Chihilsitoon Garden and palace rehabilitation in Kabul, Afghanistan. AKDN / Simon Norfolk featured image

August 25, 2021: Aga Khan Development Network’s Commitment to Afghanistan and Its People; and Overview of AKDN’s Work in the Country for the Last 25 Years

Compiled and prepared by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

PRESS RELEASE

In a press release issued in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 25, 2021, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) stated as follows:

“The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is firmly committed to its core mandate of undertaking a range of innovative programmes and projects to improve the quality of life of communities in many parts of the world.

“In Afghanistan, AKDN agencies have a longstanding engagement with a wide range of activities including healthcare, education, early childhood development, agriculture, rural infrastructure and economic opportunity, energy provision, climate resilience, telecommunications, cultural heritage conservation, and hospitality.

“AKDN’s operations are designed to adapt to evolving contexts and circumstances to ensure sustainability, effectiveness, and efficiency. Based in Kabul, His Highness the Aga Khan’s Envoy, Akbar Pesnani, and the President of the Ismaili National Council for Afghanistan, Amir Baig, also appointed by His Highness, will maintain ongoing co-ordination with the authorities, local communities, donor agencies, and other stakeholders who have supported AKDN’s programmes and initiatives over the past several decades.

“AKDN looks forward to continuing to work for Afghanistan’s peaceful and prosperous future, and to improving further the quality of life of the Afghan people.”

The press release also included the following contact information for further inquiries:

(1) Office of the Envoy of His Highness the Aga Khan to Afghanistan (Akbar Pesnani): Envoy.Afghanistan@AKDN.org

(2) Office of the President of the Ismaili National Council for Afghanistan (Amir Baig): eo.nc@iiafg.org; and

(3) Media Enquiries: Media.Afghanistan@AKDN.org.

Note: For Farsi version of the press release please click HERE

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AFGHANISTAN MAPS
(Provincial and Country)

Provincial Map of Afghanistan
Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces The provinces of Afghanistan are the primary administrative divisions. Each province encompasses a number of districts or usually over 1,000 villages. Population 2020, estimate): 32, 890,171; Largest city Kabul (capital), population 4.6 million. At left, Provincial map of Afghanistan. Key (alphabetical order): Badakhshan (30); Badghis (4); Baghlan (19); Balkh (13), Bamyan (15), Daykundi (10), Farah (2), Faryab (5); Ghazni (16); Ghor (6), Helmand (7); Herat (1); Jowzjan (8); Kabul (22), Kandahar (12); Kapisa (29); Khost (26); Kunar (34); Kunduz (18); Laghman (32); Logar (23); Nangarhar (33); Nimruz (3); Nuristan (31); Paktia (24); Paktika (25); Panjshir (28); Parwan (20); Samangan (14); Sar-e Pol (9); Takhar (27); Uruzgan (11); Maidan Wardak (21); and Zabul (17). Credit: Joshbaumgartner via Wikepedia, Public Domain. Right: Map of Afghanistan with key cities. Credit: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas. Click on image for enlargement.

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COMPREHENSIVE OVERVIEW OF AKDN’S WORK IN AFGHANISTAN

(1) ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

AKDN Afghanistan, Simerg Overview Malik Merchant
n Afghanistan, the village of Khaftar Khana, with the support of AKF, built a micro-hydel unit that provides electricity throughout the night to 23 households. Photo: AKDN/Sandra Calligaro

To stimulate long-term economic growth in the country, AKDN operates across the spectrum, from working with women and youth in isolated rural communities to help create their own start-up businesses, to building micro-hydroelectric plants that help light homes, schools and health facilities in these remote villages, to investing in large-scale mobile phone services that provide network coverage to more than 6.5 million Afghans across the country’s 34 provinces. In cases like the latter, because of its institutional background and ethical framework, AKDN’s criteria for making commercial investments are not those of a typical investor.  Investment decisions are based on whether a particular investment will improve the quality of life of those affected by it, not simply on bottom-line profitability. Profits that are generated are then reinvested in development initiatives….MORE

(2) PARTICIPATORY GOVERNANCE

Natural Resources Management (NRM) Заседание CDC (Совет по развитию населённых пунктов на уровне кластеров) в Джурме, Афганистан. Участники обсуждают острую необходимость привлечения добровольцев для помощи в ремонте системы водоснабжения, размытой проливными дождями. Эта система была создана благодаря коллективной работе нескольких сообществ, предоставивших денежные средства и рабочую силу. AKF оказывал техническую поддержку. AKDN / Sandra Calligaro
Photo: AKDN / Sandra Calligaro.

