battle. Ahmad Shah brushed aside all other opposition and the numerous misls abandoned their newly-acquired territories and subjects to the invader's wrath. Amar Singh of Patiala submitted to the Shah and was received in his camp---south of Ambala Ahmad Shah called up Najib Khan and other Indian chiefs to his side. Except Najib all other powers merely sent their envoys knowing well that the Abdali's power was on the wane.
Taking Najib's Ruhelas along, Ahmad Shah campaigned in Jalandhar and the nearby hills rooting out the Sikhs who had taken shelter there. Large numbers were killed and made captive but the main Sikh bands slipped past the Afghans, crossed the Yamuna and began plundering Najib's estates. Ahmad Shah deputed Sardar Jahan Khan with 8000 cavalry to join Najib's son and his 5000 horse---the two chiefs set off at midnight and surprised the Sikh camp near the river, wounding and slaying many men.
This was destined to be the last campaign of Ahmad Shah Abdali and ostensibly it had been his most successful against the Sikhs. The misls had been defeated and their territories recovered by his men, the Sikhs hiding in the hills had been attacked killed and taken prisoner, while their raid across the Yamuna had also been thwarted in time. And yet even as Ahmad Shah waited on the Sutlej thousands of Sikhs, appearing out of nowhere, gathered at Amritsar fully equipped for war. All the massacres, the ceaseless campaigns, the destruction of the Sikhs' shrine (the source of their spiritual and temporal power), and the alliances with some of the Sikh chiefs had failed to subdue a newly-risen people. Their numbers and military abilities kept growing in direct proportion to the Shah's massacres.
Conscious of his own financial weakness and the faithless attitude of his former Indian allies Ahmad Shah turned to diplomacy to secure this portion of his empire. Amar Singh of Patiala was left in charge of Sarhind and given the superlative title of Raja-e-Rajgan, Ghammand Chand Katoch of Kangra and Ranjit Dev Jamwal of Jammu were left supreme in their spheres of influence, the plains from the Chenab to the Sutlej were abandoned to the Dal Khalsa, while only Peshawar Multan and Kashmir were retained by Ahmad Shah. The remainder of the Punjab plains remained a hunting ground for his descendants and only fell to a new force that rose from among the Sikhs.
Figure 6 Ahmad Shah Abdali's tomb at Kandahar