Ishkoshim, On the Afghan-Tajik Border, 28 September 1998 — In a powerful appeal to all Muslims in Afghanistan, Shia and Sunni alike, His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, outlined a basis for constructing a new and more stable civil order in Central Asia.
"All Afghans should, as promptly as possible, re-establish open and brotherly dialogue among themselves, as our Faith instructs us to do, so that Islam's ethic of peace becomes a national reality." "We are not allowed to live in hate."
Announcing his intention to continue humanitarian relief programmes in Afghanistan, the Aga Khan made a commitment to also support the rehabilitation of education, healthcare, agriculture and infrastructure. These efforts will commence in areas where collaboration with local communities and other agencies can facilitate the transition to long-term development.
Addressing crowds of tens of thousands at centres along the Pyanj River that marks the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, the Aga Khan credited the establishment of peace in regions of Tajikistan still emerging from civil strife for the success of agrarian reform, health, education and economic regeneration programmes undertaken by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).
Speaking to Sunni and Shia Muslims at Porshniev, Tem, Roshorv, Vanj, Langar, Ishkoshim and Yogit during an eight-day official visit to Tajikistan, the Aga Khan noted "with great pain and sadness, Muslims fighting against Muslims in Afghanistan." "We must respect the sanctity of life," the Aga Khan enjoined, citing a verse of the Holy Qur'an which says "And whoso saves a life, it is as if he had saved the entirety of mankind." He observed that "because the ethical premises of civil life are the same in all schools of Islam, we have the remarkable opportunity to build the future of civil societies in which we will live, on premises which will unite all Muslims, and not divide them."
"Wealth and power," the Aga Khan said, "are not objectives in themselves, but are to be used in the service of others." "Those whom life has marginalised are to be helped… to free themselves from their constraints." "Anything to do with drugs," he emphasised, "is to be rigorously avoided." It is on these ethical premises, said the Aga Khan, that we need to "bring peace to Afghanistan, to eliminate hate and division, and thereafter rebuild the country for the benefit of all Afghans."
By mobilising US$ 110 million in collaboration with international donors over the past six years, the AKDN's efforts in Tajikistan in humanitarian assistance, the privatisation of agriculture, investment in health and education, and the creation of entrepreneurial opportunities, have significantly enhanced living conditions for populations in an area covering half the country. Tajik communities that faced starvation only five years ago, now expect to be food self-sufficient within three years. AKDN programmes have nearly tripled wheat yields and doubled potato yields in parts of the country most affected by the civil war. Today, former combatants in the Garm Region, once the stronghold of the armed opposition, have become successful farmers.
AKDN has provided emergency inputs and technical assistance to sustain and improve the delivery of educational and healthcare services. Through scholarships and innovative educational programmes, AKDN has increased the capacity of universities across the country to teach English, market economics and humanities with a focus on the cultures of Central Asia. Localised microcredit programmes have created new jobs and are transforming the barter economy by revitalising entrepreneurial activity. AKDN is investing in infrastructure through projects in the power and road construction sectors.
At earlier meetings in Dushanbe with Tajikistan's President Emomali Rakhmonov and Sayid Abdullo Nuri, the Chairman of the Commission for National Reconciliation, the Aga Khan emphasised that the country's peace process and economic development are mutually reinforcing.
The opportunities that peace can bring were highlighted by major new initiatives discussed during the Aga Khan's visit. A primary and secondary school, the Aga Khan Lycee, was inaugurated as a "centre of excellence" to serve as a model for educational institutions throughout Central Asia. The Network is actively supporting completion of the Darwaz-Kulyab Road, complementing the Network's funding of the Murghab-Kulma segment of a new "Silk Route" connecting Central Asia to the Indian Ocean through both China and Pakistan. Planning for an international university for Central Asia specialising in the problems of high mountain societies has commenced, on the basis of the submission by an international group of prominent experts of a report jointly commissioned by President Rakhmonov and the Aga Khan.
The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies and institutions with specific mandates that range from health and education to rural development, culture, the built environment and the promotion of private sector enterprise. These agencies and institutions, working together, seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities.
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