Since 2003, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) has worked on building human and institutional capacity as a Facilitating Partner for the National Solidarity Programme (NSP), a government programme that establishes Community Development Councils (CDCs) across Afghanistan. The programme is intended to empower local communities to identify and implement their own development projects…..MORE (Under Agriculture and Food Security)

(3) NATURAL RESOURCES MANAGEMENT (NRM)

Photo: AKDN / Sandra Calligaro

With around 80 percent of the Afghan population dependent on agriculture, interventions in this sector are central to reducing poverty rates.  Over the past 10 years, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF)’s agriculture and NRM programme has transitioned from distribution of agricultural commodities to more sustainable activities that have led to increased production, improved food security, and stronger connections to markets for local farmers….. MORE

(4) CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT

AKDN’s cultural development activities are aimed at conserving and restoring Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, while stimulating local economic development and improving the quality of life for people living in surrounding neighbourhoods in Kabul, Herat and Balkh

Chihilsitoon Garden rehabilitation in Kabul, Afghanistan. AKTC / Simon Norfolk

KABUL: Since 2003, war-damaged quarters of the old city of Kabul have been the focus of an AKDN programme (the Aga Khan Trust for Culture) to conserve key historic buildings, including houses, mosques, shrines and public facilities.  Upgrading works have also improved living conditions for some 15,000 residents of the old city in the neighbourhoods of Asheqan wa Arefan, Chindawol and Kuche Kharabat… MORE

In 2008 the AKDN, in partnership with the Afghan Government, began the restoration of the Ikhtyaruddin Citadel in Herat. AKDN / Simon Norfolk

HERAT: Herat has long been a city of strategic, commercial and cultural significance. It came under the rule of the Abbasid caliphate at the end of the eighth century and was renowned for the production of metalwork.  At a crossroads between competing armies, traders and cultures, Herat was home to Persians, Pushtuns, Uzbeks, Turkomans, Baluchs and Hazaras.  In the fourteenth century, it was sacked by Timur, only to experience a renaissance under the rule of his son Shah Rukh.  Though repeatedly ravaged by war throughout its history, many significant Islamic monuments have survived.  Beginning in 2005 and running over the course of the next decade, the Trust worked hard to safeguard this unique heritage…. MORE

Restoration of Noh Gunbad Mosque, Balkh restoration projects, Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, Afghanistan. AKDN / Simon Norfolk

BALKH: With the help of a number of partners, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture helped restore the Khwaja Parsa Shrine Complex and the Noh Gumbad Mosque in the northern province of Balkh…. MORE.

(5) HABITAT

akdn AFGHANISTAN
A water pump constructed by AKDN agencies to provide villagers in Gazar, Doshi District, Afghanistan with access to clean water. Photo: AKDN / Jean-Luc Ray

In Afghanistan, the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) − previously Focus Humanitarian Assistance − engages with communities living in remote mountainous areas to increase their resilience to natural disasters and complex emergencies.  The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat also supports communities to utilize an enabling habitat to enhance their health, education and economic development. 

The approach is to predict where possible potential emergencies may impact homes and livelihoods, identify structural and non-structural interventions that can prevent or mitigate the impact of those hazards, and to build the capacities of communities and local and national governments to reduce their vulnerability to risk and to increase their capacities to help their neighbours.  

To enable this, AKAH implements a wide range of disaster prevention and response initiatives in local communities, including disaster preparedness trainings, vulnerability assessments, risk mitigation activities and disaster relief efforts…. MORE (includes sections on Disaster Risk Reduction, Capacity Building, Community-based interventions, Water and Sanitation, and External Partnerships).

(6) HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE

AKDN Afghanistan
On Friday 7th October 2016, AKAH donated 125 tents and 100 Non Food Item packages to the Governor of Takhar to support 750 Internally Displaced People (IDP) in Kunduz. Photo: Focus.

Afghanistan is highly prone to multiple natural disasters including earthquakes, landslides, flooding and avalanches.  Earthquakes occur frequently, particularly in the mountainous north and north-eastern areas of the country, and often trigger landslides.  Floods are common in the spring when snow begins to melt and rainfall is heavy.  Many of the communities at risk are located in remote areas, and disaster relief efforts are made more difficult by the volatile security situation.  The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) – formerly Focus Humanitarian Assistance – has been active in Afghanistan since 1996, when it was set up to respond to the acute food shortages caused by the ongoing conflict.

