About Me

Abhinav Pandya

I study conflicts around the world, with a major focus on South Asia.

Abhinav Pandya,

a Cornell University graduate in public affairs, is a Strategic Affairs Analyst specializing in counterterrorism, Indian foreign policy, and Afghanistan-Pakistan geopolitics. He has written for the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), a premier think tank of India in national security, Haaretz (Israel), Sunday Guardian, South Asia Democratic Forum, Perspectives on Terrorism, the Express Tribune (Pakistan), Huffington Post, Fair Observer (U.S.), Indian Military Review, Indian Defence Review, Policy Perspectives Foundation (India), The Print, First Post and Economic Times (India). For VIF, he wrote critical papers on post-ISIS terrorism-scenario, terror-financing, and the use of bitcoins in terror financing. He is currently undertaking a comprehensive research project on Terror financing in Jammu and Kashmir for his upcoming book on the subject. He is based in Udaipur, India, and is a free-lance researcher. He advised Mr. Satya Pal Malik, the former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, on radicalization and the jihadist organizations in Kashmir. He also advised him on youth engagement and outreach. In the past, Abhinav has worked as a consultant with the UN and civil society in the US and India.

Born in a middle-class family in the Banswara district of Southern Rajasthan, Abhinav spent his childhood in the 80s and 90s in the remote rural areas and small towns of Rajasthan. His exposure to Vedanta, Jainism, and Quran in his remote village Kanba, in the guidance of his grandfather and his local friends from different religious communities, shaped his thought process in his early childhood. It was, indeed, a great learning experience in knowing about the power of India’s mystic spiritual and religious traditions on the collective consciousness of the rural society.

In other domains of life, when Khalistan militants shot his father, it left a deep imprint on Abhinav’s mind. He started exploring the roots of violence and religious conflicts. His father’s tenure in the state intelligence services provided the earliest exposure to Pan-Islamism and its unfolding on the ground in the form of radicalization, to him.

When his batchmates were preparing for a career in medicine and engineering, Abhinav was questioning the meanings of life and cosmos. At the same time, his journey of world history began in class 8th. With that, a desire to explore the world’s far-off societies and global conflicts began, and a dream to change the world germinated in Abhinav’s consciousness.

His desire to know the world took him to St. Stephens’ College, India’s elitist bastion of liberal thought (2000-03). There, Abhinav served as the Secretary-General, Vice-president, and the Editor-in-Chief of the Commonwealth Society of India. In the capacities mentioned above, he led teams of Delhi University in the Austral Asian Debate Competiton at Nanyang Technological Univesity of Singapore, and an educational tour to Marlborough House, (Commonwealth Office), London. His interaction with foreign diplomats, nation heads, and Indian civil servants provided him a robust exposure and understanding of global and domestic affairs.

After completing his undergraduate program, Abhinav worked in the development sector in rural areas of Rajasthan. Plus, he also advised local politicians in policymaking and policy implementation. Working in the development sector in rural areas enabled him to develop a nuanced understanding of the subconscious mindset of the ordinary masses of India. It was a rich exposure to India’s development challenges and the society and politics at the grassroots level. At the same time, Abhinav’s spiritual quest began. His meetings with an array of self-realized and enlightened saints of Rajasthan opened new vistas of thinking and action in his life. Those experiences were also an unlearning of many superficialities, which he learned during his undergrad days of elitist education. There was a point when he wanted to renounce the world and embark on a spiritual journey. However, at that point, he met his master, who initiated him in the spiritual tradition of Dhyana and told him that he has to contribute a lot to this world.

In 2012, Abhinav went to Cornell University (USA) for his graduate program in public affairs. At Cornell, he studied public policy, development economics, and Game Theory under the likes of Prof. Gary Fields, Prof. David Lipsky, Prof. John Mathiason, and Prof. Iswar Prasad. The two years at Cornell were a life-changing experience for him. He was elected as the International Students’ Representative, and then he founded the International Affairs Forum (IAF) to promote soft power in diplomacy and public policy. As the Founder-Chairperson of IAF, Abhinav organized the visits and lectures of India’s Consul General, Mr. Muley, Mr. Tejendra Khanna, former LG of Delhi, Prof. Gary Fields and the former UN Diplomat Prof. John Mathiason, at Cornell University (2012-14).

During his internship as a Social Capital Analyst with Community Foundation in New York, Abhinav got the opportunity to understand the race relations in American society. After Cornell, he wanted to continue in the US. He even got three Ph.D. offers from prestigious US universities. However, destiny had something else in store for Abhinav. He came back to India. For a while, he worked as a Consultant with the International Labour Organisation, drafting modules of semi-technical courses for MGNREGS overseers. The UN assignment taught a lot about the functioning of international organizations. For a while, it seemed that the journey ahead would be with the UN. However, once again, destiny had something else for him.

