Biography of Yahyah Nawroz


Yahyah Nowroz

General Yahyah Nawroz was Chief of Army Staff and in charge of Operations during President Mohammad Daoud’s Republic. After a period of time in jail under the Communists, he was released in 1980, at which time he joined the Mujahideen Resistance based in Peshawar, Pakistan. He went on to be in charge of the military affairs for two of the Peshawar parties and then as Adviser to the Interim President. He was born 1927 and passed away on May 3, 2012.


Below is a excerpt from Dr. Assem Akram’s book (Afghanistan: An Approach to Issues of Society, Religion, Power and Conflict) regarding Gen. Yahya Nawroz.

General Nawroz

Who is going to explain that to a 15-year-old kid?

“Who is going to explain that to a fifteen year old kid armed with a stick and a gun,” questioned General Yahyah Nawroz 1.

The Taliban were in power in Kabul. There were a number of factors and actors that played a role in organizing and unleashing this potent alliance of a fundamentalist view of Islam and military effectiveness, but probably the major reason for their success was the endless chaos and fighting that followed the 1992 victory of the Afghan Mujaheddin groups.

Once the Taliban seized power in September 1996, they quickly revealed themselves as not only religiously narrow-minded, but also void of any ability to govern the country. Opinions shifted and the Taliban quickly found themselves to be just another militia group embattled in a civil war. During a short window of time – roughly the years 1996-1998 – and before being influenced by Al-Qaeda, the Taliban attempted to use more traditional ways to consolidate their power, including negotiating with other groups and attempting to attract non-Taliban personalities to join their Administration.

I was discussing the situation with a former Army General over a cup of tea at his place. The General was a man of great military experience, who had reached the highest levels of the military hierarchy before the Communist takeover of 1978. He was fluent in six languages and knew his country inside and out. He had worked with two different Mujaheddin groups as chief of their military operations’ branch, and as an Adviser to the Interim Government’s President after in 1989.

The General had been in charge of military operations for the Harakat 2, a movement to which Mullah Omar belonged before he decided to fly solo – a relation that helped fuel some rumors about the General’s involvement in the movement’s creation.

Taliban is the Dari plural of the Arabic word Talib, originally meaning “one who seeks [knowledge]” – i.e., a student. In the Afghan context, a Talib is a student of religious matters, who studies in a madrassa. The Taliban movement, which started in 1994 in the Kandahar area of southwestern Afghanistan, initially recruited from amongst the many madrassas set up by political organizations in Pakistan. These institutions were filled with young Afghan refugees, some of whom had spent more time in camps than in their homeland proper. The Taliban ruled Kabul and most of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. Mullah Omar was their leader – more of a spiritual leader à la Khomeiny than an administrator. When they took Kabul in September of 1996, the first provisional Taliban cabinet was led by Mullah Mohammad Rabbani 3.

The Taliban Regime was only recognized by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. Starting in 1998, the nexus between the Taliban Regime and the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, led by the Saudi Osama Bin Laden, became more and more obvious. Bin Laden was helping Mullah Omar financially and tactically to fight off and defeat the armed opposition to the Taliban inside Afghanistan. In exchange, the Taliban were offering Al Qaeda a base to operate from and advance their international terrorist designs.

As a result of Operation Enduring Freedom launched on October 7, 2001, the United States, its mostly European allies, and with the help of the Northern Alliance, toppled the Taliban and forced its leaders to go into hiding in Pakistan.

The Taliban were backed from the beginning in 1994 by a murky coalition of interests leaguing Pakistani, Saudi and American intelligence services. They were developed and removed by the same Sorcerer’s apprentices, who had earlier backed some of the most radical groups among the Afghan Resistance. Chief among them was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose Hizb Islami’s only two accomplishments throughout the war of resistance were to scare off – including through physical intimidation and murders – intellectuals and technocrats, so that they would not actively join the ranks of the Resistance; and to deplete the fighting capability of rival Resistance groups – to the ultimate satisfaction of the Soviets and the Pakistanis.

The Taliban went through two phases: 1) 1996-1998: Quest to expand their rule to the whole country and, in parallel, show some willingness to negotiate with rival groups. 2) 1998-2001: Radicalization and growing influence of Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.

