OTTAWA, Jan. 30 /CNW/ - Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chretien and His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims today together called for an increased commitment to fostering pluralism in societies across both the developing and developed worlds.
The Aga Khan was concluding a two day official visit at the invitation of the Prime Minister and the Government of Canada. During the course of the visit Prime Minister Chretien and the Aga Khan reviewed the extensive collaboration between the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and the Government of Canada over the past two decades.
Expressing his gratitude to the Canadian Government for what he termed "an outstanding partnership," the Aga Khan observed that the programmes on which the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the AKDN had worked together in Africa and South Asia could now be extended further in Central Asia. "The capacity that we have been able to build together and our joint experience," said the Aga Khan, "can help minimise the fragility of the start-up situation in Afghanistan.
The Aga Khan, who just prior to his arrival in Ottawa, had met with Chairman Hamid Karzai of the Afghan Interim Administration, pointed to the need, in the process of reconstruction, to recognise the complexity of the country's demography and to ensure that the rights of each distinct ethnic and religious group are respected. At the Tokyo Pledging Conference on Afghanistan ten days ago, the Aga Khan committed US$75million to the reconstruction effort.
Earlier, Prime Minster Chretien said "it is an honour to welcome His Highness the Aga Khan to Canada." "In his capacity as a religious leader and through the Development Network that bears his name, the Aga Khan has contributed significantly to advancement and stability in Asia and Africa while promoting Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith that teaches compassion."
Prime Minister Chretien and the Aga Khan also together outlined a framework within which the AKDN and Canada will advance further a deeply shared common interest in addressing issues of humanitarian concern, improving the quality of life for disadvantaged populations in the developing world and contributing to the building of more pluralist societies in the developing and developed worlds.
In a series of earlier meetings with amongst others, Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, as well as several Ministers and Deputy Minsters and the President of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Aga Khan described the emerging need for a more tolerant approach to the challenges of development.
Enabling developing countries to resist dependency and determine their own futures could only have lasting success if, according to the Aga Khan, "the processes of development recognised the extraordinary diversity of cultural, ethnic, religious and linguistic heritages of people sharing geographic space across the developing world."
Collaboration between Canadian institutions and the AKDN extends across many fields and several countries. The Aga Khan Foundation Canada has, for 20 years, been an important partner of CIDA's in a series of development programmes ranging from rural development in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Tajikistan to early childhood education in East Africa. Canadian institutions of higher learning and research, amongst them, McGill University, McMaster University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto and the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research, have built mutually beneficial academic partnerships with the Aga Khan University. A number of private and institutional investors have collaborated in venture capital initiatives in Canada undertaken by Industrial Promotion Services (Canada), an affiliate of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development.
Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS), an affiliate of the AKDN, which has a unit registered and active in Canada, has over the past four years, expanded its humanitarian effort in Afghanistan into a growing rehabilitation programme whose 2002 budget is approximately US$25 million. In addition to providing relief and assistance following natural disasters and engaging in disaster prevention, mitigation and preparation programmes in places as varied as East Timor, India, Mozambique, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Zanzibar, FOCUS has also, in close collaboration with the Government of Canada, undertaken successful resettlement programmes in Canada for refugees from Kosovo and Afghanistan.