In conversation with Zaheer Ahmed - Former Director Anti-Human Smuggling, Federal Investigation Agency and US 2023 TIP Report Hero award recipient
Mr. Ahmed thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. In a couple of sentences, how would you describe yourself?
I like to write poetry and love to sing and play musical instruments and travelling. These are my hobbies.I would say:” I’m a child of nature.” I love everything that comes from nature.
What did you want to do when you were younger?
I always dreamt of being on stage. Either singing to the audience or talking to them or maybe be a professor. I couldn’t become an actor or singer or professor. But I became a police officer, and my position and nature of tasks allows me to be on stage and convey my message. I describe my approach as poetic policing, i.e.to be on the softer side of a profession that is known for being tough.
Who was the most influential person in your life?
Not one but two. The first one who influenced and inspired me is my mother who was not so well empowered, living in a male-dominated house my father dictating the terms. Sometimes she tried hard to win her arguments. The second is my wife. I must give her credit as whatever lessons, good or bad, I learnt from my mother, I replicated in my relationship with my wife. I taught my wife how to drive; she takes care of the family finances and affairs. She is an excellent social worker; she is trying to step into politics. I'm encouraging her. Although at times, that male thinking comes back to my head, telling me: "I'm losing my power". I know it happens in the West as well. No matter how gender-sensitive or gender enlightened we claim to be, we think we should be the decision-makers. But I know my wife is a better manager and organizer than me leaving her in charge of many things is not about surrendering power or doing her a favour but acknowledging her talents. No matter how enlightened we are, what matters is how we put that idea into practice.
What motto do you live by?
It’s a bit on the religious side. I think it’s a universal truth that “God helps those who help themselves. “Well, this can apply to a person who believes in God, but what about people who don’t. Here I would use the words from “The Alchemist” by Paul Coelho, who says, “When you have a dream, whole universe conspires to transform your dream into reality.”
I have applied that in my real life. And I dream of a criminal justice system where victims of trafficking are not afraid of facing interviewing officers, investigation officers and prosecution officers who have a gentler and softer approach.
What impact do you think you have had?
I've been lucky to undertake lot of gender mainstreaming training and work. In my current role, the focus of the TIP and SOM legislation is women and children. I recognized the importance of involving more female staff in our work. We encourage female FIA officers, across all levels to come for capacity building and sensitization sessions on new laws. One of our senior colleagues also put forward the idea of having a specialized unit of female FIA/police victim handlers. I’m thankful to him and UNODC, and we are currently working on this. One argument we should put forward quite firmly to all male or female colleagues is that women's empowerment is not doing a favour to somebody but it’s taking a professional approach.
In your own words, what do you believe makes a good leader?
A good leader believes in teamwork. A good leader’s work is detached from the word: Me. A lot of leaders let others do the work. My approach is that, yes, maybe the basic idea is mine, but I do consult my team as to how we should go about it. We distribute the duties, and as a leader, I usually choose the most challenging part of the task.
Tell us about a time when you were part of a human trafficking investigation? What where the challenges, how did you address them? What can others learn from your experience?
The biggest challenge for my organization is convincing potential migrants not to use irregular means to migrate. For migrants to understand what legal pathways are available and how not using these makes them vulnerable to not only smugglers but traffickers as well. People tend to fall for false promises.
I've not been an active member of a human trafficking investigation. The evidence suggests that victims are reluctant to come forward and choose to avoid prosecution for reasons of family pressure, or maybe they have less belief in the criminal justice system.
To overcome some of these challenges, especially when it comes to interviewing potential trafficking victims, we've planned training on interview skills and how to engage with a potential victim. The lesson I learnt is that we need to win trust. We need to bring a humanitarian and empathetic aspect to build that trust.
What steps have you taken as a leader to ensure the organization you work for facilitates women’s career advancement?
We have been planning to have a specialist unit consist of female officers on victim identification and assistance. We're thinking about how female officers can have careers as specialists rather than being generalists. We want to have specialist female officers, some of whom will then run that unit. Hopefully, in a few months, we'll have some real progress on this.
I believe in going slow. To start with we need volunteers who want to have career as specialists in victim identification and assistance. Once we have 15-20 trained officials, we can build the unit and start making progress to show that specializing in running a specific department is a viable option. I also discussed this with a senior female colleague at the police to consider having specialization rather than just being generalist.
What advice do you have for women seeking a career in law enforcement?
My first advice would be: “Yes you can”.
We should inspire confidence in their strengths and make them feel from the word go: “Yes, you can, and you will”. The conviction must be: “Yes, she can, and she will”.
At institutional level, what reforms need to be implemented to address these challenges?
We need to promote the idea that since victims of these offences are often those vulnerable sections of society, they need extra care and consideration. Thus, it would be in the interest of organizations tasked with responding to these crimes to ensure that women work across all specialities. We need to engage more women as professionals.
More, well-educated females are joining police service. They enter at the level of superintendents. We need to convince them to go and speak to their female counterparts and female staff about their strengths. I think we are going to see a change soon.
Since July 2020, Zaheer Ahmed is the Director of Anti-Human Smuggling at the Federal Investigation Agency in Pakistan. Mr. Ahmed is a police officer who has severed for over 24 years, including as the gender crime focal person at the National Police Bureau Islamabad in 2006. He also participated in trainings such as the gender perspective communication skills development course run by the Ministry of Women Development in 2006 and gender policy preparation and analysis held by the National Police Bureau in 2007. In his role as Direct Anti-Human Smuggling Mr. Ahmed works with UNODC and IOM on the prevention of human trafficking and migrant smuggling with particular focus on capacity building for female officers.