By the bootstraps

Shahida Jaffrey on her 25-year journey with the Balochistan Rural Support Programme

By the bootstraps
March 23, 2001. Pakistan’s 61st Independence Day Investiture Ceremony, President’s House, Islamabad.

Ms. Sehat Khatun, President of the Women’s Organisation of Panipai, a village organised by the Balochistan Rural Support Programme (BRSP), travelled from her mud house in Punjpai, flew on a PIA airbus plane from Quetta to Islamabad accompanied by BRSP staffer Tahir Malik. It was her first time ever on a plane - she was on her way to the Presidency in Islamabad to receive her Presidential Award, the Tamgha e Imtiaz from the President of Pakistan, Muhammad Rafique Tarar. The award was to be given to her for doing the best hand embroidery in Pakistan. She was visiting Islamabad for the first time. She was recognised while participating in Lok Virsa Mela at Islamabad, taken there by the BRSP.

While on the plane, Khatun looked through the window and wondered how she was flying over villages and homes just like her own. She couldn’t believe her eyes, seeing elegant young PIA air hostesses serving her meals. She emptied on to her chaadar the small basket containing sweets, offered to her by the air hostess - she assumed all sweets were for her!

When inside the Presidency, she was awestruck by the grandeur of the President’s House, and fascinated by the dignitaries that filled the Grand Hall. She duly received the Tamgha e Imtiaz medal from the President.

The greenery of the Margalla Hills and the fragrant spring flowers of Islamabad enthralled her.
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A very popular activity organised by the BRSP was the Artisans at Work Mela


March 23, 2009, Governor’s House, Quetta, Balochistan Investiture/Civil Awards distribution ceremony marking the 69th Pakistan Day

“The Governor of Balochistan, Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi, conferred the prestigious civil awards on eight personalities of Balochistan. Two of the recipients of the Civil Awards were Ms. Mehnaz Bibi (Art) and Dr. Shahida Jaffrey (Education).”

Ms. Mehnaz Bibi came from a small village in Bhag Narri, and is the President of her village Women’s Organisation. She received her award for her Baloch-style embroidery which involves the use of glass. She, too, was selected from amongst hundreds of artisans at work, participating and displaying their crafts at Lok Virsa Mela in Islamabad - again taken there by the BRSP.

I as the CEO of the BRSP, along with Tahir Malik, worked with Mehnaz as well as other women of Balochistan for years - and I am fortunate to possess a treasure trove  of the most exquisite Baloch embroideries done by Mehnaz and her daughters.

I felt immense pleasure when Mehnaz sat next to me in the large Hall of the Balochistan Governor’s House. She was nervous and proud as she walked on to the stage and received her medal from Governor Nawab Magsi.

Both of us received the Presidential Awards - she for doing exquisite Baloch embroidery and I for establishing the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University, Quetta, Balochistan, as its foundeing Vice Chancellor.

The applauding audience comprised of nawabs, sardars, tribal chiefs, notables, ministers, Assembly members, politicians, civil officials, senior military officers and media.

These are honours for the BRSP, Balochistan and Pakistan. And BRSP played a pivotal role in getting the two women there.

A hand pump installed in Mastung as part of the BRSP's work
A hand pump installed in Mastung as part of the BRSP's work


Here I go back in time:

The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) was established in 1982 in the Northern Areas - now Gilgit Baltistan - by Mr. Shoaib Sultan Khan as its General Manager.

The objectives of the programme were to develop a model for poverty alleviation which could be reproduced elsewhere and to double the income of rural people in 10 years. Both objectives were achieved - according to the World Bank Evaluation Report.

AKRSP followed Raiffeisen’s principles of subsistence holders’ development. That consisted of organising the poor, requiring them to generate their own capital through savings - because capital was power - and thirdly by upgrading their cooperative, managerial and productive human skills.

Hundreds of people and organisitions came to Gilgit on study visits to learn from the AKRSP development model. All were provided training visits free of cost.

A team from the Pak-German Self Help Project from Quetta came to learn from the AKRSP. Their HRD Section organised a tailor-made training programme and charged training fees for the first time for the two-week immersion programme.

The project was then managed and run by experts, consultants and advisors from the GTZ, along with the local government officers. The BRSP was born and registered with the SECP as a not-for-profit development organisation. Pakistani management took over the newly registered company.

