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Tanya Mohan – Keeping An Eye On Danger

Apr/10/2022 / by ABHIJIT MASIH
Tanya Mohan shooting a video at the UN headquarters in New York
Tanya Mohan shooting a video at the UN headquarters in New York

Tanya Mohan knows more about terrorist threats in most parts of the world. As a senior security information analyst at the United Nations Department of Safety and Security, her work is classified, but it certainly revolves around security threat information. She specializes in counterterrorism, and conflict management and its resolution.

Due to the nature of her work, an online search for Mohan only throws up a spare Linkedin profile. Unlike the norm, the profile conceals more than it reveals.

Mohan told SEEMA something about her work, within the boundaries of discretion, of course. The UN relies on her for information about active terrorist groups and how and where they operate in the area she is focusing on. 

“I go into the field and meet people, I get information, open-source information, because in the UN, we don’t do any other source of information,” Mohan said. “Then I advise the senior leadership, for example, where UNICEF mission is going, I look at the trends and the threats and present reports. It’s very analytical, but at the same time, it involves a lot of fieldwork.”

In more than 12 years stint with the UN, Mohan has covered areas all around the globe. Moving east to west, she spent years in Manila, Philippines covering the Asia Pacific region. Then there was a four-year tenure in Somalia, then the Middle East, and for the past couple of years, New York. The only continent that she has not worked on is South America. 

anya Mohan being felicitated by the Philippines army chief in 2015
Tanya Mohan being felicitated by the Philippines army chief in 2015

“I like to go in the field and I work in the remote areas,” Mohan said. “I can’t get information sitting in an ivory tower, behind the computer. I’ve traveled extensively, like I was in Somalia for nearly four years and traveled all over East Africa. I worked on the main terrorist group there, Al Shabaab.”

Born in an army home in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and raised in New Delhi, Mohan was drawn to strategic information analysis while completing her degree in political science, which included a module on international relations that covered the Cold War. With her family hoping she would join the Foreign Services, like most in the family, Mohan decided to follow her interest in international relations and conflict management. She joined the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis, which is solely responsible for all India’s external affair policies. 

“Before I joined the UN [in 2010], I was working in the private sector and doing risk assessment analysis … to counter the risks and threats from the private sector. So for example, if it was a mining company trying to come and invest in a Naxalite-infested area in India or Nepal, we would study that region, study the threats and advise the companies what to do and what not to do.”

In the private sector, Mohan worked in the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Israel. Her portfolio proved to be instrumental in landing her the UN job. She recalls the unexpected event that led to it.

“One day, I was giving a presentation on South Asia and terrorism for the overseas security of American Council in Delhi, and the head of the UN Security was there,” she said. “He complimented me on my presentation and told me that they just opened a position of an analyst in the UN. Please apply.”

She did. And after an interview by a panel of seven that lasted two hours, she was in. After training in New York, she was stationed in Manila to cover the Asia Pacific. She worked on the area for seven years, including stints in Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines.

Undergoing training to be in conflict areas
Undergoing training to be in conflict areas

We learned that the girl with all that the dark information data, was also an artist. She is a classical Indian musician, who can can play the Dhrupad, dances Kathak, and has performed live with her mother, the famous Sufi and folk singer Deepmala Mohan.

Discussing her mother and her ancestral home in Lucknow, the conversation moves to the town and its delectable cuisine. Something this writer grew up on during his time at boarding school, one that Deepmala Mohan also attended. The next few minutes were spent talking about Lucknow and the famous Khairabadi and Avadhi cuisine, which Mohan said she is pretty good at making. Temptation enough for me to shamelessly accept her invitation the next time I am in New York.

She also shares a story about her father, a 1971 war veteran who died last year. 

“My father was in the army, and he was my hero. There is an emotional story about a Pakistani soldier who died in his arms during the war and gave him his wallet to send it to his family. My father tried for years. Then, one day, my father met the editor of a Pakistani newspaper, and relayed the story. The editor published the story with the photograph and the wallet of the soldier and his wife. The family contacted my father, because they thought maybe the captain was missing in action. He had only been married for six months before he died in the war. It was really emotional for my father.”

The perils of war, the cost of which is borne by everyone, on both sides of the border, like the story about the Pakistani soldier in a war fought 50 years ago. Not much has changed and we are reminded again today when we see buses carrying women and children to safety and leaving behind fathers and brothers to fight Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Mohan’s days must be busier than usual now, but her job is more a passion. But she should have no problem, thanks to some solid preparation.

As she put it: “My parents are the ones that I am very thankful to, because they guided me to where I am today.”

Seema

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