Emergency Management teams train to respond to disasters while conducting hazard and risk assessments.  They also work to improve risk anticipation through the establishment of Early Warning Systems.  AKAH has so far trained tens of thousands of volunteers for disaster response and management across Central and South Asia…. MORE

(7) MICROFINANCE

AKDN Afghanistan Aga Khan Development Network
A baker from Pul-i-Khumri is happy to be able to set up his business, thanks to a small loan from Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development. Photo: AKDN / Jean-Luc Ray

The microfinance sector only reaches about 227,000 borrowers in the country, less than 1 percent of the adult population. AKDN established microcredit programmes as early as 2002.  In 2004, it launched First Microfinance Bank, the first of its kind under the country’s new regulatory structure. AKDN has pioneered the provision of innovative and flexible microfinance products in the country, which play an important role in driving economic development in rural areas…. MORE

Date Posted: August 26, 2021.

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Video: His Highness the Aga Khan and the Vision Behind the Aga Khan Historic Cities Program by Cameron Rashti

The Edinburgh International Culture Summit held virtually from August 24-26, 2020 brought together the world’s leading minds in the fields of culture, the sciences and politics to discuss issues which effect nations around the world. Cameron Rashti, the Director of Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, was one of the participants and reflected on “Culture in Vibrant Communities” providing interesting insights into the goal and purpose of the Aga Khan Historic Cities programs in Central Asia, the Middles East, South Asia, and Africa.

As well as watching Rashti’s 14:41 minute Youtube presentation, below, may we suggest that readers also click on STORIES and ARTISTS IN CONVERSATION IN THE AGE OF COVID which are two other important and inspiring components of the Edinburgh International Culture Summit website.

Date posted: July 16, 2021.

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Cameron Rashti

Cameron Rashti joined the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in 1994. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Pratt Institute and Columbia University, he is a registered architect in the USA and the UK. Prior to joining the Trust, he held senior positions on major architectural and urban redevelopment projects in New York (1979-89) and in London (1989-94), as Vice President of Perkins & Will International. On behalf of AKTC, Rashti oversees a portfolio of diverse urban conservation and redevelopment projects in historic cities and heritage sites across the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and the Far East and teams of dedicated professionals in each location. He has served since 2010 as Delegate of the President of the Foundation of Chantilly, mandated with the safeguarding and redevelopment of the Domaine de Chantilly. Rashti has coordinated and contributed to a series of publications produced with Prestel on the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme’s work and development models.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Barakah Presents Thematic Excerpts from Mawlana Hazar Imam’s University of Central Asia Convocation Speech Made on June 19, 2021

“I urge the faculty and students to give utmost attention to enhance the current learning and create new knowledge through research, which is the most important factor for improving the quality of life of those who live in these mountain ranges” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, June 19, 2021….. For more, please click Barakah or on photo below.

A note to all our readers around the world: Simerg’s sister website Barakah is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. Please visit this wonderful textual and visual initiative, which is informative, engaging and appealing.

Please click on photo for thematic excerpts of virtual speech delivered by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on June 19, 2021

Date posted: June 19, 2021.

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From 1998 to 2021: Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Vision of a New University for Mountainous Populations, and a Live Broadcast of His Speech at University of Central Asia’s 1st Convocation on June 19

Simerg’s sister website Barakah presents an excellent backgrounder on the University of Central Asia through a series of excerpts from speeches made by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, dating back to the late 1990’s when the Aga Khan Lycee (High School) in Khorog, Badakhshan, was inaugurated. Indeed, that may have planted the first seeds for what is now the University of Central Asia. Read Barakah’s post by clicking HERE or on image below. Barakah was founded in 2017 and is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. Please also visit the Barakah Home Page or Table of Contents, both of which contain links to all the posts.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, escorted by Naryn Governor Amanbay Kayipov, arrives to the UCA Naryn Campus. Please click on image for Barakah article and photos.

Date posted: June 17, 2021.

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President Uhuru Kenyatta Tells Universities to Invest In Training as He Grants Charter to the Aga Khan University; and Link to Excerpts from Hazar Imam’s Speech

The following report is reproduced from the website of the President of Kenya. Thematic excerpts of the virtual speech made by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, can be read at Simerg’s sister website Barakah, which is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat (please read Mawlana Hazar Imam Thematic Excerpts).

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta unveils a plaque on June 11, 2021, on the historic occasion of the Award of the Charter to the Aga Khan University. Photo: Aga Khan University.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta unveils a plaque on June 11, 2021, on the historic occasion of the Award of the Charter to the Aga Khan University. Photo: Aga Khan University.

June 11, 2021: President Uhuru Kenyatta has asked universities to invest in research and training that support Kenya’s new Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).

“The Competence-Based Curriculum is a revolutionary step we took as a country to provide our learners with twenty-first-century practical skills relevant to the needs of the present world,” the President said.

President Kenyatta, who spoke on Friday in Nairobi when he awarded a charter to the Aga Khan University-Kenya (AKU), also urged universities to concentrate on producing graduates who can tackle global challenges and make the world a better place.

The Head of State reminded Kenyan universities to ensure that they offer quality education.

“You must strive to remain compliant to both the programmatic and institutional standards set by our professional regulatory bodies such as the Commission for University Education,” President Kenyatta said.

At the same time, the President directed regulatory institutions in the education sector to execute their mandate fully in order to ensure the quality of university education is not compromised.

“Regulatory standards are not mere exercises in box-ticking.  They are the lifeblood of a vital process that ensures that learning delivers tangible results for both the learner as well as the nation,” the President emphasized.

On research, the President challenged universities to be at the forefront in providing solutions to emerging challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the event, President Kenyatta also inaugurated the Aga Khan University’s new Kshs 5 billion ultra-modern building. The building will be the university’s main campus in Kenya, housing its graduate school of Media and Communications, Medical College, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Institute for Human Development as well as the Brain and Mind Institute among other programmes.

His Highness the Aga Khan, who is the Chancellor of the Aga Khan University, addressed the occasion via video link, saying the awarding of charter to AKU is a vote of confidence in the university.

He thanked President Kenyatta’s leadership for creating an enabling environment that has allowed private universities in Kenya to flourish.

Education CS Prof George Magoha, Commission for University Education (CUE) Chairman Prof Chacha Nyaigoti Chacha, CUE Secretary Prof Mwenda Ntarangwi as well as the Aga Khan University’s Vice Chancellor Dr Firoz Rasul spoke during the occasion.

With the award of the charter, the Aga Khan University becomes Kenya’s 21st private chartered university.

Date posted: June 11, 2021.

Please also click Mawlana Hazar Imam Thematic Excerpts.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

7 Key Themes from Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Aga Khan University Convocation Address

Simerg’s sister website Barakah is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. Barakah has broken down Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Aga Khan University Convocation address which was delivered virtually on May 22, 2021 to a world wide audience into 7 themes. The Barakah post includes pertinent photos and carries appropriate subtitles to make it highly readable. To read the excerpts please click on Address by His Highness the Aga Khan or the photo below.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Barakah, a website dedicated to the Aga Khan
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, addressing the 2020 Aga Khan University Convocation. Please click photo for thematic excerpts of his speech. Photo: Facebook / AKU

Date posted: May 22, 2021.

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Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Melinda Gates Address First Ever Global Aga Khan University Convocation

(NOTE: For a more detailed report, with photos, of this morning’s Global Convocation event, please click Barakah, a website dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat – Ed.)

For the first time ever, the Aga Khan University this morning, Saturday May 22, 2021 brought together all the graduating classes in Kenya, Pakistan, Uganda, Tanzania and the United Kingdom in a single Global Convocation that is being held throughout the day. The Global Convocation began at approximately 8:45AM (Toronto time), and included speeches by the outgoing president of the Aga Khan University, Firoz Rasul, Melinda French Gates, Co-Chair and Trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

Clockwise from left: Prince Amyn Muhammad, Prince Rahim, Prince Ali Muhammad, Prince Hussain, and Princess Zahra. Photo: Clip from Ismaili TV.

The approximately 70 minute program was transmitted via The Ismaili TV and The AKU Website. Present in the room where Mawlana Hazar Imam was speaking from were members of his family — Prince Amyn Muhammad, Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim, Prince Hussain and Prince Ali Muhammad.

A comprehensive report of the global convocation with excerpts from the speeches that were made will be presented on Simerg and Barakah when the transcripts become available. In the meantime, we have a report with a few photos in Barakah, a website that is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam and members of his family as well as the Ismaili Imamat. Please click HERE

Date posted: May 21, 2021.
Last updated: May 22, 2021.

Featured photo at top of this post: Mawlana Hazar Imam delivering his remarks on May 22, 2021 at the Aga Khan University’s Global Convocation. Photo: Clip from Ismaili TV.

