Farkhondeh (Faroo) Akbari is a PhD student of the Department of International Relations at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs (Bell School).
Growing up as a refugee in Australia, Faroo developed a profound interest in the social crisis in Afghanistan, her home country.
“My country has been through wars, such as civil war, military occupation, military intervention, coup, regime changes and revolution. As I grew up as a refugee with no educational rights, stories from Afghanistan emerged as the worst place for women, high mortality rate, a sanctuary for terrorists, largest numbers of refugees, hunger, poverty, and so many miseries. This made me crave the need for education to help me make sense of the world and my life”.
“I started my formal schooling for the first time in Australia from grade eight. I studied high school in a rural town in New South Wales. There was no university in town, but The Australian National University stood out for me to aim for. After the year 12 HSC exams, I received an offer to do a graduate diploma in International Relations. However, my family decided to move to Melbourne where I completed my undergraduate and post graduate study in International Relations.”
Faroo’s intention was to return to Afghanistan and contribute to the country’s struggle for peace and human rights, but in 2014 majority of the international troops were being extracted from Afghanistan. The future looked uncertain and violence had escalated. The idea of a political settlement with the Taliban movement was emerging.
“I decided to complement my IR degrees with Diplomatic Studies to understand the art of diplomacy and whether diplomatic engagement with the Taliban would result in peace for my homeland. I was following the Emeritus Professor William Maley from the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs and his academic work on Afghanistan and diplomacy. Instead of going to Kabul, I packed for Canberra to study a Master of Diplomacy at ANU with a hope of a PhD. I earned an advanced Master in Diplomacy with honours and completed a PhD in Diplomatic Studies, supervised by the Emeritus Professor William Maley – who had both fields of expertise that I needed: Afghanistan politics and Diplomatic Studies. His mentorship and supervision made me one of the luckiest students. I am forever grateful to his generous support, compassion, and knowledge”.
Faroo’s time at the Bell School helped strengthen her roots and empowered her with knowledge and the capacity to contribute meaningfully – both in academia and in practice.
“I had heard that ANU was gold-plated for researchers, and I second that. There are so many opportunities and benefits for research students at the Bell School. Besides the lectures from prominent academics, students have the opportunity to attend events and network with international scholars and practitioners which help to enrich our experience and widen our world view. Furthermore, the diversity of students at ANU is an asset. When I studied the Master of Diplomacy, many of my cohorts were international students who were diplomatic practitioners in their home country, bringing immense knowledge, experiences and cultures from diplomatic fields and Foreign Ministries to share in class. It was an absolute master class!”.
Her doctorate (PhD) research project titled ‘Diplomatic actors: Peace settlements with non-state armed actors, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia’ examines the required characteristics for non-state armed actors to engage meaningfully in Diplomacy for the purpose of peace settlements and looks at the cases of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
Faroo is currently working as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Gender, Peace and Security Centre at Monash University where she researches the gender aspects of diplomatic engagement with non-state armed actors. She is also involved in advocacy works for the protection of women rights, girls’ education, and the rights of vulnerable ethnic groups in Afghanistan.
When asked about a piece of advice for those thinking of studying International Relations and Diplomacy, Faroo recommends that students should focus on themes and topics as early as possible in their studies and invest in experiences that let them have a real sense and feel of what they are studying. “IR is broad, and finding a niche area where one can build expertise will mean you can flag your territory in international relations!” she says. “Also, investing in travelling to the country of your research interest, applying for work experience at an international institution and attending events or conferences to speak to people who work on topics of your interest makes a real difference”.
Faroo aspires to continue learning, using her knowledge and insights to write about conflict resolutions and peace settlements and advocate for human rights, especially in her war-torn homeland of Afghanistan. She hopes to return to Afghanistan to work for the empowerment of the people in the grassroots, teach in a school or university, immersed in the beauty of the landscape and taking a deep breath at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains.