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  • His Highness the Aga Khan speaking at The Enabling Conference, President Hamid Karzai and Prince Amyn Aga Khan look on.
    AKDN / Gary Otte
The Aga Khan calls for a more coordinated effort to help Afghanistan's private sector

Kabul, Afghanistan, 4 June 2007 – President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of Malaysia and His Highness the Aga Khan, speaking on the “Enabling Environment Conference, called today (Monday) for the private sector to play a greater role in Afghanistan’s development. The Aga Khan called for government, civil society, and the business community to better coordinate their efforts in fostering the development of the country’s private sector.

“Too often, the various actors go about their business without enough reference to one another. The result often reminds me of an orchestra made up of talented and dedicated artists – but playing from different scores,” he said. “The result is not harmony but cacophony – and an unevenness of public impact which is inherently unfair,” he added.

His Highness the Aga Khan made the remarks in a speech to an opening session of a conference organized jointly by the Government of Afghanistan and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). Over 300 government officials, entrepreneurs and civil society leaders from around the world have registered to take part in the conference. The conference was co-chaired by Prince Amyn Aga Khan, His Highness’s younger brother, and Professor Ishaq Nadiri of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai told the conference that the long-term future of Afghanistan will depend on the Afghans themselves. “Afghanistan’s prosperity today and in the future will be linked to our ability to attract and support private business,” he said.

In his address to the conference, the Aga Khan thanked Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, for his support for the conference. He lauded Malaysia as the example of a successful, pluralistic, Muslim country, guided by the ethics of Islam.

“We are approaching the 50th anniversary of Malaysian independence in September - so it is a particularly appropriate moment to salute Malaysia's record as a role model for the Ummah (Islamic Community) and for the entire developing world,” he said.

His Highness the Aga Khan, is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. This year he will mark his 50th year as the leader of the Ismaili Community.

Prime Minister Badawi, who addressed the meeting via a video link, said his country had gone a long way in the past 50 years.

“Fifty years ago, Malaysia was merely the largest producer of rubber and tin in the world. Today, Malaysia produces palm oil on an industrial scale and leads as an exporter of many manufactured products and services,” he said.

Mr. Badawi said Malaysia was willing to share its experience with Afghanistan. He noted that Afghanistan, like Malaysia, can also transform itself from an agriculture-based economy to a centre for labour-intensive manufacturing.

His Highness the Aga Khan said the lack of coordination and fragmentation of development efforts has been a barrier to progress in Afghanistan. He cited illegal drug production as one example.

“The most profound example is the fact that much of this country’s economic life – activities related to illicit drug production - falls outside the reach of any legitimate regime. In many developing countries, illicit activities have shrunk as legal authority extends its influence and as alternative licit activities - in the realm of agriculture for example – take on added value,” he said.

The two-day meeting, dubbed the Enabling Environment Conference, is believed to be the largest such gathering held in Kabul in recent years. The World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and the Asian Development Bank also were partners in the conference.

His Highness the Aga Khan recalled that the term “enabling environment” was originally coined in the East African nation of Kenya over 20 years ago during the first gathering devoted to enabling environment. He said since then Enabling Environment for Development has been a central theme for his Imamat.

In a brief address to the conference, the gathering’s co-chairman, Prince Amyn Aga Khan, recalled that 25 years ago Kenya faced some of the problems Afghanistan is confronted with today, citing hesitancy by investors to get involved in a high risk-environment. He mentioned middle-level economic activity as a key factor in fostering private sector development.

His Highness the Aga Khan reiterated that conditions, such as political stability, safety and security, citizen rights, predictable democratic practices and legal and administrative frameworks that are streamlined and efficient, impartial and effective are necessary to create an enabling environment in Afghanistan. But he stressed that effective government alone will not suffice.

“Laying the State’s political foundation is a necessary first step for an enabling environment, but even effective government can take us only so far. And that is why we have been talking more in recent years about two other sectors: first, what I often call the role of ‘civil society’; and, secondly, the capacities of the private sector,” he said.

His Highness the Aga Khan said that a greater role should be played by public-private partnerships in development, citing several successful examples of such projects from Egypt to Tajikistan to Afghanistan. He called for alliances built around common interests rather than geography.

“Here, as elsewhere, the future will depend on our ability to rise above the accident of common geography and to rally around common interests – whether our skills lie in apricot processing or tourism, transport or literature or law,” he said.

The Conference organisers say its purpose is to work toward identifying ways to increase the private sector’s participation in the country’s economic and social development – to create jobs, provide better services, find new ways to address chronic and emerging issues, and improve the general climate for private initiative.