Islamabad, Pakistan, 12 March 2002— His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam of the Ismaili Muslims, and Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf yesterday launched two major initiatives: one to address the problem of endemic poverty, and the other to realise more fully the potential of an underdeveloped sector of Pakistan’s economy. These were also amongst topics discussed between the two leaders in private meetings.
“Perhaps, the greatest lesson of the tragedy of conflict that has recently engulfed this region,” said the Aga Khan, “is the need to attack its true roots. These lie not in religion or in corruption, but rather in deprivation, poverty, exclusion and lack of opportunity – and therefore hope.” “Poverty is a problem whose import is ignored at great peril,” he warned.
The Aga Khan described the The First MicroFinance Bank Ltd., as “one amongst several efforts the Aga Khan Development Network will make to address those root causes.” “We are also actively reviewing the possibilities of initiating microfinance programmes in Afghanistan where we have begun discussions with international development agencies for potential partnerships.” The Bank’s US$9million capital is subscribed by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme and the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) and discussions regarding the involvement of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) are at an advanced stage.
Explaining the rationale underlying the creation of the Bank, the Aga Khan said “we firmly believe that the disadvantaged amongst us must be able to build a sound and secure future with dignity and pride – and not merely to survive.” According to the Aga Khan, the Bank “seeks to marry entrepreneurship with capital formation. Whilst it will give people scope to expand their economic base, and over time, enable diversification beyond traditional small enterprises, through the discipline that it will seek to impose, the Bank will also endeavour to introduce good practices, ethical precepts and the highest standards of rectitude in the conduct of business.”
The Aga Khan joined President Musharraf at the inauguration of the Islamabad Serena Hotel, a US$29 million venture that will stimulate employment and economic development in tourism and a wide range of ancillary sectors. It increases to 595 the number of rooms operated by AKFED’s Serena Group through its six hotels in Pakistan.
Situating the Islamabad Serena Hotel and the investment in tourism within AKFED’s approach to challenges prevailing in the economies of Pakistan and the region, the Aga Khan expressed his intentions for AKFED to become more involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and in economic development in Iran. The Aga Khan drew attention to tourism’s “capacity to draw on all levels of the labour force in terms of education and skills, and all types of enterprises from family businesses to international corporations.” He also mentioned its contribution beyond that on foreign exchange earnings, agriculture, light industry, handicrafts, construction, furniture and textiles. “Tourism,” he said, “to the extent that it covers all parts of a country and is respectful of the differences that characterise them, be they natural, cultural, traditional or other, can act as a strong force for unity and peace, while recognising, and indeed relying upon, diversity and pluralism.” Striking a note of realism, he cautioned that tourism was “also, however, a highly diffident industry, which easily shies away when it perceives threats to security, to health, or from inequitable business practices.”
Looking to the capacity for growth in tourism, the Aga Khan noted that Pakistan had considerable potential not only in its wealth of natural settings, but also in cultural wealth of another type.” Referring to interest in ethnology of the Northern Areas, the romance of the Silk Road and reflections of Gandharan art and crafts of the tribal areas, the Aga Khan said these were “of considerable fascination and originality to foreigners, both distant and near.”
The Aga Khan also suggested that amongst the strategies that might help develop tourism were a review of overall transport infrastructure, making levels of service more internationally competitive, and an educational institution. The latter, he felt, might teach university-level courses covering topics such as “environmental protection and management, cultural history, pluralism in traditions and beliefs, road and air transport and their integration and rationalisation and the specifics of hotel management.” One of the enduring achievements of such an institution, the Aga Khan hoped, would be their ability to “teach students to recognise that all peoples are equally worthy.” “By doing so,” he said, such institutions “become powerful forces for promoting pluralistic harmony.”
The Aga Khan, who is in Pakistan on an official visit at the invitation of the Government, is accompanied by his wife, the Begum Aga Khan and by his brother, Prince Amyn Aga Khan.
The First MicroFinance Bank Ltd., the country’s first private microcredit institution, will draw on the highly successful microcredit and savings initiative of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) that has since 1982 generated savings of more than US$9million and provided microloans to more than 100,000 households. Institutions of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) have been providing financial services in Asia and Africa for more than sixty years through a range of entities from small savings and microcredit organisations to major commercial banks and insurance companies listed on national stock exchanges.
Developed to the highest standards of construction and design, using indigenous material, all worked by hand, ranging from hand-hewn marble to specially carved furniture, traditionally woven fabrics and thousands of square feet of individually hand-painted wooden ceiling panels, the Islamabad Serena Hotel disguises with elegance the most advanced levels of technology, service and safety in the hospitality industry in the country today. Within each of its 105 luxurious rooms, the décor and furnishings follow a consistent theme of Swati or Punjabi traditions but also include interactive television and on-line internet access facilities. Its facilities include six quality restaurants, a grand ballroom accommodating upto 1000 people, full business and conference facilities, a modern health club with leisure facilities and an outdoor pool. Set in six acres of landscaped gardens on several levels, the premises are cleared to withstand seismic disturbances well over 7.5 on the Richter scale.
AKFED is the economic development arm of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), a group of private, non-denominational development agencies seeking to improve opportunities and living conditions in specific regions of the developing world, especially Africa and Asia. Active in the fields of industry, financial services, tourism development and infrastructure in fifteen countries across South and Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, AKFED includes 90 separate project companies employing over 15,000 people. The AKDN seeks to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities. Its agencies’ mandates range from architecture and culture to health, education, rural development and the promotion of private sector enterprise. Working in over 20 countries, the Network’s underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society and its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion.
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