Meet Balochistan’s first Rhodes Scholar in 40 years

Published: December 6, 2012
Rafiullah Kakar, 23, is all set to live “a dream come true”. He is the 2013 Rhodes Scholar for Pakistan.

Rafiullah Kakar, 23, is all set to live “a dream come true”. He is the 2013 Rhodes Scholar for Pakistan.


In a country where dreams are killed every passing minute, a young man from a remote village of Balochistan has apparently beaten the odds.

Rafiullah Kakar, 23, is all set to live “a dream come true”. He is the 2013 Rhodes Scholar for Pakistan. The Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University in UK, one of the most prestigious awards in the world, is given to one Pakistani every year since 1951.

Kakar does not belong to a feudal family. He grew up in one of the most hostile and backward regions of Pakistan and no one had gone to college in his family before him.

His transformation from a boy who did not learn Urdu until the seventh grade to a Rhodes Scholar is a story of hard work, family support, perseverance and the pursuit of personal ambition.

Humble beginnings

Right on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the Killa Abdullah District is famous for its headquarters, Chaman. But there’s more to the district than the gateway city to Afghanistan.

Gulistan Tehsil, centred on a city by the same name some 80 kilometres southeast of Chaman, is the district’s other subdivision. It has around 20 villages, one of them called Killi Ahmad Khellan. That is where Kakar was born, to a family of four brothers and eight sisters.

The area is “dry, mountainous, arid,” according to Kakar. People, including Kakar’s father, usually tend to gardens of grapes and apples, but the agriculture, affected by lowering water tables, load shedding and poor economic conditions, is fading away. Some have moved out of the area. Others, who have survived the infighting among tribes, have taken to human and drugs trafficking.

Personal transformations

In 2001, Kakar, a smart student from the beginning, got “lucky”. He got a scholarship to study at the Balochistan Residential College (BRC), Loralai, on the district quota.

But he felt isolated among the children of the elite, kids who had studied at Quetta’s grammar schools and who spoke fluent English. He could not understand a word of the English-medium textbooks. The first year was especially difficult.

“I had gone there from an institution where I only knew Pashto,” Kakar says. “I did not know Urdu and absolutely no English.”

He stuck to his studies and did not flunk. Memorising the texts, he built up his Urdu and English vocabulary. It took him a while.

“In two years, I covered the language gap,” he says, in almost pristine English, just a hint of a Pashto accent hanging from his vowels. “After that, I never looked back.”

Winning declamation contests, representing BRC at national conferences and graduating among the top three of the pre-engineering exam for Balochistan’s intermediate board, Kakar kept building from strength to strength.

In 2007, he got admission at the Government College University (GCU), Lahore, to study political science. The switch from engineering to social science was one he made at the request of his family. He could not refuse them.

Family matters

Kakar says he could not have done it without his family’s support, especially his older brothers. When he first got the scholarship, his father was against him leaving for Loralai. But his brothers intervened.

Kakar says it might have been because of their personal unfulfilled ambitions to continue their studies. He remembers how his brothers would drive him back to the school every six months after holidays, the whole family would bid him good bye in a procession of tears.

Pushing the boundaries

In Lahore, Kakar encountered a new world, a “culture shock”.

“I came across many stereotypes, many assumptions that I had not heard of before [in Balochistan],” he says. So he started interacting with his Punjabi friends and teachers, trying to understand their perspectives.

“GCU was another watershed in my life. My time there truly opened the windows of my mind.”

He chose ethnic politics and religious extremism in Pakistan as his academic area of interest. Kakar had expected GCU’s academic life to be tough, but when he realised he was cruising in academics while being active in extra curricular activities, he decided to challenge himself.

He tried to get into the Lahore University of Management Studies. That didn’t happen, but he was selected for the Global UGRAD student exchange programme of the United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan.

He spent his seventh semester studying at Augustana College in South Dakota in fall 2010. Kakar admits he had some biases and conventional prejudices before he left for the US. But that changed while he was there.

Kakar says answering the questions of his international friends helped him understand the realities of Pakistan better.

“If I have to say two things that hurt Pakistan’s political culture the most, they will be bad governance and conspiracy theories.”

He says there’s a positive side to Pakistan but we should not live in a state of denial, always looking for external factors for domestic problems.

When he got back from the US, he came up with an ambitious plan to do his graduate studies at either Harvard or Oxford. He could not do it without funding, so he applied for the Rhodes Scholarship.