After returning, once again, to India in late 2016, Abhinav joined Vidya Bhawan Rural Institute as Strategic Advisor on higher education and youth affairs. The transition from New York City to semi-urban subarbs of Southern Rajasthan was more like a journey back in time. During his Vidya Bhawan days, Abhinav was exposed to the violent student and caste politics of rural India and the ailments of India’s education system. He soon found that the youth, which was being projected as India’s ‘demographic dividend,’ was actually a ticking time-bomb, if not engaged in productive ways, and that required massive interventions in the education system. 

One of his father’s senior colleagues introduced Abhinav to Vivekananda International Foundation, where he met his mentor Mr. CD Sahay, former Chief of R&AW. Under his esteemed guidance, he learned tremendously about terrorism and counter-terrorism. For his book project on radicalization, he visited Kashmir for field trips. His scientific field research and policy recommendations ultimately placed him as an informal adviser on militancy, intelligence, and the youth affairs to the newly-appointed Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Mr. Satya Pal Malik.

After his appointment, Abhinav gave the first security briefing on Jammu and Kashmir to Mr. Malik. During his Kashmir assignment, Abhinav got a brilliant exposure to Pakistan’s intelligence operations in Kashmir, Jihadi terrorism, and the functioning of Islamist organizations such as Jamaat-i-Islami. His intense experience of Kashmir militancy and terror funding bagged him a project to write a book on terror funding in Kashmir, which he is currently writing. His assignment in Kashmir was also crucial in the sense that he was a witness and part of many of the policies and decisions preceding the abrogation of article 370, i.e., Kashmir’s special status. In his book, “Radicalisation in India: An Exploration,” Abhinav wrote in-depth about the covert and lethal role being played by Jamaat-i-Islami as a feeder organization to terrorist groups in Kashmir. Later, in 2019, the Jamaat was banned. Abhinav had also predicted the strengthening of TTGs (Transnational Terrorist Groups) and suicide-bombing trends in Kashmir, long before the Pulwama suicide bombing brought India and Pakistan on the verge of war. In the policy recommendation to address terrorism in Kashmir, Abhinav recommended the division of Jammu and Kashmir into three union territories of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. On 5th August 2019, the Modi government abrogated Kashmir’s special status and divided it into two UTs of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. Some of his other exclusive stories include his detailed paper on Turkey’s Islamist agenda in South Asia and emerging sectarian wars in Kashmir, with the massive involvement of Saudi Arabia and Iran.
His Haaretz article on Turkey’s Islamist radicalization in India was categorized among the 30 most disturbing opinion pieces of 2018, by Haaretz. Abhinav has also lectured on foreign policy and terrorism issues at prestigious institutes such as Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Indian Institue of Technology, Gandhinagar, Bharat Vikas Parishad, Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla University, Kushabhau Thakre University (Raipur), Mohan Lal Sukhadia University (Udaipur) and 26 Division of Indian Army (Jammu). Abhinav also appeared as a participant on ‘News X’ in a TV debate on the long-term effects of India’s ending Kashmir’s special status.

In the future, Abhinav wants to work for a peaceful and prosperous world, and he firmly believes that solutions to the global conflicts and wars lie in producing spiritually awakened and sensible citizens, teachers, politicians, religious preachers, civil servants, and diplomats. It is so because social and community violence begins in an individual mind, first, and it rises from the desire to impose one’s will, lust for power, and the ensuing ego and anxiety. 

Education

05 / 2014

Master of Public Administration (International Development) Cornell University, Cornell Institute of Public Affairs, Ithaca, NY, USA.

• Relevant Coursework: International Finance and Macroeconomics, International Relations, Geographical Information Systems, Public Administration, Food Policy in Developing Countries, Labor Economics, International Public and N.G.O. Management, International Trade Policy, Labor Markets and Income Distribution in Developing Countries, Research Methods in International Development, Negotiations: Theory and Practice, Public and Non-Profit Evaluation
• GPA: 3.82
• Member, Pi Alpha Alpha, Honors Society in Public Administration in United States
Terrorism and Counter Terrorism, Leiden University, Netherlands
• Leadership Development Course, Cornell University, USA

04 / 2003

Bachelor of Arts (History and Economics) St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University

  

Work of Excellence

2019

Authored the book, ‘Radicalization in India: An Exploration,” Vivekananda International Foundation, Pentagon Press

The book offers an objective and evidence-based understanding of the phenomenon of religious radicalization in India. It has important case-studies on Kashmir, Kerala, ISIS and AQ in India with a set of innovative solutions to address the challenge of radicalization and jihadi terrorism. 

Experience

2018-2019

Strategic Affairs Advisor, Office of the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir

• Advised HE Mr. Satya Pal Malik on the security scenario- radicalization, militancy, terror financing in the state
• Facilitated and organized the interaction of HE with youth groups, religious clerics, business communities and Panchayat leaders
• Drafted the multi-dimensional strategy to contain radical Islamist organization Jamaat-i-Islami
• Advised the HE in building and disseminating the counter narrative to Islamism and jihadi terrorism
• Advised the HE on the use of the social media to disseminate the development-narrative to counter Pakistan’s war of narratives to instigate the youth to join militancy
• Drafted to outreach strategy for the state administration
• Extensively surveyed the rural areas of Kashmir to study the trends in militancy, radicalization, public sentiments and sent situation analysis reports to MHA and the HE 
• Built a network in Kashmir that provided timely inputs on impending security threats, political developments and ocial trends
• Predicted the emergence of Pulwama-styled suicide bombing six months before the incident in my paper, ‘Militancy in Kashmir-A Study”, Vivekananda International Foundation
• Predicted that in response to the abrogation of article 370 there would not be a civil unrest due to the fatigue and frustration with militancy among the ordinary citizenry 

2016-2018

Strategic Advisor- Vidya Bhawan Sansthan, Udaipur, India

• Advised Vidhya Bhawan Sansthan, Rajasthan on Educational Development Projects
• Managed student elections and political issues- Successfully eliminated the rogue candidates with criminal background and instincts and ensured free and fair elections
• Managed World Affairs Forum and Nature Club as their Founder Chairman to create awareness of global issues
• Students Interactions and informal discussions to foster critical and innovative thinking among them
• To submit fortnightly Policy Reports and draft a roadmap for the future 

Present

Non-Resident Contributor- Vivekananda Foundation (Security Think Tank), Delhi

• Contributing opinion pieces, monographs and blogs on geopolitical issues, Indo-Pak relations and intelligence affairs
• Researching on terrorism financing and the current AML/CTF (Anti-Money Laundering/Countering Terror Finance) regime
• Contributing to Haaretz (Israel), Fair Observer (USA), The Express Tribune, Huffington Post, Indian Military Review, Bloomberg-Quint, The Print, Economic Times, Force Magazine, Perspectives on Terrorism, ICCT, Leiden University
Indian Defense Review, Indian Military Review and Swarajya on South Asian Politics, Terrorism and Counterterrorism, and diplomacy
• Lecturing across India on national security challenges, geo-political developments and Jihadi Terrorism 

2014-15

Consultant-International Labor Organization, Delhi

• Developed in close coordination with Team Leader, the training modules including TOT (training of Trainers) training material, for the cadre of Barefoot Technicians in MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) to improve their skills so that the quality of assets can be improved.
• Served as a member of a national level screening committee of ILO and Ministry of Rural Development to select the NGOs for awarding the grant for the training of the barefoot technician of MGNREGS
• Evaluated the performance of MGNREGS (Rural Employment Guarantee Program) and assessed the need for the cadre of barefoot engineers.
• Devised strategy for policy advocacy with the Ministry of Rural Development and NGOs for the effective mplementation of Barefoot Technicians intervention nation wide
• Assisted the team to make a detailed review of existing training material in regional languages with the states such as Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh
• Managed and coordinated the entire project in close cooperation with the team leader, which involved organizing stakeholder conferences, coordinating with page-setter, NGO representatives and officials from the state governments and the central ministry of rural development
• Prepared policy briefs, appraisal reports and power point presentations for the stakeholder conferences. 

2014

Consultant- Salud Mesoamerica 2015 Initiative Inter-American Development Bank

• Analyzed progress of UN Millennium Development Goals in second phase of their implementation in Mesoamerican countries of El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua as a part of RBF(Results Based Financing) program
• Recommended measures to bring down teenage pregnancy in Costa Rica
Drafted policy briefs for presentation to health ministries of Mesoamerican countries 

2013

Social Capital Intern Community Foundation, Tompkins County, Ithaca, NY, USA

• Prepared Action-Plan to organize Community Forum to check radicalization and extremism, and promote inter-race relations in Tompkins County
• Program management, implementation and Drafting of the grant proposals to implement projects for social and economic advancement of African-American community
• Selected grassroots organizations and disbursed the grants to them for poverty alleviation projects for Afro-Asian communities
• Devised innovative advocacy strategies with multiple stakeholders like county administration, NGOs and high schools with participatory interventions like the organization of Community Forum and Social Capital Enhancement Committees
• Created power point presentations for explaining the agenda and value addition of the programs undertaken by Community Foundation
• Prepared budget by synthesizing forecast opinions and analyzing scenarios for projects like ‘Mosaic Partnerships’ 

Languages / Skills

Hindi(Native)

French (Working Proficiency)

English(Fluent)

Urdu (Spoken Fluency)

  • Statistical Analysis

  • Spatial Analysis

  • Geographical Information Systems

  • Econometric Analysis

  • Research Methods

  • Negotiation

  • Public Speaking

  • Strategic Thinking

  • Game Theoretical Analysis

  • Communications

  • Economic Analysis

  • Geo-political Analysis

Computer Skills

Microsoft Word

%

Microsoft Excel

%

Microsoft Power Point

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