In this interview, we speak with Mohammad Shafiq, who graduated from IWP in 2017 with an Executive Master of Arts in National Security Affairs. Shafiq is a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee social activist, writer and analyst. He has over 15 years of experience working with civil society organizations, NATO, UN projects, media, NGOs, academic institutions and private firms. He is Chairman of the Afghan Anti-Corruption Network, and is currently serving as Deputy Senior Advisor to the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Follow him on Twitter: @shafiqhamdam
How did you first become interested in security issues and international affairs?
I am an Afghan and I was born and raised in war. Security is like oxygen for me. Only the people who suffer from insecurity can feel the real importance of security. I was very fortunate — or unfortunate — to know the value of security, even as a child. In the era of globalization, we can’t address national security without a better foreign policy. International relations, diplomacy, regional, and economic cooperation are vital for our national security. So, as a person who was born and living in war, security and international affairs are not only a choice for me, but they are a vital need for survival.
Dr. Chodakiewicz mentioned that you were arrested by the Taliban at age 17 for writing a poem about Buddha. Could you tell us this story?
In March 2001, the Taliban regime destroyed the 8,200 ft monumental statues of Buddhas of Bamiyan, which were carved in 4th- and 5th-century into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan valley in Afghanistan. The news broke throughout the world, and almost every country around the world reacted to this brutal act.
Like millions of Afghans, I was also saddened by this barbaric act, but I was wondering why people around the world did not react to the brutal death of thousands of innocent Afghans by the Taliban, but they mourn for statues? As a young student and as a victim of the Taliban’s brutality, I was very sad to see the silence of the world community for the death, imprisonment, exile, and torture of innocent humans.
I expressed my feelings anonymously thorough an OpEd for a newspaper printed in Pakistan for Afghanistan. The title of the OpEd was, in Pashtu language, “I wish I was a Buddha.” However, the content of the OpEd explained my anger and frustration for the world community for caring more about a statue, but not about millions of humans suffering under the Taliban regime.
The OpEd had nothing to do with religion, and I did not have any intention of writing for or against any religion, but, of course, it was against the Taliban, and they did not like the article.
Before the article got published, they learned about it, and they traced and found me. I paid the ultimate price: I was arrested by the Taliban, and finally, I was kicked out of university. I did not regret what I did because I was aware of the consequences, and I was expecting even worse. But I wished that the article would have been published.
Please tell us about your work with NATO.
From 2004 to 2014, I worked for the U.S. forces and NATO in Afghanistan. I served in different capacities, such as a linguist, cultural advisor, communications advisor, political advisor, and senior media and public diplomacy advisor. From Operation Red Wings II in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan to the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, and from a platoon of the U.S. Marine Corps to the NATO summits of heads of state and government, I have had so much opportunity to learn at tactical, operational, and policy levels.
There were also some very tough times. I still carry scars of terrorist and suicide attacks on my body, as well as the grief of losing loved ones and best friends in my heart, but fighting for a cause always comes with a price. I had the privilege of working with four distinguished NATO ambassadors. Also, I have worked with several commanders of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, including Gen. John William Nicholson, when he was commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, now a great friend and the commander of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Please tell us a little about the Afghan Anti-Corruption Network. What inspired you to found it?
Throughout my working experiences and research, I have learned that corruption, illegal mining, and illicit drugs are the drivers of insecurity and instability in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, for the last decade, Afghanistan has been among the most corrupt countries in the world, and it also produces more than 80% of world opium.
So, understanding the severity of the issue and to fight criminal patronage networks, I founded the Afghan Anti-Corruption Network in 2010. Fortuitously, in four years, the network has grown from scratch to the largest-ever network of anti-corruption institutions and activists. We worked as a pressure group, and we have advocated against corruption and mafia.
Thankfully, today, fighting corruption in Afghanistan is the top priority of the government and the international community in Afghanistan.
What attracted you to IWP for the Executive MA program?
My working experience and desire to further develop my capacity in the field of national security and statecraft brought me to the IWP. I was searching for a specialized institution in the field, and finally, I found the IWP Executive Master of Arts in National Security Affairs the best degree and the IWP the best place for such a demanding field of education. I have had a full-time job, and, initially, I planned to enroll part-time, but the interesting curriculum and wonderful professors of the school encouraged me to become a full-time student and earn my Executive Master in National Security. This has been among the best decisions I have made so far.
Can you tell us a little about the papers you wrote for class that were published in different media outlets?
During my Master’s degree assignments, I wrote several short and long papers, and gladly the content of the papers have been published by several media outlets, such as Radio Free Europe, Pajhwok Afghan News, Khaama Press, The Huffington Post, The Diplomat, and the NATO Review magazine. Here is a list of some of those publications.
Published by the Huffington Post:
- Global Common Allies and Adversaries, a study of “radical Islamic terrorism.”
- The Evolving Relationship Between U.S. And Iran, the pros and cons of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
- The Alliance of Choice or Necessity, the importance of NATO for European allies and Russian’s threat to the allies.
Published by The Diplomat, an international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region:
- The Legacy of Mullah Mansour, an analysis of the Afghan Taliban leadership and their relationships with the Al-Qaida and Daesh “so-called Islamic state.”
Published by NATO Review, during the 2016 Heads of State and Government:
- Standing by Afghanistan: the strategic choice, the past, present, and future of the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces and role of NATO in support of these forces.
Having worked in international affairs for years before attending IWP, did you learn anything new during your studies that will be useful for you in your future work?
I found the class of International Relations, Statecraft and Integrated Strategy by Dr. John Lenczowski, the president of The Institute of World Politics, a wonderful class to learn about the theories and best ways to practice international affairs. It was an enabling class that can support my everyday work in the field. Working in international affairs focusing on the United Nations, every moment in the class and its assignments paid off, and I am hopeful that it will further help me throughout my career along the way.
Congratulations on your appointment as Deputy Senior Advisor to the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. What are your responsibilities, and what are your goals for Afghanistan as you serve in this role?
There are more than 20 UN agencies working in Afghanistan. Several of them have been working here for decades, and some for at least a decade. While these agencies have significantly contributed to the development of Afghanistan, there has not been adequate accountability, coordination, and effectiveness in their work.
Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, has a commitment and a strategy for improving the conditions for advancing sustainable development and stability in Afghanistan. Reform in the UN system in Afghanistan and mutual accountability is one among of his goals. Almost a year ago through a decree, he ordered establishing the Office of Senior Advisory on UN Affairs. A visionary young leader, Ms. Farkhunda Zahara Naderi, serves as the Senior Advisor to the President on UN Affairs, and, inspired by her hard work and efforts, in July 2017, I joined the Senior Advisory Office of the President on UN Affairs.
We work towards the goal of the President to increase the efficiency, effectiveness, coordination, accountability, and alignment of the United Nations’ programs with Afghanistan’s national strategies and priorities, as well as Afghan ownership. Currently, we are working on the concept of One UN or Delivering as One in Afghanistan. We also advise the President on policies and strategies on UN-related matters, and we coordinate between UN agencies and relevant government institutions.
Do you have any advice for IWP students who are hoping to advance the cause of peace in the world?
Pandemic, the proliferation of WMD, climate change, migration and terrorism, are among the challenges we face universally. We live in a global village, and one of these concerns in any country can affect another country or the entire world. We can’t face these challenges unless we are fully prepared.
IWP is the right place to equip your toolbox of statecraft with the right tools to overcome major challenges. Studying hard, working smart, and networking with the right people, coupled with feeling responsible towards development in our global village and aiming for the right position in the globe with strategic thinking will enable us to greatly contribute in the new world order and sustaining global security and peace.