Jamia prepares 'brains' to help India understand neighbours
Jamia Millia Islamia, one of the country's oldest universities, has embarked upon a series of country-specific programmes to prepare a cadre of experts to fulfil the research needs of the government and think tanks, something which foreign service officials are perhaps not adept at doing, the university says.

"The neighbours are extremely critical for us to understand. So what we produce in terms of MPhils and PhDs will actually go and produce the brains for the country. When the government is looking for brains, these MPhils will fulfil that need, " Jamia Vice Chancellor Najeeb Jung told .

Individuals drawn from both academia and the corridors of diplomacy run these programmes. TCA Rangachari, the director of the Academy of International Studies (AIS), served as India's ambassador to France, Germany and Algeria and was the division head of China in the foreign ministry.

Zikrur Rahman spent 25 years as a diplomat in the Arab world and was the Indian ambassador to Palestine.

There are also academics who have spent their entire careers on research. Field work being critical to successful research, each centre is striving to solve this challenge in its own unique way.

For instance, the biggest challenge is before the Pakistan Studies Programme (PSP), where travel by PhD students to Pakistan is practically ruled out. But as programme coordinator Ajay Darshan Behera told : "We subvert this problem by engaging as many scholars and experts as possible from Pakistan by inviting them to Jamia."

Through a series of seminars, the PSP has invited the Who's Who of Pakistan's intelligentsia, diplomacy and literary world to Jamia, including the former ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani.

The PSP, set up in 2004 and recognised by the UGC in 2005, aims to promote greater understanding among scholars about Pakistan through extensive research work on the country's history, sociology, culture, literature, contemporary politics, trade and economics, geopolitics, and security and foreign policy.

The Afghanistan Studies Programme encourages inter-disciplinary research focussing on the history, sociology, contemporary politics, economics, geopolitics, security, foreign policy and also languages.

The programme is designed to stimulate debate in India on the politics, society, and economics of Afghanistan. It hopes to produce a pool of scholars with expertise on Afghanistan in India.

The UGC-sanctioned China Studies Programme will focus on studying the country's internal dynamics and external relations.

"While India's approach to China is dominated by Sino-Indian relations, we need experts who understand the internal dynamics of China," programme coordinator Ravni Thakur said.

Now being developed, the programme will examine all facets of contemporary China and will incorporate the Chinese language as a mandatory course.

The programme titled Central Asia and its Neighbourhoods: Past Ties and Future Relations was started in 2007 following UGC approval.

It's of high relevance because the countries that emerged out of the Soviet Union are still evolving a new identity for themselves by de-Russifying and because the region is geo-politically important to the world and is also energy rich.

Programme coordinator Rashmi Doraiswamy says it will not focus just on polity and economy but also on culture and society.

Jamia's India-Arab Cultural Centre (IACC) has emerged as a centre of excellence for knowledge on Arab history, polity, economy, society and culture and on India-Arab relations.

The centre's Gulf Studies Programme is a dedicated research unit for knowledge generation and dissemination and runs PhD programmes to prepare a cadre of experts on the Arab region. The Centre also offers a PG Diploma in Iranology.