Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

'The Great Opportunity Is Where You Are'

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Twenty-seven year-old Ali Buksh comes from a poor Shahwani Brahui family of Mastung. His father is a watchman with the Meteorology Department at Quetta. It was no small miracle that on his father’s meagre salary Ali Buksh managed to complete eight grades of school — especially when there were six other brothers as well. Then, in order to augment the small income, it was into the grind of unskilled construction labour for him. Over time, realising that this was not the end-all, he learned driving. By and by he got a license and became a pick-up truck driver.

That was a good deal better than the back-breaking labourer’s work, but working as a paid driver Buksh’s income was never more than two hundred rupees a day. The rattle-trap that he drove would habitually break down and more often than not Buksh was expected by the owner to get it going again. As time went by, more than the driving, it was the tinkering with the engine that Buksh began to enjoy. And so, having done his day’s work as driver, he went under the wing of a master mechanic in Quetta.

By and by the intricacies of the internal combustion engine came to be known him and he had sufficiently honed his skill to overhaul an engine all by himself. But the niggling thought remained: there was something that was amiss; something he did not really know. A good few years down the road, he was still unable to put his finger on that one something that he did not quite grasp.

In January 2007, answering an ad in a local newspaper, he found himself before an interviewing team of army officers. This was not to become a soldier, for nothing could have been further from Ali Buksh’s mind. If he was selected, he was to join the newly established Balochistan Institute of Technical Education (BITE) in their auto mechanic training programme. With his mechanic’s background, selection was a cinch.

When training began in February, the big surprise for Ali Buksh was the kit he received: overalls, mufti, shoes etc. And the cream on the tart was the thousand-rupee monthly stipend. Four months later at graduation time he knew what it was that rankled when he learned his craft at the mechanic’s elbow: lack of theoretical knowledge. Now he knew what compression ratio was all about and why there was so much difference between the top and bottom dead centres of the pistons in diesel and petrol engines. For the first time he felt fulfilled.

He did well in his final exams and when BITE offered to retain him as an instructor, Ali Buksh readily signed up. Teaching is a rewarding job in more ways than one, he says with a smile. One, he gets to train others and then, because school finishes at two in the afternoon, he has the rest of the day to work with a mechanic running a successful workshop in town. With his lop-sided grin Buksh says that he already has the owner’s respect because he can not only dismantle and put together an engine, he can actually explain to the master as well as to curious customers what goes on in that block called the engine.

From less than two hundred rupees a day only a year ago, Ali Buksh has moved on. The BITE salary is Rs 4000 per month while the workshop owner pays him fifty rupees daily just for being present besides an additional four hundred rupees at the end of each week. That takes his monthly income to Rs 7000. With the skill under his belt, young Ali Buksh knows that now only the sky is the limit. He now envisages, apart from the on-going teaching assignment, his own motor workshop in about a year’s time. A life is beginning to change.

One day in October 2006, as Ali Buksh drove his pick-up truck about the smoky streets of Quetta, far away in Rawalpindi General Pervez Musharraf was discussing with his aides the idea that was to change this young man’s life: to establish a technical training institute under the training centre of the corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (EME). The institute was to provide technical training to women and men aged between sixteen and thirty-five and subsequently assist them in placement. Courses offered to men were auto mechanic and electrician, home appliance repair, carpentry, welding, turnery and motorcycle mechanics. Women could take up needlework and computer operating or opt to train as beauticians.

Seed money to the tune of Rs18.942 million was provided by the National Vocational and Technical Education Commission (NAVTEC) and BITE took off with the first training session beginning on the last Monday of February 2007. In June, two hundred and twelve men and thirty-two young women graduated not only with certificates but with professional kits and five thousand rupees each to get them going in their respective fields. Of these graduates, one hundred and forty were immediately soaked up by various organisations; others opted for self-employment.

Interestingly, when the first course was advertised, there were so few applicants that the session ran below strength. But word gets around fast and for the three hundred vacancies of the second session; BITE was flooded with ten times as many applications from the remotest corners of Balochistan province. Even as you read these lines, BITE is preparing to begin with its third batch of trainees. As Major Tajamal Hasnain of BITE says, the institute has not just given skill training to so many youngsters. It has prevented this many from falling into the wrong hands of miscreants whether religious or political. BITE has, he says, built lives that had every potential of being wasted. A new day has dawned in Balochistan.


posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days