Kabul, Afghanistan, 5 November 2002 – Enabling governance structures, focused economic development, sensitive urban revitalisation, mutually supportive regional policies and a strong social service infrastructure were key topics in discussions held here over the past two days between His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims and President Hamid Karzai, Vice Presidents Hedayat Amin Arsala and Karim Khalili and senior Afghan government ministers.
The Aga Khan was also present at the inauguration of the Constitution Committee presided over by Afghanistan’s former King Mohammad Zaher Shah.
During his visit to Kabul, the Aga Khan, accompanied by Foreign Minister Dr. Abdallah Abdallah and the Mayor of Kabul, visited specific sites with potential for urban redevelopment that will contribute towards increased economic opportunity for the city and which are significant to the nation’s heritage. The sites included the Bagh-e-Babur, a terraced and walled open space containing the tomb of the Emperor Babur and featuring the remains of what was the first Moghul “Paradise Garden” and the predecessor of many famous imperial gardens in the South Asian sub-continent. Since March this year, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture has led a project involving the Afghan Ministry of Culture, UNESCO and the German government to redevelop the garden as a major public open space and to rehabilitate neighbourhood residential dwellings and public sanitation facilities. The Aga Khan was able to view segments of the restored perimeter wall, reconstruction work on a pavillion, preliminary landscaping as well areas of the “Queen’s Palace” earmarked for conservation.
In an historic event, both emotional celebration and solemn ceremonial, the Aga Khan, in astrakhan cap and robe of office, addressed a gathering of around five hundred representatives of the Ismaili Muslim community of Afghanistan in a meeting that marked his first formal encounter with leaders from across the country since he acceded to the Imamat (office of spiritual leadership) in 1957. The Aga Khan also met separately with the Ismaili Council for Afghanistan appointed earlier this year under the leadership of its President Mahramali Ahmadi.
“The Imamat will work closely with you,” the Aga Khan told community leaders, “to establish high quality schools and healthcare facilities for all Afghans, whatever their religious tradition or ethnic background, and to create strong institutional capacity to enable the rebuilding of a peaceful and united Afghanistan.”
Earlier on Saturday, the Aga Khan, Afghan Vice-President Hedayat Amin Arsala and Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmonov, inaugurated the first of a series of bridges linking the two countries and walked across the bridge linking Tem in Tajikistan and Demorgan in Afghanistan. The US$400,000 project which included the construction of border posts, a link road and a small marketplace, was undertaken by the Aga Khan Development Network.
Notes: The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a group of private development agencies working to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in Africa and Asia. The Network’s agencies work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of their gender, origin or religion and its underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society. Its annual social development budget is in excess of US$150 million.
The AKDN has since 1993, launched a number of successful initiatives in Central Asia in areas ranging from agrarian reform to education, infrastructure, healthcare, micro-credit, small enterprise development and cultural revitalisation. These include the creation of Mountain Societies Development Support Programme whose rural support work covers half the land mass of Tajikistan, curriculum development for universities through the Aga Khan Humanities Project, promotion and preservation of musical traditions of the region through the Aga Khan Music Initiative, the establishment of a computer laboratory at the Tajik Technical University and the sponsorship of students and faculty for training in a variety of disciplines. Last year, in collaboration with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Deutsche Investitions und Entwicklungsgesellschaft (DEG) and the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic, the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) opened for business the largest bank in the Kyrgyz Republic, the Kyrgyz Investment and Credit Bank. Complementing its engagement in the financial services sector, AKFED operates an extensive micro-credit programme in Tajikistan and is has just launched, in collaboration with the IFC, the Pamir Energy Company, one of the largest power projects in the region.
During 2002, the AKDN has embarked upon an ambitious expansion of its humanitarian assistance work in Afghanistan to include a number of development initiatives addressing issues of food security, infrastructure rehabilitation, upgrading and support for healthcare and educational institutions, water and sanitation, revitalisation and urban development in Kabul and the need for investment in priority sectors of the economy such as microfinance, telecommunications and tourism. These follow on the commitment of US$75 million towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan announced by the Aga Khan in January this year.