The Daily Nation, Kenya.
Business Section
Thursday, November 7, 2002

Aga Khan in talks with Afghan leader

KABUL, Wednesday

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 the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims and President Hamid Karzai.

Also attending the talks were 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 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 pavilion, 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 500 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.