Throughout its tenure as ruler of Afghanistan (1996-2001), the fundamentalist movement had strong ties with the other side of the Durand Line, and an unfortunate ‘pakistanization’ of Afghanistan was in progress. Whether it was Islamic movements, such as the one led by Mawlana Sami-ul-Haq, or components of the more traditional Pakistani military-political system, links between the Taliban leadership and Pakistan were obvious. To the Pakistani influence was later added the ‘Arab’ one through Bin-Laden, who bought his way into Mullah Omar’s heart and mind with money and flattery by calling on all Muslims to recognize the one-eyed mullah as the “Commander of the Faithful” (Amir-ul-Momeneen), thus propelling him to claim leadership over Muslims beyond the Afghan borders. The Taliban regime exemplified perhaps the worst case of a repressive government made up of totally inexperienced and incompetent people, solely driven by a retrograde vision of Islam, and absolutely unaware and scornful of what a State is and how it ought to be run, as well as being utterly ignorant of their own history.

Today, and in particular since 2006, thanks to the protection offered by Pakistan and the financial resources originating from Gulf States, as well as drug money and taxation – to which should be added the effects of an inefficient, weak and mostly corrupt government in Kabul, and the lack of a real comprehensive plan by the US and its allies – the Taliban have been able to regroup, reorganize and expand their influence over sizable chunks of Afghan territory.

There sometimes is confusion and all armed opposition groups are labeled as “Taliban,” whereas groups such as Haqqani’s are not part of the Taliban organization per se, but rather allied to them. In reality, the Taliban movement itself is probably today more of a loose coalition of local Commanders and shuras, who nominally recognize the leadership of Mullah Omar, but who for many operate independently.

During their time in power, the Taliban restricted personal liberties for women and men in an attempt to implement rules inspired by a very restrictive interpretation of Islamic Law (Sharia) à la Saudi.

Concepts of development, administration, education, culture, history, etc., seemed to be completely unknown to them. Their main focus was, on the one side, to eliminate all opposition and, on the other, to ensure that women were covered sufficiently and men’s beards were of the right length. The Taliban instituted for the first time in Afghan history a theocratic regime, where their leader Mullah Omar was leading by issuing fatwas 4 rather thanfarmans 5.

The movement was completely disassociated from religious, secular, tribal, and intellectual elites and, in any case, had been unable to attract them. In some ways, the Taliban were as much a revolutionary movement as the Communists, and were as intolerant and self-righteous as them. But even these kinds of movements realize at one point that, in order to survive, they need to bring in people with the right kind of skills and credibility.

The General and I were discussing the overall political situation and the Taliban regime’s efforts to open up. I suggested that, while I had no commonality with them and could not possibly fathom how I could collaborate in any shape or form with them, perhaps he, because of his background and the respect he commanded among the Taliban leadership, would be able to influence them towards a more reasonable course of action for the benefit of all. The General hinted at calls on him from acquaintances to do so, but that he had been closed to the idea.

Upon my pressing further, he turned to me and said:

“All things set aside, this is the reason why I can’t work with those folks,” said the General, pointing to his face.

“What do you mean?”

“I am a man who has always shaved. Even during the Peshawar years, I remained clean-shaven…”

I understood that he was referring to the Taliban decree that compelled all men to sport a beard, under risk of being jailed. In the streets and in public places, Taliban rules regarding the dress code and appearance were often enforced by young recruits, oftentimes teenagers, walking around with guns and sticks, under the auspices of the ministry in charge of pubic morale.

“A personality such as you, co-opted at the highest level, would not be subjected to the general rules,” I suggested.

“Perhaps; but who is going to explain that to a fifteen-year-old kid, armed with a stick and a gun, who stops me while I am doing my usual morning or afternoon walk?”


1 Gen. Nawroz (January 15, 1927 – May 3, 2012) co-wrote with Lester Grau, in 1995, “The Soviet War in Afghanistan: History and Harbinger of Future War,” Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, KS.

2 Harakat Inqilab Islami Afghanistan: Islamic Revolution Movement of Afghanistan.

3 Not to be confused with Borhanuddin Rabbani, head of the Jamiat Islami Afghanistan and one-time President of the Mujaheddin’s Interim Government.

Fatwa: Religious decree.

5 Farman: Decree, edict emanating from a ruler or a head of government.

(Copyright: Assem Akram)

Last updated: May 12, 2012