'Sheru' Stanikzai of Taliban: Indian Army veterans remember 1982 batchmate
He was once a 20-year-old lad, training at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in the hilly city of Dehradun. He was not very religious and enjoyed weekend hikes and riverside trips. Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, or "Sheru," as his Indian batchmates called him, is now 60 and one of the most powerful men in the Taliban, which now runs Afghanistan.
'Well-built, not too tall, and never religiously inclined'
Stanikzai was "well-built, not too tall and never religiously inclined," Indian Army veterans who were in the same class in 1982 recalled in an interview with The Times of India. He had joined the IMA as one of the 45 foreign cadets of the Bhagat Battalion's Keren Company, the publication reported. The academy had started taking Afghan cadets in 1971, after the India-Pakistan war.
Stanikzai had 'no radical views' during IMA stint
"He was a likeable guy who seemed a little older than the other cadets at the academy," remembered Major General DA Chaturvedi (retired), reported The Times of India. "He kept this striking moustache. He certainly had no radical views at the time. He was an average Afghan cadet who seemed to be enjoying his time here," Chaturvedi added.
'He was like the kid next door'
Meanwhile, Colonel (retired) Kesar Singh Shekhawat, another batchmate of Stanikzai, called him the "kid next door." "I remember this one time we went to Rishikesh and bathed in the Ganga. There is a photograph from that day in which Sheru can be seen in IMA swimming trunks with me," Shekhawat said. "He was so friendly. We'd go exploring the forests and hills on weekends."
After training at IMA, Stanikzai joined the Afghan Army
Stanikzai completed his pre-commission training at the IMA for a year and a half before joining the Afghan National Army as a lieutenant, TOI reported. That was just after the Soviet troops overran Afghanistan.
Stanikzai later joined Taliban, becoming its top diplomat
By 1996, however, Stanikzai had left the Army and joined the Taliban, a time when the insurgents first ruled Afghanistan. He also visited Washington, United States to convince Bill Clinton's administration to acknowledge the Taliban government, but could not succeed. He remains one of the group's top negotiators. His fluent English speaking skills and military experience make him a perfect fit for that role.