From lecturer to friend

Jeeven Nadanakumar (LLB '16, BEc '16, GDipLegPrac '18)
08 Dec 2022

While sitting in Moeen Cheema's legal theory lectures at ANU, I never imagined that years later I'd be hosting him for dinner in Islamabad.

The decision to study law and economics at the Australian National University (ANU) came naturally to me as I have always had an interest in public policy and governance in Australia.
ANU prepared me well for the foreign service. In both of my degrees, I wanted to be able to link an academic understanding of the subject matter to the day-to-day development of policy and delivery of public services. Increasingly, I discovered there was an international dimension to almost everything I learned. I've since used the skills I learned across both degrees over my career with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
But what was most useful to me were the professional and social connections I made. One such connection was my lecturer in legal theory, Associate Professor Moeen Cheema, who had a particular speciality in law, governance and development in Pakistan. He always used case studies of the Pakistani experience of constitutionalism, governance and understanding of legal theory. At the time, I probably should have paid more attention, but I never expected our paths to cross again.
After graduating and joining DFAT, I was dispatched on my first diplomatic posting - to Pakistan of all places. Suddenly all that I'd learned in Moeen's class was key to my new role, and we reconnected. It was surreal - first he was my teacher, then an interlocutor who helped me better understand Pakistan's system of governance.
He used to visit Pakistan regularly for research on judicial review and criminal justice reform, so we would frequently catch up. Not only did I value his expertise, we became friends over time and even travelled together through rural Punjab.
One day, over dinner at my house in Islamabad, Moeen told me he was about to publish his new book about constitutionalism in Pakistan. He needed an image for the cover and was trying to source a photo of the Supreme Court. I showed him a photo on my phone that I had taken of the building when it was lit up beautifully for Pakistan's Independence Day celebrations. He loved it and the book was published this year with that photo I took on the front.
A relationship that I never thought twice about ended up turning into a significant connection for me after leaving university. And, just as it is for the stories of many others, ANU was the place that brought that connection together.
Associate Professor Matthew Zagor, who taught me a number of subjects including public, constitutional and refugee law, was the one who encouraged me to consider a career with DFAT. I wrote my Honours thesis on refugee law with him because the way he taught that subject inspired me to consider the human impacts of our legal and political frameworks. He supported me to explore refugee narratives from a public policy perspective and helped me apply a legal lens to it.
Matthew's own approach to refugee law was never a purely academic exercise - it came from a place of personal interest and human connection. During my posting, I had the opportunity to work on Australia's largest humanitarian evacuation operation following the fall of Kabul in 2021. It was a highlight of my career and an honour to assist so many Afghans reach Australia. Writing an academic thesis on refugee law never really prepares you for an operation like that. Matthew's approach influenced the way I engaged with Afghan families on the ground, trying to connect with them in a compassionate and empathetic way as they courageously fled extremely challenging circumstances.
When I graduated from ANU, I could never have imagined that two years later I'd arrive in Islamabad for a three-year assignment. The posting turned out to be one of the most rewarding periods of my life. The only reason that happened was because I kept an open mind about my career, and the opportunities I put my hand up for. And most importantly and unexpectedly, the people I met at university like Moeen and Matthew continued to be sources of inspiration.

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