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His Highness the Aga Khan

Remarks by His Highness the Aga Khan at the State Banquet (Dhaka, Bangladesh)

19 May 2008

 

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The Honourable Chief Adviser
Honourable Advisers
Excellencies
Distinguished Guests

I am most grateful to the Chief Adviser for his very kind words, and for the extraordinary warmth of this welcome.

As you know, I am marking this year a half century as Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. To celebrate this Golden Jubilee, I am visiting places which have had particular meaning for the Ismaili Community, for the Aga Khan Development Network, and for me personally, over the last 50 years. My visit to Bangladesh is an important part of that celebration.

When I inherited my office five decades ago from my Grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, I also inherited the special feeling he had for this part of the world. I remember in particular, his response to the partition of India, when he actively encouraged a large number of members of the Ismaili Community to settle in what was then East Pakistan. They found a warm welcome here, and were pleased to integrate fully into Bengali life.

It was on the occasion of my Grandfather’s Platinum Jubilee - marking seventy years of his Imamat - that he first invested in what became a thriving jute mill industry here. The first of those companies continues to exist and is still called the “Platinum Jubilee Jute Mills.”

The success of those early investments encouraged us to make Dhaka our headquarter city when we established the first venture capital and development corporation anywhere in Pakistan in 1966. It later became one of the largest employers and biggest exporters in the country.

Through all of these years, our investments were designed to foster strong, cooperative partnerships with local institutions - not only with governmental bodies but also with private industry, and with the organizations of civil society, a sector which Bangladesh has so constructively encouraged.

This spirit of partnership, in turn, has reflected the spirit of pluralism which also characterizes this society - the readiness of people to work creatively, side by side, with those who are different from them. This quality will also become increasingly important as technology advances in the years ahead, enabling people to travel and trade and talk more often with one another, across cultural and geographic borders.

Technology is also transforming our economic lives. Economic value is no longer tied to how much land one controls - or how many machines or factories one owns. Within our lifetimes, predominantly “Agricultural Societies” and “Industrial Societies” of the past have been joined - and sometimes supplanted - by what many call the “Knowledge Society,” propelled by the digital revolution, and focusing on the creation and management of information.

In a Knowledge Society, the most productive investments we can make are investments in education. And education is another priority we share with the Bangladeshi people.

Education has always been a central theme in Islamic life- and in the life of my family, going back a thousand years, to my forefathers, the Fatimid Imam-Caliphs of Egypt. My Grandfather built on this tradition by founding a network of some 300 educational institutions, including Aligarh University in India. And we renewed this commitment more recently through the founding of The Aga Khan University and the University of Central Asia.

It seems appropriate therefore that one of my central purposes on this visit will be to lay the foundation stone for a new Aga Khan Academy here in Dhaka. This school will be one node in a network of eighteen high-quality schools located throughout the developing world, global in outlook, but deeply rooted in the local culture, providing a world-class education for boys and girls of all backgrounds, independent of ability to pay. It will educate promising students and develop inspiring teachers. It will be a strong educational resource for the entire country.

As we look to the future of development in Bangladesh, it is important to be realistic about the challenges. But it also is important to remember the distance which has been traveled - and the building blocks which are already in place.

I think, for example, of the strides which have been made here in controlling population growth, developing export trade, establishing micro-credit programmes, improving early childhood care, extending education, especially for women, and fighting corruption - in addition to doubling per capita GDP over the past two decades. The challenge now is to make development both sustainable and equitable, so that it fairly benefits people of all classes, cultures and regions.

The Aga Khan Development Network’s agenda for Bangladesh reflects your agenda. To achieve that agenda will require a continuing spirit of close partnership.

It is in the spirit of partnership, then, that I thank you again for what we have been able to do together in the past, while looking forward to the things we will be attempting together in the future.

I would like you to join me in  wishing peace, success, happiness and unity for all the people of Bangladesh.

My warmest thanks again to all of you.

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