Mohamed Zeeshan's Story
Like many obedient young Indians, Mohamed Zeeshan - also called “Zee” by his friends and colleagues - entered engineering school at the age of 17, only to find other more compelling interests. He took to blogging in just his second year of undergraduate studies, hoping to use the internet age to broadcast his views, thoughts and opinions on a wide range of issues, from politics to economics, and even tennis and cricket.
Soon, that disparate range narrowed down to focused commentary and analysis of international politics and governance. While still diverse in nature, Zeeshan’s writings have largely focused on India’s role in the world, and its quest to evolve from a developing post-colonial economy to a global leader in a multipolar era. Even as a young blogger, Zeeshan’s fresh insights and original takes on some of the most urgent questions of our time attracted the attention of policymakers and thinkers from around the world.
By the time he entered his final year at engineering school, Zeeshan had begun writing regular columns on foreign policy and international affairs for The Diplomat. He was also invited to host a personal blog on HuffPost India, where he wrote on matters of Indian and international governance.
All of this led to Zeeshan’s eventual transition into the policy academia - and to Columbia University, where he studied international affairs and won scholarships for work in economic policy analysis. In line with his experience in and around the media, Zeeshan was appointed to serve on the Editorial Board of the prestigious Columbia Journal of International Affairs as its Digital and Online Director. There, he brought his natural inclination for debate and argumentation and introduced a wildly popular opinions section titled 'Arguments', which brought fierce but academically rigorous discussions to the online media space and increased JIA's online reach and presence multifold.
While at Columbia, Zeeshan also served briefly with the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in 2017. During his time at the Permanent Mission, Zeeshan advised in strategizing India’s successful and historic campaign for a seat in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), using analysis of historical data and an in-depth study of the strategic interests of key UN member states. He was publicly credited by His Excellency, the Permanent Representative of India to the UN, for these critical inputs after India was elected over the UK for a seat in the ICJ. Zeeshan also conducted research on sensitive policy issues surrounding India’s quest for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, including support for negotiations with important member states.
Leaving New York, Zeeshan then moved to Dubai and worked as a policy consultant at Kearney, the global consulting firm. In this capacity, he advised governments in the Middle East on social, economic and political reform, including strategic inputs for the 2020 G20 summit in Riyadh. Owing to his background in multilateral diplomacy, Zeeshan was commissioned to help draft a multilateral declaration on cybersecurity at the G20, championing common ground on a host of sensitive issues.
All of these travels, debates and discussions around the world culminated in Zeeshan's first book - a lucid and provocative inquiry into India’s global power aspirations and the role of its foreign policy in fulfilling the dreams of the Indian people. Titled Flying Blind: India’s Quest for Global Leadership, the book was published by Penguin Random House, released in India in January 2021 and worldwide in May 2021. Following its release, Flying Blind received widespread acclaim from diplomats, journalists, politicians and academics around the world who lauded its honesty and provocative arguments. Terming it a lively, one-of-a-kind book on India, Shashi Tharoor called Zeeshan "one of the more exciting and readable young voices in the country."
Zeeshan currently writes on South Asian affairs for The Diplomat and also hosts his own Sunday monthly column in the Deccan Herald - one of India’s leading English dailies - titled The Z Factor. Now into its second year of publication, The Z Factor has already built its own niche audience, owing to its punchy and argumentative treatment of the big national and international questions of the day.
Aside from these columns, Zeeshan also writes regularly for various international newspapers, including The Telegraph (UK), The Straits Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, South China Morning Post, Haaretz, The National Interest, The Print, The Wire, ABP News, India Today and others. Zeeshan has also been interviewed and featured by various international outlets, including The Hindu, The Times of India, Aaj Tak, HuffPost Live, BBC Radio, Voice of America, SBS Australia, NDTV and others. For shorter but similarly provocative takes on our lives and times, Zeeshan takes to Twitter, where he is widely followed and also frequently quoted by the media.
In early 2019, Zeeshan launched his life-long pet project, Freedom Gazette - an online policy advocacy initiative, inspired by the universal values of India's freedom struggle. Aimed at developing novel solutions that would bring together Indian society and build a sustainable growth story, the Gazette has attracted a cohort of brilliant academics and writers, both young and old, Indian and foreign, who are devoted to strengthening the ideals and principles of India's freedom movement. As Zeeshan wrote upon the launch of the Gazette, "The cause of Indian freedom inspired people around the world because it was a cause of universal values, rather than a struggle for ethnic supremacy or cultural domination. The cause was not the assertion of an ethnic or cultural identity of Indian-ness; it was for the realisation of fundamental human rights."
But for all his work on India and the world, Zeeshan also has several side interests, including detective fiction, cricket and James Bond. Though he rarely speaks of it today, his love for writing was sparked by Enid Blyton, whom he still regards as his most favourite author - not too far ahead, perhaps, of Agatha Christie. He considers Hercule Poirot the best friend he never met, and he hopes to pen a detective novel of his own someday, inspired by Poirot's adventures.