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Installing Solar Panels on the World’s Rooftop: USAID and Pamir Energy are Lighting Up Remote Villages in Tajikistan

Murghab’s installation represents a 50 percent increase in daytime electricity – meaning communities are now able to pursue activities throughout the day, children can attend heated schools, and homes have power and heat during the long and bitterly cold winter months.

Most of the material for this post has been obtained from an article prepared by USAID, with additional material and photographs from AKDN and AKF USA

Arriving in the Murghab district of Tajikistan’s Pamir region feels like one may have landed on the far side of the moon. The Pamir Mountains are among the highest in the world, and home to remote villages and communities living above 3,600 meters/11,800 feet. The area is dry, arid, and bitterly cold. Temperatures between November and March regularly plummet to -50 degrees Celsius/-58 degrees Fahrenheit.

Due to the topography, communities and villages are not connected to a national electricity grid and for decades lived without a reliable or secure power supply. In Murghab, communities relied on subsistence farming and households had almost no ability to cook, see at night, read, study, or pursue commerce and industry.

During the Soviet era, over 70 percent of the region’s energy was provided by dirty diesel generators fueled by Russian-controlled imports. After the fall of the Soviet Union, not a single diesel-operated power plant remained in operation. In 2002, only 13 percent of Murghab households had access to electricity – those that did experienced frequent interruptions. 

Pamir Energy Tajikistan, AKFED
By implementing hydropower plant projects and reducing transmission losses from 39 percent in 2006 to 10 percent (in 2018), Pamir Energy supplies reliable, clean, affordable electricity to 96 percent of the population of Badakhshoni Kuhi in Eastern Tajikistan. Photo: AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer

That same year, The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), formed Pamir Energy in a public-private partnership that included the Government of Tajikistan. Pamir Energy has invested around $37 million to repair and rehabilitate the electrical infrastructure of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province (GBAO) and expand capacity. In the wake of these efforts, over 86 percent of the region’s inhabitants and 96% of households in Eastern Tajikistan now have access to electricity. Subsidies ensure that even the poorest households can access power. 

Murghab’s harsh climate makes water-powered generation challenging. During the winter months the rivers freeze, consequently hydro-power plants are unable to provide power to Murghab communities. To meet this challenge, USAID supported a pilot project to build a solar power plant that can provide Murghab’s communities with electricity during the winter.

USAID’s Power the Future project partnered with the Government of Tajikistan and Pamir Energy to install the 200 kilowatt (kW) Murghab solar power plant – the country’s largest utility-operated solar power plant and the highest in Central Asia.

Most importantly, the Murghab solar power plant operates in parallel with another renewable energy source, the existing Tajikistan hydro-power plant. These two clean energy plants will ensure that nearby villages and communities have access to regular electricity supply all year round. 

Aga Khan in Murghab
Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan visits Murghab, Badakhshan, on May 26, 1995. Photo: The Ismaili.

When the Murghab project kicked-off in January 2020, COVID-19 was reportedly contained in China and had not reached the scale of a global pandemic. As the project began ramping up in March, the world turned upside down as states of emergency and lockdowns were ordered all around the world.

“It seemed like anything that could have gone wrong, went wrong,” remembers Markus Straslicka, a project manager with USAID’s Power the Future project who oversaw installation of the Murghab solar power plant.

In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption to manufacturing and supply lines and closure of international borders, Markus faced a unique challenge: his team didn’t know what the Murghab site looked like. Due to its incredibly remote location, Murghab has limited internet – inhabitants rely on SMS messages to communicate with the outside world. Since Markus had almost no eyes on the ground, he had to plan for every eventuality and trust the Pamir Energy team waiting for him at the site. 

As it turns out, USAID’s Power the Future had the perfect partner. “The Pamir Energy team were extremely competent, hardworking and supportive, despite this being their first experience with solar technology. We were lucky to have them,” says Markus.

To guarantee the project’s success, USAID’s Power the Future team worked hand-in-hand with the Pamir Energy team to install and commission the Murghab solar power plant. Through this unique partnership, Pamir Energy learned how to independently operate the Murghab plant. They also gained the skills, know-how, and capability to build solar power plants throughout the region – helping Tajikistan meets it commitment to providing its citizens with reliable clean energy.

“This is a very special day for us to run the first solar power plant in the country as a utility! The USAID team has done an outstanding job,” said Daler Jumaev, recently appointed Minister of Energy and Water Resources of the Republic of Tajikistan and outgoing CEO of Pamir Energy.

