From Balochistan to Harvard 

Malik Siraj Akbar
Malik Siraj Akbar

I was born and raised in Panjgur, a small Pakistan-Iran border town in Balochistan. Larger than France area wise, the Balochistan region is divided between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In all these three countries, Balochistan ranks as the poorest and the least developed region. My mom is from the Iranian Balochistan while my dad comes from the Pakistani side of the border. The right-wing central governments in Pakistan and Iran discriminate the secular Baloch based on their religious and ethnic identities. Each year, hundreds of Baloch citizens are killed, tortured and subjected to enforced disappearance by the governments in the Iran and Pakistan because of their opposition to the exploitation of Balochistan’s gas and gold by the central governments. The Baloch people do not receive the benefits of their mineral wealth.
In 2009, I founded The Baloch Hal, Balochistan’s first online English language newspaper, to inform the world about the untold stories of poverty, enforced disappearances, torture, political assassinations, human trafficking, drug smuggling and the rise of extremist Islamic groups. Previously, I had worked (2006-10) as the Balochistan Bureau Chief of Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper, Daily Times.

While our use of online journalism and social media to share under-reported stories at The Baloch Hal received plaudits internationally, including from the B.B.C., the Pakistani government blocked The Baloch Hal in 2010. The conflict between the Pakistani government and Baloch separatists has led to the killing of at least 22 journalists, including my several personal friends and colleagues. Considering the deadly political and security situation in my native Balochistan, the U.S. government granted me political asylum in 2011.

While in the United States, I have continued to run my online newspaper to draw international attention to the ongoing human rights abuses in Balochistan. In 2012, I served as a Regan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (N.E.D.) where I researched targeted killings, forced disappearances and attacks on the media in Balochistan. My book, The Redefined Dimensions of the Baloch Nationalist Movement, was published in 2010.

The biggest disadvantage of being an exiled journalist is the loss of one’s professional contacts, context and the gradual expiration of one’s ability to analyze the area of one’s expertise with mere intuition. The worst thing that happens to an asylee is the feeling of being a newborn baby. One has to start everything from scratch.

I choose to come to Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS.) because I wanted to converge my previous journalistic experiences as an international journalist with the American policy world.

The Kennedy School compels students to simultaneously think about themselves as global citizens and leaders. For instance, the Mason Seminar case studies captivated me in critical issues of development and innovation so much that I, at one point, began to have dreams about Uganda and Denmark! I continuously thought of myself as a crusader for the residents of Bujagali Falls as well as a member of the Danish Parliament.

The Kennedy School coaxes its students not to solely think about their countries but also fit think about grappling with tough roles and inconceivable situations. HKS is often described as the world’s largest group of incredibly smart and naïve people but it is also a place where I have met some of the most optimistic and passionate people ever in my life.

The Mason Program takes learning to an amazing next level where, besides the outstanding faculty, we are provided an extraordinary opportunity to learn from our own classmates who are already accomplished change-makers and top policymakers in their respective countries.

For the most of my career as a journalist, I have reported about conflict, violence, injustice and corruption whereas at the Kennedy School, I would like to explore solutions to all these pressing issues. I intend to study leadership, the art of negotiation, strategic planning and public communication. We journalists highlight too many problems and offer limited solutions. My goal for the academic year is to gain the required knowledge, skills and tools to manage and resolve conflicts through negotiations and peace building. (Courtesy: Harvard Kennedy School Admission Blog)

One thought on “From Balochistan to Harvard 

  1. Happy moment to know about u and ur journalistic and social services vulenteered to deprived part of world.

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