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Applying Observations to Diplomacy

February 28, 2017


Kate Griffith

Mohammad Ismail made the journey from Northwest Pakistan to Washington state in 2010. He left his home, where he was a journalist covering everything from health and education to the inner workings of the Taliban, on a Fulbright scholarship to learn more about American journalism.

When he arrived, Mohammad joined the staff of Tacoma Weekly, while taking classes on journalism theory. He later moved into Seattle, where he worked for Seattle Globalist, writing on issues like immigration, culture and assimilation. His interest in the University of Washington and its Master of Arts in Applied International Studies program started there.

As a journalist and, perhaps by nature, a generalist, Mohammad wanted an experience that covered multiple issues and gave him the ability to write across international topics. “I had some background, and I wanted to hone my skills,” he says. “This is a comprehensive program that covers a lot in one year.”

“Some background” is a bit of an understatement. Through his previous work in journalism, Mohammad has already played a part, albeit small, in shaping events.

Among his many assignments in Pakistan, Mohammad was ordered by his editor to interview the local Taliban spokesman, without a contact number or address. On the day of the interview, his editor directed Mohammad by phone to an address — turn left here, go straight there. “Finally I get to this huge building, and my editor says look up,” Mohammad says. A man came out of an apartment high above. “He says ‘come up.’ I had a photographer with me, and I walk up the stairs, looking around the room to see if he had a gun. I was pretty scared.” Despite the pressures, Mohammad says he got a good interview, though the spokesman hesitated at having his picture taken. When Mohammad’s story published the next day, both the Pakistani government and the spokesman were on him about the piece.

Another of his stories exposed a conspiracy in Peshawar, where a hospital was giving patients expired medicines. It’s this story that inspired Mohammad’s decision to branch into policy. After the piece was published, the hospital was raided, revealing a scheme that also involved the local governor. “I got involved with how health works, how education works,” Mohammad says. “Experiences I had in countries like this helped me understand how to apply what I saw and what I observed.”

Mohammad is now interested in diplomacy and would like to work for the U.S. Department of State. To that end, he’s in the process of applying for citizenship. “Hopefully I’ll be a U.S. citizen next year,” he says. “I’m open to different options, but we’ll see what goes through.”

In the meantime, Mohammad is enjoying his classes and the opportunities offered through the broader UW community, as well as a bit of yoga on the side.


This post is part of  a series profiling members of the 2016–17 MAAIS cohort. For more information about the MAAIS program, its curriculum and its students, visit the MAAIS website.