What the future holds

Rhodes Scholars form an elite international club with members such as Waseem Sajjad and Babar Sattar. For now, Kakar will be studying International Relations at the Oxford University.

But Kakar is a planner. While applying for Rhodes, he has also been preparing for the Central Superior Services examination. His long-term plan, however, is to become a politician whenever he gets a chance, because he believes “You cannot change anything without being in power.”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2012.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (48)

  • mb
    Dec 6, 2012 - 11:06AM



  • Dec 6, 2012 - 11:15AM

    Dear All,

    I would appreciate if someone can give me the contact of Rafiullah Kakar


  • I.
    Dec 6, 2012 - 12:01PM

    Thumbs up for you man!


  • rz
    Dec 6, 2012 - 12:26PM

    inspiring …i should get my younger brother read this……..


  • bad tameez
    Dec 6, 2012 - 12:28PM

    Fantastic story about a great effort! Good to see affirmative action working.


  • MoniShaikh
    Dec 6, 2012 - 12:39PM

    Mr. Kakar “May you get what you desire”.


  • Maria
    Dec 6, 2012 - 12:46PM

    I guess the fact that he didn’t speak Urdu and didn’t watch Indian movies helped him learn English and improve his knowledge instead of watching Bollywood!


  • Mrs. Oosman
    Dec 6, 2012 - 1:05PM

    While it is heartening to read that Rhodes Scholars form an elite international club,the question is about what kind of treatment is being meted out to them by this beloved nation of ours. A case in point is that of my father, Rhodes Scholar for 1968, the same batch as President Bill Clinton. In his case, based on entirely false media reports, our great prime minister rushed to the National Assembly to announce my father’s sacking from the position of Chairman PSM. Seven false cases have been registered against him. The FIA have failed to pinpoint a false penny against him. The entire media has completely ignored the fact that in 2008-2009 onwards the severest global recession took place which badly effected the steel industry throughout the world. Overall, the recession adversely effected all countries of the world. The USA invested $3 trillion to counter the recession. On the steel side Mittal lost $53 billion and has run up a loan of $38 billion. Being the only CEO in the world to be arrested and retained in jail because of recession for almost three years now, one day when this becomes a case study for academics, the world might laugh at our ignorance. Incidentally , no enquiry was held before my father’s arrest, due process was totally ignored, he was tortured for ten days and nights by semi- literate officials. This was reported to interior minister amongst others but to no effect. A judge declared him to be desperate to reject bail, the only ground on which it could be turned down. Three cheers for Pak Rhodes Scholars!


  • Super Star
    Dec 6, 2012 - 1:22PM

    Great achievement . Appreciations from India


  • USMAN786
    Dec 6, 2012 - 2:02PM

    @Yoghurt lover: In free Balochistan, you will still be slave of sardars. So better stay united and this way, like Kakar, you may get a chance to move to a civilised society which can accept non-natives and help muslim brother to grow.


  • Lord
    Dec 6, 2012 - 2:31PM

    thumps up brother. jeo . Good thing is you will not be targeted for being good like Hazaras there.


  • Faiz
    Dec 6, 2012 - 2:45PM

    So LUMS refused him initially and yet he was accepted by a university in front of which LUMS is a midget. A lesson for LUMS maybe?


  • Habib ur Rehman Khan
    Dec 6, 2012 - 3:15PM

    Hats off to you Boy. Best of LUCK and Prayers for your future endeavors!


  • alibaloch
    Dec 6, 2012 - 3:26PM

    Great job done by the son of Balochistan,Well Done Kakar,you are a Role model for our ypung generation,


  • Sadia
    Dec 6, 2012 - 4:01PM

    Bravo Mr Kakar. I wish that you fulfill all your ambitions.Pakistan needs young people like you.


  • Dec 6, 2012 - 4:19PM

    My history is a bit hazy. Wasn’t the Cecil Rhodes had a religious epiphany to rid Africa of it’s wealth by any means, setting up Diamond cartel, used African slaves to dig diamonds with hands and hired child soldiers from Uganda?

    What about another Cecil family’s Arthur Balfour who laid the foundation of Israel for brutal seizure of Palestinian lands with his Balfour declaration?


  • Sami
    Dec 6, 2012 - 5:25PM



  • Zahra
    Dec 6, 2012 - 5:33PM

    Very proud of you. Go show em what Pakistanis have to offer. Make us even prouder!


