Shahnawaz Tanai

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Shahnawaz Tanai
Shahnawaz Tanai.jpg
Shahnawaz Tanai c. 2017
Chief of the Army Staff
In office
1986 – March 1990
Preceded by Nazar Mohammed
Succeeded by Mohammed Asif Delawar
Minister of Defense
In office
May 1988 – March, 1990
Preceded by Mohammed Rafie
Succeeded by Mohammad Aslam Watanjar
Personal details
Born 1950 (age 67–68)
Khost Province, Afghanistan
Political party People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan[1]
Ethnicity Pashtun

Lieutenant General Shahnawaz Tanai is a former Afghan communist general. He was chief of Afghanistan's army under the Republic of Afghanistan. His military positions included Commander of Artillery, Chief of the Army Staff, Chief of the KHAD Intelligence Network and then Minister of Defense during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.[1]

He was a hardline member of the Khalq faction of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, and leader of at least the majority of the Khalqist faction since its former leader Sayed Mohammad Gulabzoy was exiled as Ambassador to Moscow as part of the political preparation of the Soviet pullout in September 1988. A pillar of the communist regime, Tanai later attempted a coup against his former friend and President Mohammad Najibullah, before seeking refuge in a hostile Pakistan and working with fundamentalists such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Early years[edit]

Born in 1950 in the village of Dargai in the southern province of Khost. Tanai followed a classic military career, attending first the military academy and then university, specialising in infantry tactics. He later traveled to the Soviet Union to study leadership. He married in 1978.

After the 1978 coup in which President Mohammed Daoud Khan was ousted and killed, Tanai was appointed head of Military Intelligence. He survived through the years of bloodshed that followed during the Saur Revolution. His first appointment was of Commander of the Kabul garrison.

When Mohammad Hasan Sharq was selected by President Najibullah as the new Prime Minister, the position of Minister of Defense remained open for some time, but was finally awarded to General Tanai. Tanai himself was recognized as a hawk and a sworn enemy of the Mujahideen. He even urged targeting SCUD missiles at Islamabad. He sought a military solution, as opposed to the party's policy of national reconciliation.

Coup of March, 1990[edit]

On 6 March 1990, when the trial of the Khalqi officers was about to start, Tanai launched a coup with the help of renegade mujahideen commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, against the then President Mohammad Najibullah. Tanai had secret sporadic contacts with the hardline Islamist Hekmatyar. The Pakistan government's involvement in this abortive affair was transparently obvious. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's plea to the other six party leaders to aid Tanai and Hekmatyar was rebuked as a disgrace to the jihad. Most of the factions viewed Gral. Tanai as an opportunistic war criminal and hardline communist who had been responsible for the carpet-bombing of portions of the major western city of Herat in March 1979.[2]

The expected uprising by the Afghan Army didn't take place: Tanai had no direct control of troops inside Kabul. President Najibullah appeared on television at 10 p.m. the same night to prove that he was physically there and in effective control of the state apparatus. Tanai escaped by helicopter to Peshawar, Pakistan, where he was greeted and publicly accepted as an ally by Hekmatyar.[3] Eventually, he settled there in Pakistan, where he lived in exile until August 4.


Later it was alleged, but never proven, that Tanai had assisted the Taliban. Instead, Pakistan's army had transferred support from Tanai to the Taliban, since Tanai was seen as carrying too much baggage from his former years and the Taliban leadership and ranks were made up largely of mujahidin fighters. Nonetheless, the Northern Alliance trumpeted the claim that Tanai had supported the Taliban, although this was quite easily disproven, and their own ranks included former communist leaders like Abdul Rashid Dostum.

Tanai is currently the leader of the Afghanistan Peace Movement (De Afghanistan De Solay Ghorzang Gond) party. The party is believed to be fielding a significant number of candidates around the country.

In 2005 he returned to Khost province to make a political comeback. He drove from Islamabad to the border town of Torkham, where he crossed over to Afghanistan to be warmly received by his supporters. He was then escorted in a convoy of vehicles to Kabul, where he now resides.[4]

The 55-year-old former general did not stand as a Presidential candidate in the 2004 elections, but his movement was enrolled as the 29th political party for the 2004 elections, and it was expected that his influence would bringing back Afghan communists from Pakistan and elsewhere where they fled to play a political role.

He has also campaigned for a bigger role for Pashtuns, former jihadi leaders and religious parties, and he openly criticizes United States policies that perpetuate the Northern Alliance domination in Kabul.

There were also allegations that Tanai had been sent by Pakistan to influence Afghanistan's politics in the post-Taliban period. He is also accused of working for Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). According to western diplomatic sources, Tanai has acted as an agent for ISI by providing the Taliban a skilled cadre of military officers from the Khalq faction of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan to use his pilots to fly Mig-23, Sukhoi fighters of what was left of the Afghan Air Force, drive Soviet tanks and the use Soviet artillery. However, most neutral sources doubt this claim, partly because Western sources have tended to play up the ISI's role in the Pashtun discontent, and partly because of Tanai's unpopularity with Pakistan's army and intelligence—as opposed to the Pakistan Peoples Party in power when he fled to Pakistan.


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Nazar Mohammed
Chief of the Army Staff
August 1988 – March 1990
Succeeded by
Mohammed Asif Delawar
Preceded by
Mohammed Rafie
Minister of Defense
May 1988 – March 1990
Succeeded by
Mohammed Aslam Watanjar