Fulbright-recipient Malik Siraj Akbar is a journalist, blogger and a democracy defender. Akbar graduated from
Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government with a Master’s degree in Public Administration as an Edward Mason Fellow. At Harvard, Akbar was elected as the Vice President Communications at the Kennedy School Student Government (KSSG) and served as the Online Editor of the Citizen, Kennedy School’s Campus newspaper.
Akbar is a Contributing Writer at the Huffington Post and a former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington D.C. where he researched Threats to Defenders of Democracy in Pakistan, particularly in the province of Balochistan.
Akbar is the founder and the editor of The Baloch Hal, Balochistan’s first online English language newspaper. Previously, he was a Hubert Humphrey Fellow at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication of Arizona State University. As a part of the Humphrey Fellowship Program, he served as a visiting journalist at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a project of Center for Public Integrity, Washington D.C. in 2011. He was a visiting journalist at the Poynter Institute, Florida in June 2011.
In October 2011, the US government granted Akbar political asylum considering threats of persecution based on his writings critical of the Pakistani government’s policies in his native Balochistan. In an interview with NPR, Jason Dzubow, Akbar’s lawyer, described him as his “strongest” and “most ideal client” to qualify for political asylum.
As a political analyst, Akbar has been interviewed and quoted by several national and international media and human rights organizations such as CNN, Aljazeera, the New York Times, the Examiner, the Huffington Post, Washington Times, B.B.C. Urdu, Voice of America, Radio Canada International, Deutsche Welle, the Guardian, the Hindu, the New Indian Express, International Herald Tribune, Reuters, the Diplomat, Mcclatchy, Express Tribune, Dawn, Daily Times, The News International, GARA (Spanish), Geo News, Headlines Today, News TV One, Saama TV, Pakistan Television, Vash TV, KTN, Radio Gwank, Radio Balochistan, Sindh TV, HD Net (USA), IPS, The Political Notebook, International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, Asia Society, Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), Asian Human Rights Commission, Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and several others.
CNN described Malik as “one of the youngest bureau chiefs in Pakistan’s largest and most dangerous province, Balochistan, who gained access to the region’s most influential politicians and tribal leaders.” The Spanish newspaper GARA called Akbar “one of the most authoritative voices on one of the longest running conflicts [Balochistan]”. The Washington Post called him “a soft-spoken but steely man”. The BBC News termed him a “victim of the tough stance taken by the Pakistani government.” According to Al-Jazeera English, he “talks passionately and movingly of the hundreds of Baloch who have been brutally killed by the security agencies.” Huffington Post Live called Malik “a real mouthpiece for the oppressed”. A Newsweek Pakistan article mentioned him as the “star Baloch reporter of his generation”.
In November 2010, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) banned The Baloch Hal because of its fiercely objective and critical editorial policy. Akbar termed the ban undemocratic, a “ban on expression” and vowed to fight in spite of all the challenges. Pakistan’s most circulated English language newspaper, The News, deplored the ban on The Baloch Hal. The BBC featured Akbar and his online newspaper as a successful example of online journalism in Balochistan.
Akbar’s book The Redefined Dimensions of Baloch Nationalist Movement was released in the United States of America in 2011.
He has extensively covered the military operation in Balochistan, Baloch nationalist movement, issue of enforced disappearances, target killings, sectarian violence; secrete Taliban operations in Balochistan, women’s rights issues, lawyers’ movement, religious radicalization of Baloch society and several natural disasters and issues of press freedom. As a journalist, Akbar has covered several local and general elections held in Balochistan.
Akbar served as the Balochistan Bureau Chief of Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper Daily Times and its sister publication in Urdu, Daily Aajkal, for several years. He contributed political analysis from Balochistan to The Friday Times, Pakistan’s first independent English weekly.
His articles have been published in two of Pakistan’s most reputed current affairs magazines, Herald and Newsline. He blogs at Foreignpolicy blogs and freelances for Dawn.com. His work has also appeared in Chicago Tribune, the Times of India, the Hindu and Express Tribune.
Born in Panjgur District on July 9, 1983, Akbar matriculated from the Government Model High School in Chitkan, district headquarter of Panjgur in Balochistan, in 1999. He earned his B.A. in 2003 in Political Science, Sociology and Balochi literature from the Government Degree College Panjgur. He attended the prestigious Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), Chennai, India, to get a post-graduate diploma in Print Journalism while specializing in politics, gender and identities politics. He is the first Pakistani male journalist to be awarded South Asia Foundation (SAF) Media Scholarship which took him to ACJ. Akbar holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the University of Balochistan and a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Akbar began his journalism career at the age of 16 by writing a weekly column, Commentary Box in the Karachi-based Prime Sports. His writings mainly focused on Cricket. In 1999, he worked for Daily Kohistan, an Urdu newspaper published from Quetta, as its stringer in his home district of Panjgur. He also worked as a reporter for Daily Balochistan Express for which he later on worked as a staff member.
Akbar wrote Hiraath Kadha (Wonderland) a regular political column in Quetta-based Urdu language newspaper Daily Asaap while he also wrote Gosha-e-Chashm (A Glimpse), another political column in Daily Azadi, Quetta. In Daily Aaj Kal, an Urdu language newspaper published simultaneously from Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, he wrote a weekly political diary focusing on Balochistan. His Urdu writings have also been published in respected Lahore-based weekly magazine, Hum Sheri.
As a professional media trainer, Akbar trained one hundred (100) rural journalists of Balochistan on Media, Democracy and Human Rights in five phases under a project by Balochistan Institute for Development with the collaboration of the US-based National Endowment for Democracy. In addition, Akbar worked with international organizations like ActionAid Pakistan and Oxfam as an independent researcher on the issue of Balochistan’s internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Akbar is a member of several international journalists’ organizations such as the USA-based, National Press Club Washington DC, Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ), South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA), American Copy Editors Society (ACES) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE).
Harvard University Alumni Association; Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Association; Harvard Kennedy School Washington D.C. Alumni Association, U.S. Department of State Alumni, InWent Alumni, Germany, Young Leaders Conference Alumni, Pakistan
Akbar has spoken on Balochistan in national and international conferences at University of California Berkeley, George Washington University, the American University, George Mason University, Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and different institutions.