  • Rao Amjad Ali
    Dec 6, 2012 - 5:36PM

    Re: Mrs.Oosman

    My heart goes out to you and your family on account of your father’s alleged wrongful incarceration and hope that justice will be served in his case without further ado. I might hasten to add though that a Rhodes Scholarship is no guarantee against moral hazard. It is the Pakistani elite, many of whom are Western educated and of impeccable lineage, who took it upon themselves to take the country to the cleaners over the last 65 years!

    Mr. Kakar is clearly cut from a different cloth and thus there is a good chance that he will remain clean. And, goodness gracious, what a remarkable story of perseverance and shere dint of hard work. I wish you great success, Sir!


  • Tamoor Rindh
    Dec 6, 2012 - 5:50PM

    Hats off


  • Adnan
    Dec 6, 2012 - 5:58PM

    Excellent- best of luck to Kakar! I had the privilege of studying at this great university and it is truly a life-changing experience. Kakar has an excellent plan too: Oxford and then the CSS/politics.

    Let’s hope he will do great things for his province (Baluchistan) which is badly in need of educated, talented and motivated people like him but more than anything, PAKISTAN needs people like him- this is the leadership of the future!

    Disappointing reporting (as usual) by ET which neither states which degree he will be reading for, nor which college at Oxford etcRecommend

  • Yousafzai
    Dec 6, 2012 - 6:08PM

    Very interesting and inspirational story of Kakar. All the best and wish you a very good and prosperous future ahead.


  • Hemant
    Dec 6, 2012 - 6:09PM

    Very inspiring . All the very best .


  • Qayamuddin Shah
    Dec 6, 2012 - 6:50PM

    Well done. It is a big success for a person who belongs to a remote area. Keep it up.


  • Mrs. Oosman
    Dec 6, 2012 - 7:00PM

    Re : Rao Amjad Ali
    There is little point in generalizing the western elite as the guilty party. The need is to ensure that justice is carried out for all instead of targeting someone in particular. The western elite was also a key player in creation of Pakistan. Let us drop our fixed mind-set and treat each case on it’s merit. Fortunately everyone in this country is not corrupt; neither is everyone well educated. If we ignore the world wide recession, which is still very much prevalent, (look at Greece,Portugal,Spain etc.) and blindly indulge in slander instead,the consequences could be temporarily exciting but tragic in the end.


  • Lyari
    Dec 6, 2012 - 7:43PM

    Way to go baba!!! Note: Why can’t we reform govt and society from outside by mobilizing and educating people on issues and forcing govt to be more responsible?


  • Mohammad Ali Rai
    Dec 6, 2012 - 7:44PM

    Excellent Journey Rafiullah! I am sure you will continue to fly even higher!


  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Dec 6, 2012 - 8:04PM

    Congratulations to you and your family, Baluchistan has produced some very talented Baluchis, it is a heart warming story. Keep up the good work and you will succeed. Have a great time at Oxford.


  • Waqas Naeem
    Dec 6, 2012 - 10:28PM

    @Adnan: Hi, I’m the reporter who wrote this story. Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry you were disappointed by the reporting. Rafiullah Kakar is yet to select a college at Oxford. The Rhodes Scholarship is a postgraduate award with a basic tenure of two years, which means scholars can pursue a two-year master’s degree such as an M. Phil. Kakar will also be studying for an M. Phil. and he said he will try to get an extension on the scholarship for a third year so he can complete his Ph.D. Hope that answers your questions. Thanks!


  • Abdul Baseer Daavi
    Dec 7, 2012 - 12:17AM

    Simply the best!!! Hats off to the star!!


  • Adnan
    Dec 7, 2012 - 12:25AM

    @Waqas Naeem:
    Thank you for the clarification. Your article does not specifically state that Kakar will read for the M Phil- important because it recognises his undergraduate qualifications which appear to be from Govt College, Lahore and which, if correct, would be a feather in that institutions cap. I say this with some trepidation, being a graduate of its academic rival FC College myself!

    I must profess complete ignorance about the Global UGRAD and have no idea as to its academic value and whether this may, in any way, have influenced Oxford in offering Kakar a place.

    Your assertion that the Rhodes Scholarship is for post-graduate studies only is puzzling; unless the rules have changed, the Scholarship used to be available for under-graduate degrees as well and, indeed, a contemporary of mine did his PPE (BA hons) in the late ’70’s as a Rhodes Scholar.

    Ofcourse, Kakar would not have selected a college since, at post-graduate level (eg., for an MPhil or MLitt), entry to the university is required first (the other way around for under-graduate studies).


  • Rehan
    Dec 7, 2012 - 12:52AM

    Many Congratulations to Kakar, his family & the whole country.