A young development professional from the World Bank Islamabad, Qazi Azmat Isa, took over as its first Chief Executive Officer, and work soon spread over Balochistan, with a presence in 13 districts, working with the rural people.

Those were the golden years of the BRSP. Development activities were in full swing; communities were actively involved in their own development - natural resources management, small infrastructure development schemes, microcredit and savings programmes, human skills development, artisan support programmes, preventive health, women’s development programmes - so much work was done that it is impossible to document.

I joined the BRSP in 1994, with the HRD Section.

I can vividly recall a project that I visited almost 22 years ago - Yakhi caves in Quilla Saifullah. I was on the BRSP jeep along with male and female field staff, we took a black gravel path, hardly a road, to nowhere. It was a dry river bed - a barsati nallah. There were holes along the river wall, which we were told were the entrance openings to the living quarters of people. People lived in caves one room deep, with small holes as windows for ventilation. Rooms were black due to soot from wood fires and kerosene lamps. It was dark even during the daylight. And when it rained, black water from flash floods flooded their homes.

Pak German Self Help Project was built for village homes on top of the caves which were flourishing when I visited - the BRSP also worked with the villagers in improving their lives.

The first group of World Bank staff comprising international senior officers, both men and women, came to the BRSP and lived in villages - eating with them and sleeping in their homes, on charpoys, or on the gadda covered floors - the only luxury they got was bottled drinking water. They lived in the desert region of Bhag Narri and the mountainous region of Quilla Saifullah.

Thereafter, the World Bank senior staff regularly participated in the Village Immersion Programme in different developing countries.

Examples of the exquisite craft-based work put on display by Baloch women in cooperation with the BRSP
Examples of the exquisite craft-based work put on display by Baloch women in cooperation with the BRSP


A very popular activity organised by the BRSP was the Artisans at Work Mela held in the beautiful lawns of the Sariab Road office and participated in by artisans from all of Balochistan. It was a very popular event for Quetta families who attended in droves.

Artisans, singers and folk dancers from all districts of the Programme, came and set up stalls, displayed and sold their crafts, and mingled with each other and with visitors. There was local food and music.

BRSP was the largest Rural Development Programme in Balochistan. Its activities extended from Barkhan to Lasbella, Bhag Narri and Naseerabad. Two regions were created - the Mountain Regions and Desert Regions. Hundreds of professional and support staff were busy at work performing all kinds of development activities.

BRSP became the largest Human Resources Development organisation in Balochistan. Old staff call it a ‘University’ - specially in the development sector. Hundreds of young qualified people, both men and women received hands-on training, especially in social development. And today 25 years later, hundreds of former BRSP staff are occupying important positions in prestigious development organisations, national and international, with governments, multinationals, UN agencies, and national,and International NGOs, not only in Pakistan but abroad.

In 1995, trouble began brewing and tides turned for the BRSP as two major donors, the Balochistan government and GTZ, pulled out and BRSP was left without any funding. It struggled to survive. CEO Azmat Isa resigned and left, rejoining the World Bank. I too left the BRSP, moving to Islamabad.

The major reason for the withdrawal of GTZ funds was the issue of the purchase of the office building, 5 A Sariab Road, the decision for which was taken by the Board of the BRSP, with the Country Director of GTZ attending. The purchase was done for reasons of future sustainability of the programme.

Since BRSP had no funding, and was incurring enormous expenses and liabilities continued to increase, the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Mr. Shahid Hussain, who was also the Chief Secretary

Balochistan, terminated the services of all staff, retaining a handful on daily wages.

BRSP was dead - it had no funds - but was fortunate to possess assets - the office building, old electronic equipments and vehicles, all in a state of disrepair.

In July 1999, the BOD Vice Chairman Dr. Arifa Anwer, called me in Islamabad and said:

“All staff of the BRSP has been laid off. New organisations are created that begin work from scratch. BRSP has done superb work in the development sector for years, I am calling you as the BRSP Board want that you come and take over as its CEO and resurrect the programme.”

I told her I would only accept the position if I have the support and guidance of Mr. Shoaib Sultan Khan, Chairman Rural Support Programmes Network.

Shoaib sahib very graciously agreed and I took over as the CEO and we began to work on the dead BRSP. With me were Muhammad Amin, Tahir Malik and Baji Nasreen - BRSP had no money to pay salaries to anyone and we worked without being paid for years.

