Dr. Harrison Akins, from Maryville, TN, is the Subject Matter Expert for Economic and Social Development in the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Congress created SIGAR in 2008 to provide independent oversight of U.S. reconstruction funding and programs in Afghanistan. Dr. Akins previously served as the Senior Policy Analyst for South Asia on the Professional Staff of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent U.S. government agency that monitors restrictions on religious freedom abroad. While managing USCIRF’s South Asia portfolio, he reported on religious freedom conditions in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma/Myanmar, India, and Pakistan and served as the primary advisor on South Asia-related issues for the Commission.
Prior to becoming a civil servant, Dr. Akins was a Global Security Research Fellow at the University of Tennessee’s Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy and, before that, an Ibn Khaldun Chair Research Fellow at American University’s School of International Service, working with the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies and former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed. While at American University, he served as a senior researcher for two of Ambassador Ahmed’s major research projects: The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (Brookings Press, 2013) and Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity (Brookings Press, 2018). The Journey into Europe project involved fieldwork in 10 countries across Europe over a period of two years, with Dr. Akins serving as both a field researcher and the fieldwork coordinator. The project resulted in both a book and a documentary film, for which he served as associate producer, director of cinematography, and script consultant.
Dr. Akins received his PhD in Political Science, with concentrations in International Relations and Public Policy, from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He also earned a Graduate Certificate in Global Security Studies from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics, an MA in Philosophy & Classics (the Great Books Program) from St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, and a BA in History and Music Performance from American University in Washington, DC. After graduating from American University, he spent a year teaching English in Wakkanai, Japan, the northernmost city in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, as part of the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Programme.
His areas of expertise include intra-state conflict, development, terrorism/counterterrorism, South Asian politics, and U.S. foreign policy. He is a two-time recipient of the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship to study Urdu in Lucknow, India and has conducted fieldwork in both India and Pakistan. He currently has two book projects: (1) The Terrorism Trap: The War on Terror Inside America’s Partner States (based on his doctoral dissertation at the University of Tennessee), focusing on how U.S. counterterrorism policy shifted the domestic security actions of the United States’ partner states and the resulting impact, using a mixed methods approach with statistical analysis and case studies of Pakistan, Yemen, Mali, and Egypt; and (2) The Adversary and the Ally: China and the Domestic Politics of South Asia, a historical study of China’s impact on the domestic politics of India and Pakistan, in particular focusing on India’s northeastern frontier and Pakistan’s Balochistan Province. His research, relying on both quantitative and qualitative methods, has appeared in a number of scholarly journals, including Terrorism and Political Violence, Asian Security, Asian Survey, Small Wars & Insurgencies, Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict, Oxford Middle East Review, and Journal for Muslim Minority Affairs. A frequent contributor to the media, Dr. Akins’ essays have been featured in the Atlantic, Los Angeles Review of Books, Foreign Policy, BBC, Al Jazeera, USA Today, Huffington Post, India Times, the Guardian, and the Tennessean, among other outlets.