After over 20 years of supporting people affected by long-term violent conflicts, Tahir Aziz jumped at the opportunity to spend four months on the University of Notre Dame campus as the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies 2021 Alumni Visiting Research Fellow.
“I’m here to refresh my inspiration and with an open mind,” said Tahir. “If you become boxed into one way of thinking about the work we do, that can be a problem. The Kroc Institute gave me inspiration and clarity in 2003, and I’m hoping for that again!”
Tahir is a 2003 graduate of the Kroc Institute’s Master’s in International Peace Studies, a precursor to the current Master of Global Affairs, International Peace Studies program based at the Keough School of Global Affairs. Prior to coming to the Institute, Tahir spent several years working on issues of human rights and peacebuilding in the Kashmir region spanning India and Pakistan, the site of a deeply entrenched and ongoing conflict.
In December 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks in New York City, Tahir was invited to the Notre Dame campus to offer a glimpse into the Kashmiri perspective for Kroc Institute students, faculty, and staff members. Through thought-provoking conversations during his visit with John Paul Lederach, professor emeritus of peacebuilding, and then Institute director R. Scott Appleby (now the Marilyn Keough Dean of the Keough School), Tahir decided to apply to the Institute’s Master’s program and was accepted to begin in Fall 2002.
Tahir was grateful for the global perspective offered at the Institute and the space he found to wrestle with his own goals for work in the Kashmir region.
“For me to move from thinking particularly about the Kashmir region to a global level debate and understanding was a very unique opportunity,” said Tahir. “Given the context of Kashmir, I carried a lot of unsettled sentiment and an ambition to do something powerful for the region, but I was unable to think clearly about how to do that. The Kroc Institute provided a space to engage deeply with that unsettledness. You not only get an opportunity to listen to your professors in the class, but the Kroc Institute hosted all these lecture series and conferences, and I learned so much from my fellow students. We lived together and the whole life experience of learning from each other’s context beyond formal study was extraordinary.”
Tahir’s time at the Institute also helped him to rethink what was meant by “peacebuilding,” a term that sometimes carried negative connotations in the Kashmir region due to the impression that it implied papering over differences or “keeping the peace” without advocating for justice.
“The time at Kroc gave me a lot of clarity about the possibility of having a meaningful peacebuilding engagement in Kashmir and a meaningful professional life within the field of peacebuilding,” he said.
After graduating in 2003, he began work advocating for the inclusion of Kashmiri individuals in all levels of discourse about the region’s future. This work led him to connect with London-based organization Conciliation Resources, where he now serves as the Senior Advisor South Asia. In this role, Tahir leads the only international peacebuilding program that operates in both the Indian and Pakistani administered territories of Kashmir.
He views this time on campus as an opportunity to step back and reflect on his day-to-day work. While at the Institute, Tahir plans to conduct an assessment and research to analyze the effectiveness of partnerships between Kashmiri organizations and individuals and Conciliation Resources and other NGOs based outside the area. He hopes these reflections will not only help shape his own work moving forward, but might be helpful to others in the international peacebuilding field working on long-term conflicts and inclusive peacebuilding processes.
Each year, the Kroc Institute invites its alumni to apply for a one-semester (fall or spring) visiting research fellowship at the Institute. This fellowship is intended for Kroc Institute alumni who have pursued careers as peacebuilding practitioners and who seek time to reflect on and write about their work while in residence at the Institute.
Applications for the 2022-23 Alumni Visiting Research Fellowship are due by December 15, 2021.
About the Kroc Institute: The University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, part of the Keough School of Global Affairs, is one of the world’s leading centers for the study of the causes of violent conflict and strategies for sustainable peace.