Syed was born in Palwal, District Gurgaon, Haryana on Friday, 1 January 1915 (15 Safar 1333 A.H.), to Nawabs Syed Ali Akbar and Khurshaidi Begum.
He excelled as a student and in sports and extra-curricular activities. In St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, he obtained high marks and secured 1st place among Muslim classmates.
Syed Ali Akhtar joined the Indian Army on 15 May 1933. Throughout his Army career, he remained an exceptional and a highly dedicated soldier and commanded different units. He joined the Second Welsh Regiment at Agra on 1 February 1939. On completion of his attachment to the 2nd Welch Regiment in February 1940, he permanently joined the 5th Royal Mahrattas, an infantry battalion unit in the Indian Army.
On 3 September 1939, Great Britain declared war against Germany, which later on turned into the Second World War of 1939-1945. He was posted to Iraq during this period where he served in various capacities and commanded different units.
On 1 October 1947, he was part of the inaugural flight of Orient Airways (which flew from Calcutta to Karachi). Khawaja Nazimuddin, the then Premier of East Bengal, inaugurated the airline.
In May, 1950, Colonel J.A.E. Armstrong, Commandant of R.P.A.S.C. Centre and Records School Chaklala, was proceeding towards retirement and Akhtar was the next in line. He took over as the Second-in-Command of R.P.A.S.C. Centre and Records and School, Chaklala, on 31 May 1950. He took over as Commandant on 28 June 1950 and as Inspector R.P.A.S.C. at S & T directorate on 5 September 1950. He toured the country, including East Pakistan. The R.P.A.S.C. consisted of about thirty-five thousand officers and men, deployed across the country. He was given the additional task of revising training manuals. After a nervous breakdown, he retired early from the Army, on 11 August 1953.
In August 1953, Akhtar became the Administrator of The Punjab Government Cotton Mills, Lahore.
In May 1955, he became General Manager T.D.A. Mills, Bhakkar. He laid down foundations of Station Officers Club and a mosque in the Mills Colony. Substantial work was done on the Club and some subscriptions collected for construction of the mosque before his departure from Bhakkar on account of another health breakdown.
Syed married Syeda Asima Khatoon, daughter of Syed Khalil-ur-Rehman, on 6 November 1941 in Lahore. He had 5 children, 2 daughters and 3 sons.
He spent his last days in Bahawalpur. In 1982, he suffered a heart attack and was admitted to Combined Military Hospital. He died on Friday, 26 February 1982.
His father-in-law, Syed Khalil-ur-Rehman, a member of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly and a prominent member of the Ruling Party – Pakistan Muslim League was Minister of State for Defence at the time.