Although the Turko-Afghan army was famous for its bravery and courage, its greatest drawback was the it was not a homogeneous body. It was a composite body of armed men recruited by and paid for b different amirs. Consequently, the loyalties of the soldiers were for their respective amirs or provincial chiefs and they had not much allegiance to the sultans. Ala-ud-din Khalji realized this major deficiency, which he tried to remove by raising an army recruited, maintained and controlled by the central government.
The subsequent sultans somehow maintained this tradition, but Firuz Shah Tughlak ruined it beyond repair. Under the Lodis, there was a revival of the army, but, as before, it was made up of contingents from assorted warlords and had a strong parochial element. Having seen the Mughal and the Afghan armies close at hand, Sher Shah knew that a centralized, strong, efficient and permanent army was absolutely essential to built up an empire and thereafter to consolidate and strengthen it.
At the same time, he was aware that he could not do away with the nobles and the feudal levy of soldiers he could ask from them in emergencies. With a view to bringing the army more under his direct control, he started paying their salary from the royal treasury. That was how his well-organized imperial army came into existence. He was its commander-in-chief, pay-master general, chief recruitment authority and sanctioning chief of its salary-roll which he fixed after personal inspection.
He brought back Ala-ud-din Khalji’s practice of branding horses (dagh) and maintaining descriptive rolls of the soldiers (sulia or chehra). He was determined not to allow any malpractices during miliary review by proxy soldiers, a method which was perfected later by Akbar. Sher Shah, however, did not introduce any grading measures, such as the mansabdari system of Akbar’s because that would have offended Afghan sensitivity.
His army was subject to a strong discipline which he tempered with kindness by supplying the not so well-off trooper with arms and horses. His army consisted of 1,50,000 cavalry; 25,000 infantry; 5,000 war elephants and a park of artillery which was the only poor component of his military strength. His cavalry was mostly composed of the Afghans, but Hindus and other Muslims also formed part of the soldiers. He took particular interest in their training, clothes and equipment and, paid them in cash while remunerating their officers with jagirs.
The positions of higher ranks in the army were generally given to the Afghan and central Asian youths who came in thousands to India in search of employment. It would not therefore be wrong to say that the central army with which Sher Shah held his empire was generally foreign in character.
In addition to the central army, provincial governors, nobles and feudatory rulers were also allowed to maintain forces, which were requisitioned by the emperor in the event of need. The soldiers were kept in cantonments all over the country in addition to the forts, of which Delhi and Rohtasgarh were most famous. The contingents of troops kept at various places in the kingdom were known as the fauj and were each under the command of a faujdar.