Except for the Head Office, which was the property of the BRSP; all rented field offices had to be closed. Other development organisations with new development projects began work with BRSP’s organised communities and moved into its fully furnished field offices. The borrower does not require income or employment qualifications. He / she also does not need to repay the loan amount if he / she holds the property as the main place of residence and fulfills mortgage obligations. For a quick loan or a personal loan to a salary, you can look loan .

A young girl from Kharan, hailing from a community which the BRSP have worked with

Amtul Raqib and Shahzeb, the driver of the BRSP jeep, were shot and murdered on the road

Immense challenges followed: court cases and death threats by laid off staff; investigations by NAB for no wrongdoing; enormous liabilities and no source of funding. After years of looking for funding, good tidings came in 2001, when PPAF came to the rescue of the BRSP, providing small funding and BRSP began activities in Mastung district afresh - on a very small scale.

I, a woman, was the CEO of the BRSP just as Azmat Isa remarked: the only woman to be the CEO of such a development organization, and that too in Balochistan! I did not receive any compensation as the organisation had no money. I dedicated my energy, life and time for the people of rural Balochistan.

BRSP was taking the lead again in its development work. Communities were benefiting, they were involved in their own development.  Dignitaries visited the field to see its work. The wife of the Chief Minister, Begum Jam Yousaf; Begum Ghazala Owais Ghani (wife of the Governor of Balochistan) Begum Nawab Raisani and her mother, Begum Zeba Raisani - all these ladies appreciated BRSP’s work and met and spoke to the community members.

PPAF was the only donor, and activities continued to expand.

In 2004, while vacationing with my daughter and her family in USA, I received a call from the Governor of Balochistan, Mr. Owais Ghani, offering to me the position of the Vice Chancellor of the newly founded Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University.

Since I had worked in the development sector for 14 years, and BRSP still needed support, I took the advice of Mr. Shoaib Sultan Khan, who said:

“You have put the BRSP back on its feet, now it will move forward. Accept the position of the VC at SBK.”

And I did.

I moved on to become the Vice Chancellor of the newly founded Women’s University at Quetta, the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University, and continued to be on the Board of the BRSP. My heart and soul were with the BRSP.

Mr. Irfan Kasi took over as the CEO of the BRSP, taking it forward.

In June 2007, Nadir Gul, a thorough professional with years of experience in the development sector, took over the reigns of the BRSP and has taken the organisation to new heights. He has nerves of steel and is a brilliant administrator. He has faced huge challenges: Devastating floods ravaged the programme area and earthquakes brought mountains down. Nadir and his team were at the forefront, working with the government.

In 2013 the BRSP received a prestigious award, the Afro-Asian Rural Development Organization (AARDO), for outstanding contributions for development,

There were unfortunate tragedies along the way.

Ms. Amtul Raqib worked with the BRSP, providing the people of Balochistan preventive healthcare for over 20 years. She, along with Shahzeb, the driver of the official BRSP jeep, were shot and murdered on the road, while returning after certificate distribution of a health training programme in Mastung region.

In recognition of Amtul’s services to the people of Balochistan and Pakistan, and to pay tribute to her, PPAF organised an event in Islamabad on March 8, 2016, on the occasion of International Women’s Day,

Six young professional staff of the BRSP were kidnapped from Pishin while on duty during day time. Two of them, Muhammad Maqbool and Abdul Ghafoor were brutally murdered. These horrendous acts left all staff as well as communities devastated, and we shed tears of blood.

BRSP had very dedicated staff, who performed their duties selflessly. I must honour and deeply appreciate the services of Baji Nasreen, who is not with us today. She began her work with the Pak German Self Help Project, and continued to work all her life with the BRSP.

Today the Balochistan Rural Support Program (BRSP) is completing twenty five years of its establishment and operations, working in more than 150 Union Councils of 25 districts of the province.

Federal and provincial governments, different national and international donors and UN agencies: Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF), European Union (EU), KfW German Development Bank, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), PATRIP Foundation, Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), GIZ and Balochistan Education Foundation (BEF) have all cooperated with the BRSP.

Nadir Gul and his team need to be congratulated and applauded for the tremendous work done despite huge trials and tribulations - all part of the journey of development work, changing the lives of the people of Balochistan.