Pamir Mountains
The Pamir Energy company is based in the high mountains of eastern Tajikistan, where it is common to have bitter winters and, increasingly, earthquakes, avalanches and mudslides. The area is also socially complex, bordering China, the Kyrgyz Republic and Afghanistan. Photo: AKDN/Christopher Wilton-Steer

The USAID Power the Future and Pamir Energy team commissioned the Murghab solar power plant on October 28, 2020, and the plant began providing electricity to the region’s communities the same day.

The regional government of the GBAO celebrated this landmark achievement at an opening ceremony on November 11 with representatives from the Tajik central and regional governments, USAID, the Aga Khan Foundation, and Pamir Energy. As noted by the Governor of GBAO, Yogdor Fayzov, Murghab signifies the first of many solar power plants that will be built to electrify remote areas of Tajikistan. 

“The construction of a solar power plant in the remote Murghab region with USAID’s support is a significant step in providing electricity to the residents of this mountainous region,” said Yodgor Fayzov, Chairman of the regional GBAO government.

The positive impacts of access to regular power for the people of Murghab cannot be underestimated. Before Murghab’s installation, businesses could not fully operate during the winter due to power interruptions. Murghab’s installation represents a 50 percent increase in daytime electricity – meaning communities are now able to pursue activities throughout the day, children can attend heated schools, and homes have power and heat during the long and bitterly cold winter months.

Additionally, households no longer need to spend long hours finding firewood to cook meals. USAID’s partnership with the Government of Tajikistan brought stability and prosperity to Murghab and paved the way for full electrification of the Pamir region.

In 2017, Pamir Energy won the 2017 International Ashden Award for Increasing Energy Access for its work bringing hydro power to 220,000 people in East Tajikistan and 35,000 people in North Afghanistan, as well as to many businesses, schools, and health centres.

Date posted: March 15, 2021.

Featured image at top of post: The Murghab solar power plant is now entirely operational. Photo: Markus Straslicka for USAID.

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Further notes:

In 2012 with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Aga Khan Foundation USA started the Cross-Border Energy project to expand Pamir Energy’s reach across the border to Afghanistan’s remote Shugnan District. This program has helped to multiply electricity use thereby nearly eightfold and helps establish infrastructure for regional growth. Communities that never have had access to electricity before are now able to experience an improved quality of life and in turn, regional trade and cooperation have increased.

Poem by Farah Tejani Celebrating the Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum’s 6th Anniversary, and the LAPIS Event

Note: The Lapis event is now over

The Aga Khan Museum has been hosting the annual fund raising LAPIS event for the past few years, with Prince Amyn Muhammad Aga Khan honouring the event by personally attending it. Now due to Covid-19, the signature event has been reinvented with a broadcast from the Aga Khan Museum that everyone is invited to register for free.

The program on Thursday September 24, 2020 will be live streamed at 8 PM ET, and include remarks from Prince Amyn, Chairman of the Aga Khan Museum Board, meaningful conversations with acclaimed international artists on art in a changing world and four breathtaking performances with diverse talent from around the world.

The Aga Khan Museum invites you to join with friends and family from around the world as together it shares a unique message of hope, resilience and light. Please click HERE TO REGISTER.

Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre 6th Anniversary

And while we are on the subject of the Aga Khan Museum, let us remind our readers that September 12, 2020 marked the 6th anniversary of the inauguration of the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and the then Prime Minister of Canada the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper. The Museum officially opened to the public on September 18, 2014, with the Ismaili Centre Jamatkhana (known as the Toronto Headquarters Jamatkhana) opening to Ismaili community for prayers on Friday, September 19, 2014.

To commemorate the openings of the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre as well as the annual Lapis event, we are delighted to present this thoughtful poem by Farah Tejani of Vancouver.

Celebrating the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre in Toronto

Ismaili Imamat Projects on Wynford Drive, Toronto, Canada. The Ismaili Centre (with glass dome), the Aga Khan Museum and the Aga Khan Park.

By FARAH TEJANI

Two complementary sister structures of architectural elegance and splendor
Jut out and pierce the heart of Toronto’s sky.
The Aga Khan Museum and
The Ismaili Centre.

United are they for the beneficial purpose of extending a hand
Of Everlasting Friendship,
Between Muslims and Non-Muslims alike.
Uniting the Muslim Ummah,
The World Ummah,
With Cultural and Religious Tolerance and Respect…

Dispelling all deplorable depictions of Islam in the Media,
By propagating the Truth:

Peace, Love, Brotherhood, Compassion, Spirituality and Prayer.

