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In Conversation with Alaa Mazhar Bokhari, (FSP) 26th in CSS-2010

‘I like every aspect of Foreign Service and am grateful and privileged to be a part of it’

 Kindly give your brief introduction for the interest of our readers.

Alla Mazhar Bokhari: I was born in Riyadh. My early days were spent in Riyadh, California and Lahore. My personality is the product of three very distinct and opposing cultures. I was lucky enough to live and get early education in those different countries; the collective cultural impact influenced my personality makeup. While I firmly believe in religious values and family traditions, I am proud to be more liberal and progressive than many average Pakistanis women. The interaction with people of various ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds has helped me see the ‘other side of the picture’ instead of analysing through my own subjective and stereotypical vision.

Through the course of finding my final destination, I chose different educational fields. I did my F.Sc (pre medical), I became a computer graphic designer and then a software engineer. Then, I did my bachelors in English Literature and finally a Masters in Diplomacy and Strategic Studies. The decision to do master in that subject was deliberate as the field would help me in Foreign Service.

The list of achievements is long but, clearing CSS 2010 and getting 26th position in overall merit (16th in Punjab and overall 2nd position among females) and joining the Foreign Service of Pakistan on merit over shadows any other achievement.

Now coming to exam point of view, did you prefer books or notes? What should be prepared and how?

AMB: I personally like to read books. I don’t like relying on notes in the beginning. I believe once a person covers the course himself, he may consult notes for a quick revision. As a matter of fact, the depth of knowledge one may attain from a book is definitely absent in the notes.

What are the steps for the preparation of English essay and the composition paper?

AMB: There is no specific method for attempting these two papers in my knowledge. It’s in fact quite tricky. I know some candidates who are incapable of speaking and writing merely one or two grammatically correct sentences and yet they have scored high in these subjects. My strategy for the composition paper was quite simple. I focused on the grammar section as getting them right guarantees full marks. Since, I had memorised Word Smart I and II and others for my GMAT and GRE tests, synonyms and antonyms, etc. it was not a problem.

What sort of combination students should opt for the optional subjects?

AMB: This is the first question every CSS candidate would ask. When choosing the subjects myself, I chose the ones I had interest in. Because I looked at my subjects from the interview point of view and thought that I would be questioned extensively from these subjects, therefore, I had to go beyond just books. I chose the subjects that would complement each other. For example, Political Science and Constitutional Law are complementary and hence I opted for the both. Then International Relations with Current Affairs was good combination and so on and so forth.

What are the ways to get higher marks in interview? Please let our readers know about the marks you scored in your written exam and the interview. 

AMB: As far as the interview is concerned, I believe important facts and figures, especially economic figures related to Pakistan, should be on your fingertips. In my opinion, the interview might not be as much a test of your knowledge as it is a test of your nerves. The statistics substantiate your answers and give you an extra edge. Daily newspapers, including the business and economic sections were a must for me. I made sure I knew every possible angle of the subject.

My subject and interview marks are as follow:

As far as the interview is concerned, I believe important facts and figures, especially economic figures related to Pakistan, should be on your finger tips.
How much time is required for the CSS preparation?
AMB: My approach for the preparation of  CSS exam was not like sitting down for hours for cramming sessions. I gave myself two days to each subject and then moved on to the next, making sure I didn’t get bored and fed up. A person may take three to12 months for the preparation of CSS, but, what you study in the last three months stays stored in your mind. The interview is entirely a different test comparing with the written portion. I find it more extensive and relatively difficult as one has to come up with concrete answers on the spot. Extensive newspaper reading and paying attention to the world around you is the approach I recommend.

Do you believe in ‘Luck Factor’ in CSS as a number of average students get allocation while the talented students are unable to get through?

AMB: Well, I can quote my own example. In my first attempt I scored merely 43 in English composition while in the next I scored 83. Similarly in the previous year I scored 77 in US history whereas in this year I scored 57. There was no change in strategy or knowledge. This unexplained phenomenon is perhaps termed as luck factor but even though I consider myself lucky, I would call it destiny.

What is so special in Foreign Service of Pakistan that you opted for this group?

AMB: Foreign Service is not a group, it’s not even a service ‘it’s a lifestyle and for me it is life. Travelling around the world, hopping from one subject of interest to another, I had to do a lot of soul searching in my college days. I wanted to know what I wanted from life, what I wanted my life to be like, and I was constantly reminded of the different people I had met throughout my existence and how that diversity had enriched me. I realised that my passion was travelling, learning about other cultures, interacting with people of various races and helping those who need it most. After studying the intricacies of diplomacy for two years and after learning about the services provided by this occupational group, I knew for a fact that this is the life for me. From painstaking book keeping and paperwork to meeting influential leaders throughout the world to helping our Pakistani brethren living abroad; I like every aspect of Foreign Service and am grateful and privileged to be a part of it.

Any Message
CSS exam can be taken as any other examination but it is more than a test of knowledge ‘it’s a test of nerves, composure and perseverance. Even post exam, the training life is all about how much stress you can handle.

Box:
Zodiac Sign: Sagittarius, Favourite Personalities: Holy Prophet (PBUH), My mother and Quaid-e-Azam , Faovourite Book: Indian Summer by Mayank Austen Soofi

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