Akbar, a citizen of both Afghanistan and the United States, attended Diablo Valley College and transferred to Yale University. Akbar is from a political family, including Said Shamsoudin Majroh, who was the architect of Afghanistan's first constitution in 1964 and who had served as the Minister of Justice and Head of Tribal Affairs; Said Bahaoudin Majroh, who had served as Governor and was considered one of Afghanistan's leading intellectuals; and another influential member of the family was Shal Pacha, a tribal leader whose influence was particularly strong in the eastern region as well as the FATA areas of Pakistan. His father is Said Fazal Akbar, a former governor of the Kunar Province of Afghanistan.
While assisting US forces, Akbar encouraged an Afghan man, Abdul Wali, to turn himself in and assured Wali he would not be mistreated. Akbar accompanied Wali to a US base, and served as a translator for David Passaro, a former special forces soldier, whom the CIA had hired, on contract, to serve as an interrogator—even though he had no background in interrogation. Akbar later described Passaro as "full of rage" and "a big a--hole". He said he had to stop translating because Passaro became too aggressive. After Akbar left, Wali was beaten by Passaro and later died from his injuries.
Based in part on Akbar's testimony and a letter from his father,[clarification needed] who said Passaro created distrust and set back reconstruction efforts, Passaro was convicted of assault and sentenced to eight years and four months imprisonment on February 14, 2007.
Akbar and radio producer Susan Burton later wrote a book about his experiences in Afghanistan: Come Back to Afghanistan: A California Teenager's Story, published by Bloomsbury in 2005. The book received several honors: San Francisco Chronicle Book of the Year, New York Times Editor's Pick, USA Today’s Top 10 Memoirs, ALA Top 10 Books for Young Readers.
Akbar has also made two documentaries for This American Life, a Peabody-winning NPR program, both broadcast during 2003. The first documentary focused on life in Kabul in post-Taliban Afghanistan and the challenges that faced the central government. The second, Episodes 230 and 254 in 2003, was based on time spent in Kunar, Afghanistan – a volatile province on the border with Pakistan. Akbar's work on NPR received a National Journalism Award, a Third Coast International Silver Prize and an Overseas Press Club citation.
Akbar has appeared on Morning Edition, PBS and BBC World News among others. He has also been featured in GQ, New York Magazine, and The Los Angeles Times and various other publications. Akbar has also authored articles for The New York Times and Slate.
Along with his work in the media, Akbar has also been involved with Stanford University's Hoover Institution in archiving and keeping records of Afghanistan's current events.
Akbar was also the co-director of Wadan Afghanistan, an NGO that he founded to focus on quick impact reconstruction projects in his native province of Kunar. The NGO rebuilt schools and helped villages with access to water among other things.
Akbar is fluent in English, Pashto, Dari, Hindi, and Urdu.
While at Yale, Akbar became the subject of controversy when he and two other students were arrested for arson after he burned an American flag. Akbar admitted to burning the flag and had to perform 50 hours of community service.
- "Afghan official: Heart attack may not have killed prisoner". USA Today. Associated Press. June 19, 2004.
- Bigg, Matthew (August 9, 2006). "CIA operative admitted killing Afghan prisoner". Capitol Hill Blue. Retrieved 2014-02-13.
- Jeffery, Clara (December 2005). "A Tale of Two Countries". Mother Jones (motherjones.com). Retrieved 2014-02-13.
- "Americas: CIA worker is jailed over beating". BBC News. February 13, 2007. Retrieved 2014-02-13.
- . NewsObserver.com.[dead link]
- "Come back to Afghanistan: a California teenager's story". LC Online Catalog. Library of Congress (lccn.loc.gov). Retrieved 2015-11-16.
- Martin, Charlotte (April 4, 2007). "One of three students released on bail after arson arrests". Yale Daily News. Archived from the original on 2012-09-20. Retrieved 2014-02-13.
- O'Connor, Anahad; Kaplan, Thomas (April 5, 2007). "Prank or Statement? Flag-Burning Near Yale Has Campus Abuzz, and Puzzled". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
- Martin, Charlotte (April 27, 2007). "Court rules on flag arson". Yale Daily News. Archived from the original on 2012-09-20. Retrieved 2014-02-13.
- The Said Hyder Akbar sound recordings at the Hoover Institution Archives were the basis of his documentaries for National Public Radio
- Works by or about Hyder Akbar in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Akbar Hyder materials in the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA)
- Said Hyder Akbar at Library of Congress Authorities, with 1 catalog records