Syed Ghazanfar Ali Shah

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I come from Pakistan where I am a member of the National Police Service. Officers of this federal service constitute top leadership as well as mid-level management of state institutions dealing with internal security, public peace, criminal justice administration and crime control in the country. I joined the public sector after completing my degree in Diplomacy and Strategic Studies from the University of the Punjab. Securing a Chevening Scholarship award of the UK government this year, I chose Leeds for a year of dedicated academic learning. Other than my career and professional studies, I am an avid reader of history and anthropology and love to travel to archaeological sites and explore the highland landscape.

What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?

Having spent over five years in active police service Police, I have been at the forefront of an intense and protracted fight against terrorism. Over the time, I felt a serious need to take a step back as a practitioner and gain a deeper understanding of peculiar challenges of policing in a complex environment fraught with the persistent threat of terrorism and organized violence. The course of MA Security, Terrorism and Insurgency offered a tailor-made solution in this context. Focus of this programme on a nuanced understanding of terrorism promised to inculcate a holistic comprehension of the complex phenomenon. Besides, the optional modules offered prospects of specialization in areas of my professional interest, including ‘Counter-terrorism’ and ‘Civil War and Intrastate Conflict’. Although many universities in the UK were offering courses on this subject, the introduction of this course on the POLIS website was instrumental in making up my mind. It gave a clear and detailed account of the course objectives, its multidisciplinary nature and its convenient assessment methodology. Ranking of the Leeds among the Russel Group and the illustrious faculty was a major factor as well.

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

I staunchly believe that academic learning and research go a long way in guiding and correcting the policy discourse. Years of substantial practical experience in counterterrorism gave me a first-hand awareness of the conceptual anomalies, capacity constraints and systemic challenges faced by the internal security establishment of my country. An opportunity to look through the lens of a researcher and an academician is a fascinating experience. It provides me with the unique ability to diagnose the pathology of terrorism through a physician’s eye and then go back to implement my learning with a surgeon’s hand. This combination of theory and practice is most inspiring for me.

What do you think of your course so far?

The course is living up to my expectations. The tutors are experts in their respective areas with substantial research and publications at their credit. Scheme of syllabi has been designed to make every module as comprehensive and relevant as possible. In particular, the module on Counter Terrorism has been most engaging. Its seminars generate intense debates and exchange of ideas as everyone is encouraged to participate and express his opinion. Similarly, the module on Global Justice has been extremely interesting due to its stimulating and provocative discussions. While the discussions in Terrorism and Insurgency modules recurrently refer to the global systemic anomalies as major factors in causing conflict and violence, the readings in Global Justice beautifully round it off by looking at the dynamics of various global inequalities in depth. It has certainly equipped me with new perspectives to look at things more critically.

What would you say about the learning facilities?

Frankly, the learning facilities have been quite a revelation for me. Using the technology to an optimum level, learning in POLIS and Leeds has been made as convenient for the students as possible. Minerva and UniLeeds app keep every required information, process and communication just a touch away. Reading Lists for every module are developed diligently, providing links to the most authentic study material. Library at Leeds has been made a pleasant experience. Round the clock accessibility of learning resources, designing of study areas, provision of internet connectivity, the convenience of self-issuance and the return of books and availability of cafes make the use of any of the four libraries a happy experience. IT cluster at the POLIS is a blessing for long hours of online reading and writing of assignments. The possibility of submitting your essays from home through Turnitin is an invaluable facility especially if you are in the habit of submitting your work at the last minute of deadline like me.

How do you find the student support in the School?

POLIS puts a premium on making life easier for its students. A variety of student support is available just a call, an email or a visit to the front desk away. Whenever I asked for some information or letter or advice, the support staff was prompt in its response. They were keen to keep me posted for the upcoming events, workshops, job opportunities and socials. Apart from administration, the academic staff is also very forthcoming. Tutors were willing to guide and discuss my essay topics and outlines with me. One can always consult the Personal Tutor in an hour of need.

Have you been involved in any extra-curricular activities?

Life at the University of Leeds is a well-rounded student experience. I found it to be one of the most active Student Unions. There are countless clubs and societies, each trying to be more happening than the other. I remained a regular visitor of the Global Café, interacting with fellows from every corner of the world. Given my interest in nature and outdoors, I benefitted from every opportunity of volunteering for the conservation of nature. 

What do you think about Leeds as a city?

I find Leeds to be justly regarded as one of the top favourite destinations for International Students. Having three universities, it has a large student population. A walk in the town gives you a sense of being the member of this huge student community. Leeds is neither too crowded to bog you down, nor too small to make you bored. Along with my family, I loved to attend the annual Bonfire at Roundhay Park and the Leeds Lights Festival at the town centre. Watching a cricket Test Match between England and Pakistan at Headingley Stadium was another dream-come-true. With a vast variety of clubs, bars and restaurants, I could spend every weekend with a new experience. To my good fortune, the city had a number of art galleries, museums and theatres which I frequently visited. As the summer has arrived, discovering the mesmerizing countryside of Yorkshire is turning out to be a ravishing delight on sunny day-outs. Being almost at the centre of the country, Leeds becomes an ideal base to visit Scotland in the north and London in the south of the UK during term breaks.

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

If you are looking to develop a scholarly understanding of the phenomenon of terrorism and go beyond its superficial media coverage, this is the course to join. It will introduce you to new perspectives and enrich your critical ability to look at the issue of political violence. For those related to the field of counter-terrorism in any practical aspect, this course will certainly challenge your existing understanding of what drives terrorism and what needs to be taken into account while formulating a policy response to this challenge.

What do you plan to do once you’ve finished your course? 

I am confident that this course will act as a major impetus for my continuous professional development. I plan to introduce the newly acquired theoretical understanding and analytical skills that I learnt at POLIS in my own organization. Police have a leading role to play in the long-term effort against terrorism and violent extremism. In order to perform its role more effectively, it is imperative to shed the antiquated working ethos of police, reorient it in the light of contemporary counterterrorism approaches and build its capacity to devise appropriate and dynamic solutions for the new challenge it is faced with.