1. What inspired you to pursue a career in foreign policy, especially the focus on counter-terrorism policies?
I was VERY fortunate enough to grow up in a household where politics was constantly discussed and I was surrounded by some of the greatest political minds and journalists in our country. At some point, even if you didn’t intend for it to happen that way, that world becomes your passion.
The world of foreign policy is challenging, intellectually stimulating, and fast-paced, ebbing and flowing with current events and interconnected with a range of variables. You never know what could happen in the next hour. It’s perhaps the only kind of uncertainty I love!
My focus throughout my BA and MA was International Security, which was complemented by every job decision I made. By the time I was ready to embark on a professional career, Pakistan was at the center of foreign policy debates. Having seen the effects of uninformed strategies on-ground, I realized that given my background and interest, this was the perfect career choice for me.
Foreign policy itself is a broad field and I’ve managed to focus specifically on a few issues that best suit my interests. Terrorism has no geographical bounds and my work allows me to look at different parts of the world within the relevant policy umbrella framework. And I haven’t regretted it a single day!
2. Have you faced any challenges while pursuing your career goals? If so, what are some of these challenges and how have you dealt with them?
This isn’t so much of a challenge as it is an observation. Throughout my professional career, all my mentors have been men. And I’ve been blessed to have some truly phenomenal people guide and advise me along the way.
However, I find that women do not have that sort of convening and guiding synergy. Women are doing incredible things despite the area of security/policy being male dominated. But rarely do we ever partner with each other or function as a strong professional community. I think this is changing slowly and Dairay is one such example. I hope movements like this greatly impact our professional landscape
3. You went to SIPA for an MA in IR. How important do you think a graduate degree is to move ahead in the foreign policy space and what are some of the most important things you learnt that are applicable to your career during grad school?
Very important. You’re going to be functioning in a highly competitive, global space and you have to make yourself stand out, whether it’s a higher degree, work experience, language skills, background, whatever. MA graduates are no longer a rare commodity so it is imperative that you add that level of education to your profile. My big advice is to always have AT LEAST 3 years of work experience before going to grad school.
Most applicable skills:
4. One of your initiatives that we truly admired was Let’s Think Pakistan. Can you tell us a little bit about it and what you hoped to achieve with it?
I had returned to Pakistan in 2011 and was immediately struck by constant talk of how much people were frustrated with the state of affairs in the country. At all levels, LTP essentially began as a social media experiment to reach out to young people and ask them to make a pledge to their country and hold themselves accountable for fulfilling it. The idea behind it was that you didn’t have to be a celebrity or a political leader to make a positive change in your local community, city, or country. You just had to bet on yourself. And follow through.
We launched in 2012 with a beautiful website that created a digital canvas of pledges from around the world (literally!), detailing the smallest things such as turning the lights off to conserve energy, to some very big pledges such as changing a family’s mindset to transcend Shia-Sunni divides.
I was very proud of it but soon after wasn’t able to maintain the momentum any social media campaign requires. We didn’t have the right amount of manpower, funding, and eventually the longer term vision. To date, it remains one of my big failures and like any failure, it has also been one of the greatest learning experiences in terms of always having a longer term strategic vision, identifying right mediums, executing deliverability better and also somewhat of a wake up call. In essence I think I had approached it rather naively and grew disenchanted when I realized how little people walked the talk. I wouldn’t say I’m jaded because of it though. I have tremendous hope in the people of Pakistan. I’m just more sensible about it!
In hindsight, I think this was the best training to begin a policy-focused career. This particular experience has helped inform my work tremendously in the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) space where effectively engaging with local communities, be it Tunisia or Libya, through a myriad of different ways is imperative.
5. Have you used any networks to achieve your goals? What networks have been the most helpful?
A school’s alumni network will likely be a strong community to rely on. In addition, I have consistently made an effort to remain engaged with my professional network over the years. Continue engaging with people in the industry, especially when you are NOT looking for something in return, make yourself visible and be aware of big policy discussions and movements which can help guide you towards your career focus.
6. What is the most valuable piece of advise you’ve ever received? Do you have any advice for our readers who are passionate about pursuing a career in foreign policy?
Define a focus early on (even if it is 2-3 major policy issues you deeply care about) and make sure that every professional decision you make plugs in to that in some shape or form, as you chart out your career. Don’t stretch yourself too thin. You need to build your own narrative so be conscious of every career move.
Be confident, not aggressive. Be patient, not passive. Make calculated decisions, don’t be impulsive. All of this will help you carve out your own niche and assess your own comparative advantage. There will always be someone better than you and that is a great thing. Don’t be threatened by it. Be inspired by it.
And some short answer questions for our readers:
Israa Nasir, Co-founder of Ammi Service and a Therapist
Video: Nazish Hussain, Founder of Secret Stash
Farrah Hamid, Founder, Prettly.com
Madiha Waris Qureshi, Consultant, World Bank
Arsla Jawaid, Foreign Policy and Counter-terrorism Guru
Sana Khan Niazi, Founder, Paimona
Sobia Sheikh, Finance Manager, Sodexo
Ruqayya Diwan Adamjee, Creative & Social Impact