Yes, we extend a hospitable, gracious, loving hand of friendship,
Celebrating Cultural Diversity,
Historical Traditions,
Arts and Artifacts,
Awe-inspiring Calligraphic Designs and Structures,
Tours, Recitals, Exhibitions, Theatre, Films and
Educational and Cultural Activities.

The Ismaili Centre has unique and grand tiled floors
Laced with elaborate, poignant calligraphy,
Upon entering the prayer hall
We begin every act beseeching God to
Bless and Accept
All Our Endeavours.

The Prayer Hall’s distinctive
And elegant Crystalline dome,
Illuminates the night sky,
Reflecting itself into the pond,
While angels come together to lift and carry,
Each and every Murid’s,
Most Earnest and Heartfelt Prayer
To the stars:
Just Outside Allah’s Door.

Comprising one fifth of the world,
We are Muslims…
Yet there is little known of our faith and traditions.
These two buildings will stand side by side like Doves of Peace,
Aiming to bridge the gap and promote Compassion and Understanding,
Welcome, one and all.

Housing Well-Preserved Priceless Works of Art:
Objects and Artifacts,
From the Aga Khan and his Family’s Personal Collection,
The Aga Khan Museum’s Relics will tell of themselves,
For countless years to come.

Tradition and Modernity,
Come and join together to create these Majestic Timeless Landmarks,
For people from all parts of the world to enjoy.

As His Highness the Aga Khan said at the Opening Ceremony:
“We are, after all, a community that WELCOMES THE SMILE!”
With His Grace, many outdated notions of what Islam is
Will be Demystified,
And the Exemplary Fundamental Truths Unveiled
For all to see.

So again we say Welcome…
We extend a hand of Loyal and Loving Friendship,
With Peace, Brotherhood, Unity and Prayer at the Core of Our Existence.
And from the Heart of each and every individual Ismaili,
We welcome you to
Our Wonderful Universal and Timeless Tradition.
Come discover, share and learn.

Date posted: September 29, 2020.

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Farah graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia in May of 1997 and earned top Honors for her Thesis on Short Fiction. With the help of her agent Barbara Graham she then went on to publish a collection of short stories published by Trafford, called, “Make Your Own Chai, Mama’s Boy!” — ten short stories dealing with different dilemmas South Asians face. Farah also wrote and co-directed her stage play, “Safeway Samosas,” which won “The Best of Brave New Playwrights Award” in July 1995. Her short story , “Too Hot” won third place in the “Canada-Wide Best Short Fiction Award.” and was read at The Vancouver Writers Festival. Currently, Farah is working on Childrens’ stories and a collection of poetry called, “Elastic Embrace” to be published in 2021. Her most recent poetic pieces are Behold the Light of Ali and The Great Sacrifice.

Pandemic, Prayers, Pluralism, and Partnerships

By NIZAR A MOTANI, Ph.D

This pandemic has brought the world humbling and tumbling to its knees, which is actually the best position from which to beg for the Supreme Being’s forgiveness, mercy, and blessings. Its economies have been battered and shattered and almost all of the world’s citizens have been imprisoned in their dwellings. He alone will eventually empower our scientists and secular and sacred leaders to find effective vaccines to successfully overcome this calamity.

Guidance from a seventh century ruler to his regional governors entrusted with administering a new and rapidly expanding empire has timeless relevance to our pandemic times. Hazrat Ali was the first hereditary Shia Muslim Imam, as well as the fourth caliph of all Muslims, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.), in 632 A.C. His letter enumerated a host of principles of good governance. He urged his subordinates to rule with intelligence and wisdom; justice, truth, and forgiveness; compassion and forbearance; humility and patience in calamity; consultation and wise counsel; piety and prayers; and above all to seek Divine Guidance. These are lessons which still apply today. [1]

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Folio Hazrat Ali's Nahj al-Balagha
A folio from Hazrat Ali’s Nahj al-Balagha (Peak of Eloquence).

Remarkably, during the Prophet Muhammad’s time (570-632 A.C.), he had strongly recommended territorial quarantine and stricter personal hygiene, such as frequent hand washing during contagion. Later Muslim scientists and doctors had done the same, and Europe subsequently learned this practice from them. [2]

Turning to the current pandemic, this silent, inscrutable, and insidious enemy with unhindered Global Entry has awakened and heightened the need for prayers and some critical aspects of pluralism, which include public-private partnerships at all levels, to address the current dire situation engulfing almost every country.

