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Agha Khan Helped Break Indo-Pak Impasse, Says Report

Islamabad, May 4 (NNN) : It was the spiritual leader of the Ismaili community in Pakistan, Prince Karim Aga Khan, who led the backdoor diplomatic efforts to break the Indo-Pak impasse, according to newspaper reports here.

At least two knowledgeable ruling politicians and a few senior Pakistani officials are crediting intense background efforts of Aga Khan for the diplomatic breakthrough between Islamabad and New Delhi that in the past few days again ignited hope of a durable peace.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee surprised the world in the past two weeks when he suddenly offered "decisive" peace talks and restoration of full diplomatic relations with Pakistan.

Informed senior Pakistani officials and top ruling politicians have now said that they believed that besides the continuing diplomatic pressure from Washington, the personal efforts of Prince Karim Aga Khan over the past two weeks played a crucial role in encouraging the Indian leadership, particularly Prime Minister Vajpayee, to initiate fresh efforts to resolve Kashmir issue with Pakistan.

"It seemed that Aga Khan devoted much of his time behind the glare of publicity in April in breaking ice between New Delhi and Islamabad," divulged an informed a diplomatic source, who didn´t want to be identified, said a newspaper report.

On a separate diplomatic front, US Secretary of State Colin Powell is personally leading moves to bring Indian and Pakistani leadership back to negotiations, but an informed source said that one-on-one meeting between Prince Karim Aga Khan and Prime Minister Vajpayee in New Delhi on April 14 was the single most important development that encouraged Vajpayee to change his heart about talks with Pakistan.

Aga Khan held extensive talks with Indian opposition leader Sonia Gandhi after meeting Vajpayee. This was Aga Khan´s first visit to India in 11 years. Four days after that meeting with Aga Khan, Vajpayee travelled to Srinagar to offer fresh dialogues to Pakistan over Kashmir. Prince Karim

Aga Khan´s arrival in Islamabad on Friday coincided with Vajpayee´s declaration in the parliament to restore full diplomatic ties with Pakistan.

It was no coincidence, informed sources said, that President Pervez Musharraf used his dinner reception for Prince Karim Aga Khan in Islamabad on Friday to air his first public response to Vajpayee´s peace statements.

At the dinner also attended by the top Pakistani military brass, Musharraf said: "We seek peaceful resolution of all disputes and differences especially the core dispute over Jammu and Kashmir - we desire sincerity in this commitment. We on our part will demonstrate all our seriousness,"

Musharraf further stated: ""We desire tension-free and cooperative relations with India. We stand ready to enter into a dialogue anytime, anywhere," During his three-day long stay in Pakistan, Prince Karim Aga Khan spent most of his time meeting top Pakistani officials including President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Jamali besides meeting informally with several top military officials.

His Highness Aga Khan III, the grandfather of Prince Karim Aga Khan, was widely considered as one of the most trusted confidantes of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He was always in the forefront of the liberation struggle and is undisputedly accepted as one of the creators of Pakistan.

Reports quoted informed officials as saying that Prince Karim Aga Khan, it seems, has now committed himself to peace in the sub-continent and is prepared to use his international standing and reputation to help Pakistan and India reach a negotiated settlement over Kashmir.

On May 8, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is beginning a tour of the subcontinent where his peace efforts are likely to get momentum because of the new beginning made in the region because of Aga Khan´s efforts.

The Aga Khan foundation in Pakistan is engaged in the work that relate to the improvement of quality of life through rural development, education, healthcare, micro-credit, financial services, humanitarian assistance and the enhancement of non-governmental organisations.

Aga Khan, currently visiting Pakistan, called on Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali at the Prime Minister´s House here on Saturday. According to a statement issued here Prince Karim Aga Khan and Prime Minister Jamali exchanged views on matters relating to the development projects undertaken by the Ismaili community in Pakistan.

The prime minister lauded the contribution being made by the community in the socio-economic development of the country, especially in the health and education sectors.

Jamali said that his government laid special emphasis on the development of backward and remote areas, female literacy, health, and employment. He also thanked Prince Karim Aga Khan for exhibiting a keen interest in the country´s overall development and improving the quality of life of its people.

Later, the prime minister hosted a luncheon in honour of Prince Karim, which was attended among others by cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, senior civil and military officials and a representative cross section of the Ismaili community.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri also called on Prince Karim at the Aiwan-i-Sadr.

His Highness also received Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz, Education Minister Zubaida Jalal and Privatization Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.

Dr Shaikh also highlighted the salient features of Pakistan´s privatization programme including the upcoming transactions such as Habib Bank, power companies and entities in other sectors.

Prince Karim Aga Khan offered his support for the privatization and investment efforts in Pakistan.