An emerging diplomatic leader for Afghanistan

By Karen Shih

It took just a short negotiation class with Alain Lempereur, director of the Master’s in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence program, to convince Naveed Noormal, MA COEX’16, to leave his home country of Afghanistan to pursue a degree at Heller.

“I realized those were the skills I needed to be successful,” says Noormal, who was a foreign service officer for the Afghan government when Lempereur arrived in Kabul to provide training to junior diplomats. “War damaged almost everything in my country including institutions. Coming from a post-war country, it was always about bringing reform for a better future.”

Today, Noormal, an Asia Foundation Development Fellow, is one of Afghanistan’s emerging young leaders. He is the First Secretary at Afghanistan’s embassy in London, managing an extensive portfolio that includes think tanks, public affairs, and security and military cooperation. He also leads the consulate section, managing services for more than 140,000 Afghans in London. 

“The biggest flaw we have in Afghanistan is the misrepresentation,” says Noormal, who aims to raise his country’s profile through diplomacy. “The aspects the outside world is exposed through media is mostly war and killings. They’re so far away from the reality on the ground, the positive side of the country: the development, education and emerging democracy, which I call it the ‘unseen Afghanistan.’”

His path to diplomacy started in high school, when he was elected to the Afghan Youth Parliament. He studied law and political science in college, then entered the foreign service before coming to Heller as a Fulbright Scholar.

“Around the world, there are many schools that teach you the theory part of knowledge, but at Heller, theoretical knowledge is taught by well-known professors and practitioners with extensive experience on the ground,” Noormal says. He pointed to Professor Mari Fitzduff, who helped broker peace in Northern Ireland, as a key example.

He appreciated the real-world dilemmas he and his fellow students had to tackle in class. In his humanitarian negotiation course, they had to discuss what they would do if rebel groups brought a man to a doctor in a conflict zone and told the doctor to cut off his hand—otherwise, the rebels would do it in a way that might kill him.

“These are the examples that really matter,” he says.

At Heller, Noormal also wrote a thesis about corruption and anticorruption mechanisms in China, Bangladesh, Singapore, Afghanistan and Palestine.

“The good thing about Heller was access and availability,” he says. “You could approach any professor at any time, day or night, and they would offer a helping hand.”

Though he felt drawn to the opportunity to create change in the United States after he graduated from Heller, he ultimately decided to return to Afghanistan.

“At the end of the day, it was about my commitment and dedication to my country, the work I had to do for my people, and the promise I made to return and serve,” he says. “I wanted to share what I learned and show them there were avenues to learn and change the mentality towards peace and peacebuilding.”

“Once I suggested to Professor Alain, one of many ways we could bring positive change for a peaceful world is to have everybody come to Heller and take these classes.’”