    I slightly disagree with Kakar’s thought about bringing change through being in power only. There is always a tipping point like what happened in Middle East recently with just a contagious, small miniature video bringing a whole revolution & not someone in power.

    I wish him & hope that he’ll better his understandings to bring change.

    p.s. The tipping point thought is from Malcolm Baldwell book so its his contribution & credit goes to him if anyone benefits.


  • Ain Riz
    Dec 7, 2012 - 9:16AM

    Great job Kakar. We need more people like you and I am sure our Pakistani people are full of as much talent and intelligence as any other nation. Nice job ET as such news portrays a very good image of Pakistan. All the best Kakar!


    Dec 7, 2012 - 3:32PM

    many cogratulations, great job


  • Fazal Akbar
    Dec 7, 2012 - 3:51PM

    Congratulations and best of luck Kakar. We are proud of you. Our country needs you like talented and self made persons. It is really inspiring and hope the youth may get lesson and courage from your story……


  • Zahra Malghani
    Dec 7, 2012 - 6:07PM

    today after listening you live in front of my eyes, i felt you are an “inspiration” .
    You are the pride of Balochistan and Pakistan.
    Masha Allah. May Allah give you success


  • Sameen
    Dec 7, 2012 - 7:05PM

    Correction: It’s Lahore University of Management Sciences, not Studies.

    And Rafiullah is truly an inspiration for all Pakistani students aspiring to make their country proud. May Allah bless him.


  • Zalmai
    Dec 7, 2012 - 7:44PM

    A great role model for Pashtuns and the Kakar tribe. Fasi Zaka and Hamed Wardak are two other prominent Pashtun Rhodes Scholarship recipients.


  • ahmed
    Dec 8, 2012 - 12:34AM

    nice mr.kakar you just do well and u enlighten the name of kakars in the world.


  • Sunny
    Dec 8, 2012 - 2:23AM

    Mr.Son of Pakistan!
    Love you for what u have achieved!


  • Faisal Ahmad Kakar
    Dec 8, 2012 - 8:42AM

    Rafiullah, we are proud of you! I pray for your success. I pray you succeed in your aims to help building our beloved country.


  • aryan kakar
    Dec 8, 2012 - 4:58PM

    great Rafiullah kakar we are proud of you.May Allah fulfill your all future plans which you have dreamed for your self.


    Dec 9, 2012 - 6:09PM

    Mr. Rafiulah Kakar, his parents and teachers at Primary school at Killi Ahmad Khellan, and Balochistan Residential College (BRC), Loralai, should be honored at Provincial and National level for producing and encouraging a brilliant son of this country. May Allah give you the strength to achieve your ambitions and bring further honors to your family and our beloved country.


  • Haniya
    Dec 10, 2012 - 9:43AM

    Good luck Kakar! It is truly an honour to be a Rhodes Scholar. Congratulations on your achievement! Wishing you many more in future!


  • Dec 10, 2012 - 4:38PM

    Congratulations Rafi Ullah Kakar, its an owner for us you proved the people who are living far away in remotes area are not backward but they need little bit attention after this they can do impossible to possible. NED Society and all its members salute you being the top scorer in the test of Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University in UK


  • rauf shahzad baloch
    Dec 13, 2012 - 8:35PM

    dear kakar .
    Allah ap hamesha salamat kary muje omeed his.ap apny jays har gareeb ke madath kary ga.Jo is gandy nazam ke wajy se na tho English janty hin na Urdu. plz dear I love you.Recommend

  • Rao Amjad Ali
    Dec 24, 2012 - 7:42PM

    Re: Mrs. Oosman

    You seem to have a very different reading of the Pakistan Movement, from what I know only a handful of the Muslim leadership, including the Quaid, were Western educated.

    And by the way there is nothing wrong with acquiring degrees from Western institutions, I myself have multiple degrees from elite schools in the US and Canada.

    Yes, I made the general observation and I stand by words to the effect that the educated elite, importantly including many with foreign qualifications, plundered this country and is relentlessly continuing to do so. That said, I once again sympathize with your and your family’s ordeal and hope that justice will be served without further delay.


  • Farooq Haider Kakar
    Jan 4, 2013 - 12:33AM

    Well Mr Kakar..!!
    your hard work and awaking whole night for studies has finally brought you on the peak of success, Its an honor and prestige for us that you have been selected from such a backward district of Balochistan.
    Congrats… and well done …!!!


More in Pakistan