Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, 25 September 2001 - With the world’s attention focused on Central Asia, His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, today outlined a development approach sensitive to prevailing concerns about the region.
Launching new initiatives under an Agreement of Cooperation for Development negotiated over the past twelve months and signed this morning with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, the Aga Khan situated his plan in the context of widespread misunderstanding about Islam and countries in the region, including Afghanistan.
After agreeing to a 10 year rural development programme, planning assistance, scholarships and training programmes to help launch the tourism industry, and the selection of Naryn, a city in the At Bashy mountain range, as the Kyrgyz campus for the recently established University of Central Asia, the Aga Khan addressed legislators of the two houses of the Kyrgyz Parliament on “critical issues brought to the forefront by the tragic events of September 11th.”
“Within the Ummah,” said the Aga Khan, “it is a recognised and established historic fact that communities have the right to their own interpretation of the Faith. Whether it is the interpretation of one branch of Islam or of the other, of Sunni or Shia, whether of one tradition within either of those branches, or of another, the right of interpretation belongs to each individual.”
Noting that over the years there had “been an effort to repress pluralism in all its forms,” the Aga Khan said that it was “important to remember that such situations are not unique in history – the Inquisition in Spain was every bit as cruel and destructive as any case that one can imagine. “What is not acceptable,” he said, however, “ is any attempt to impose a particular interpretation on an unwilling individual or population. The Holy Quran says that there shall be no compulsion in religion.” “What is even worse,” he continued, “is when such an imposition causes degradation of all civilised standards of human behaviour.”
The Aga Khan went on to describe to senior Kyrgyz government officials, in various formal and informal meetings, his views on the development needs and potential of the countries of Central Asia, among them, Afghanistan, which, he felt would “need a process of reconstruction that the country cannot initiate itself.” He spoke of the logic of supporting and strengthening continued assistance to countries that set an example of “effective and competent management of statehood.”
Within the past year, the Governments of the Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, together with the Ismaili Imamat, have formally established the world’s first university dedicated to studying the problems of mountain societies. The University, which will rely heavily on information communication technology as it begins its operations, hopes eventually to serve a catchment population of nearly 25 million people. The first short courses in administration, sponsored by the University’s Division of Continuing Education, have been completed in Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic during the past year. The Aga Khan High School, Osh began construction ten months ago to complement the Aga Khan Lycee, a centre of excellence already established in Khorog in 1998.
Less than a month ago, 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 currently planning with the IFC, the next phase of a power generation plant in that country.
Other recent initiatives within AKDN’s regional framework of activities include: curriculum development for universities 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.
Notes: The AKDN is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies and institutions that seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities. Established by the Ismaili Imamat (office of spiritual leadership) and 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.
The AKDN has nearly 25 years of experience in rural development in Asia and since 1993, has 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.