Prayers have shown effectiveness since biblical times, and pluralism is inherent, in various forms, in all religious teachings. Some countries even have pluralism embodied in their constitutions, but sadly it often gets ignored.

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Karen Armstrong at Aga Khan Centre London
The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor-General of Canada, and GCP Board Member thanks Karen Armstrong for delivering the GCP 2018 Annual Pluralism Lecture. Photo: AKDN / Anya Campbell

Karen Armstrong, the renowned historian and scholar of religions, has described the Qur’an as the most pluralistic scriptural book, which teaches not just tolerance of diversity, but beyond this a universal brotherhood, empathy, and an inclusive approach that harnesses the intelligence of all in society (annual pluralism lecture at the new Aga Khan Centre, London, 2018). Pluralism entails inclusion of all of God’s children who inhabit our shared planet, as an integral part of the community. Hardly any country is totally homogenous – most are quite heterogeneous with racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse minorities. Accommodating such diversity is best addressed through dialogue, mutual respect, research, and collaboration to promote a better understanding of differences as strengths.

The idea of defining, promoting and giving pluralism an international platform emerged, significantly, after another calamity, namely the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, that shook the world and drastically changed lives and livelihoods. In January 2002, the then Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien and the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims, discussed the desirability of jointly creating a formal body to study, explain, and promote pluralistic values across the world and to prevent escalations of conflicts between the West and the Muslim countries. A decade later the Global Centre for Pluralism was formally established in Ottawa, Canada.

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His Highness the Aga Khan and His Excellency David Johnston at the opening of the Global Centre for Pluralism
His Highness the Aga Khan and His Excellency David Johnston look at each other as they applaud a splendid musical performance by the children’s band Orkidstra during the opening of the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa on Tuesday May 16, 2017. Photo: © Jean-Marc Carisse.

Pluralism, essential in ordinary times to promote mutual understanding, respect, and acceptance of differences, is even more critical in extraordinary times, such as the present, where widespread panic has driven many to act without regard for the wellbeing of others.

Equally alarming, Asian Americans have collectively been demonized and blamed for the virus. Fortunately, there have also been numerous wonderful and inspiring examples of collaboration, innovation, ingenuity, generosity, and volunteering to help those on the frontlines and those thrust onto food line.

However, let us not forget the other endemic and mutating virus of scammers and fraudsters preying on the most desperate of our fellow countrymen. We need more vigilance, prayers, partnerships and pluralism to combat both of these common enemies. Until God’s mercy results in effective vaccines, the best interim vaccines are the three Ps and gratitude.

Coincidentally, during this month of Ramadan, some fundamental practices of Islam are more evident now than at other times: fasting, prayer, and charity towards all — especially the weak, the sick, the poor, orphans, widows, and other most disadvantaged members of society. This constitutes the social conscience of Islam.

It is this Atlanta-based writer’s hope that Muslims and non-Muslims alike will share their relief/stimulus checks, if possible, with those in greater need. Unfortunately, their numbers are exploding, and they largely depend on such charities as the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Atlanta Union Mission, Salvation Army, and Red Cross among many others. Atlanta-based CARE is internationally active, as is the Aga Khan Foundation USA, which is a part of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) – the world’s largest, most cost-effective, private, multifaceted network with hundreds of partners including the US Government.

May God Bless America and our interconnected planet.

Date posted: May 19, 2020.
Last updated: May 20, 2020 (Revisions by author)

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

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Notes:

[1] Nahjul Balagha, Peak of Eloquence; Sermons, Letters, and Sayings of Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib, Elmhurst NY, 1981.
[2] Article by Yahia Hatim, Moroccan Times, April 4th, 2020. See also March 17, 2020 Newsweek article by Craig Considine.

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The writer, who was born in Uganda, has a doctorate from the University of London, U.K. in African History. He has taught at Bowdoin College (Maine) and Western Michigan University. Later he worked at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in the U.K. A lifetime member of the Global South Studies Association and a longtime resident of Atlanta, he is a volunteer and donor for AKDN.

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Author’s recommendation: For a superb explanation of pluralism in the Qur’an, see Rahim Snow’s highly acclaimed book “Remember Who You Are: 28 Spiritual Verses from the Holy Quran to Help You Discover Your True Identity, Purpose, and Nourishment in God,” published  by Remembrance Studio, 2017, Pp. 213. Please visit his website by clicking Rahim Snow .

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