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Interview of H.H. The Aga Khan-2001-11-08

Thursday, 2001, November 8

LBC: Good evening your Highness, we are honoured that you are giving us an interview for the (LBC) channel. Well, we came to Aleppo because you are here, for a Syrian visit. But of course, there is an occasion; there was the ceremony of the Award for Architecture. You said in your speech, which I personally liked very much on many points, we'll talk about it later, you said in your speech that you consider the Aleppo citadel, and I am not sure I am translating accurately what you said, that you consider it as a personal quest to take place in history and in the heritage.

AK: Yes….

LBC: What does the Citadel and Syria represent for you personally?

AK: In fact, I tried to explain that I had a family attachment with Syria because my family had been Syrian for two centuries, and also an intellectual affinity because Syria does represent many things on the philosophical level, on the level of thinking, history of faith, which are important for me, so that was a way to say that this ceremony is not only a ceremony for the architecture award participants but also an occasion of happiness for me.

LBC: Yes... It was perhaps a way to say that you have the same heritage.

AK: Certainly! I do have the same heritage!

LBC: Voilà! Your Highness, in your opening speech at the site, I have noted a few points, may I ask….

AK: Yes, please…

LBC: I think that what is presently happening between the Islamic World and the Western World is in some way global. You have talked about the Silk Road, as you had the Silk Road ensemble, which links Asia to the Middle East. So, for you, what does the Silk Road cover?

AK: Well, listen; first, there were obviously many roads, but in fact it is a link that, in its most powerful form, linked China to Western Europe, therefore it is a human, cultural, diplomatic and states route, by its neighbourhood and common border demography, links all those countries. Therefore it is something very very special.

LBC: Yes, but this was in history. Today, if we talk geographically, it's a road controlled by Islamic fanatics, what we call that Silk Road.

AK: No. No, a part may be, but not the whole road. Let's say one part goes through countries where there are internal tensions and countries where unfortunately there is war.

LBC: Yes, yes. And you think that it blocks what happens between Asia and Middle East and that is the main reason?

AK: Of course, of course. I have tried, not in my speech but in another commentary of the situation, to explain that the phenomena that we see for example in Afghanistan cannot be projected as if it was originating from the essence of Islam. That is not true. This is like if I was to ask the Christian world "Is inquisition representative of Christianity?" So we cannot take situations, which are individual, unique, and specific in time, in history, in geography and say, "All this represents the totality of more than a billion Muslims". But unfortunately, one represents the situation as if it was the case. And in my speech and at the architecture award, amongst others, I have tried, on the contrary, to show that the Muslim World is pluralistic, and it has been so since centuries.

LBC: You feel that the Muslim World is pluralistic? You have talked of a place for pluralism in the Islamic World. Legitimacy, you have talked of the legitimacy of pluralism. Do you think that it exists?

AK: Oh Yes! Historically it exists.

LBC: Yes but does it presently?

AK: But even today, you see, I think we have difficulty making people around the world realise what is the Islamic World. One should not confuse Sub-Saharan Africa with Central Asia. One should not confuse Central Asia with countries of Asia such as Malaysia and Indonesia. These are different peoples, with different histories, that have been converted to Islam at different times, that have evolved since then, that have different languages, that have different interpretations. What is the big problem? It is to know if that diversity is a strength or a weakness. And what I say is that the Muslim World - well, what I wish - is that the Muslim World looks at that situation as if it was a marvellous opportunity. Not that diversity weakens us. That is the fundamental problem.

LBC: Yes, but is there a place in the Islamic World for the other religions?

AK: Oh, for sure! Islam is a faith that recognises the preceding monotheistic interpretations, Judaism and Christianity, called the "People of the Book". It is one Book. So for me there is no doubt whatsoever.

LBC: You have talked of pluralism, you have talked of the Silk Road, you have also talked of the West and the Islamic World. You have a superb sentence I think, "Of course there are some superficial disagreements, nothing so deep that it would hinder a mutual understanding and respect." You know, you talk about the heritage of Abraham and its ethical principals, but do you think that there has been no clash between the West and the Islamic World?

AK: No, no.

LBC: What happened on September 11 and afterwards, was it not a historical misunderstanding?

AK: I think that we cannot attribute the events of September 11th to an interpretation that says that it came from the faith of Islam, or from the cultures of Islam, because there are many, as there are many Christian cultures. One cannot talk to me of conflict of civilisations. To begin with, we should put "civilisations" in plural. So it would require conflicts between different civilisations, which have evolved in history. That's not the case, one cannot present this today as the result of hundreds and hundreds of years of conflict. What I am saying is that the basis of an understanding can be put into effect through the acceptance of the ethical principals common to the Abrahamic faiths. Forms are different. The ethical principals, the principals on which the human society lives, the attitude towards the poor, the attitude towards the marginalized, the attitude or the preoccupations of a society dominated by the male portion of the society, all of that, we can find it everywhere. We find it in the Christian society, in Christian cultures of the past, of the present, and in the Muslim World it is the same thing. So, if I am told that all this represents, in a rather simplistic way, a conflict, no, no!

LBC: I have to break for a commercial. If you want, we will talk of all this later, a little bit about the Ismailis, the Aga Khans and, after that I think, we'll return to Islam and the modern challenge.

LBC: Your Highness, when we say "Imam", usually we imagine a bearded man with a turban. Is it that the Imam, amongst Ismailis, has a civilian look?

AK: No, I think that we wish to have a role that is balanced. I think that in Islam the notion of Imam is also a notion of a civil responsibility for those under his responsibility. And in the case of the Ismailis, I have a moral, and as far as I can exercise it in an efficient manner, a material responsibility, to assure the quality of life of the members of the Ismaili community. So, if you will, it is not only on religious grounds that I have to intervene, but also on ethical grounds. How does the ethic of Faith translate into daily life? Voilà!

LBC: There is a religious role, a role specifically religious in the supreme leader…

AK: Indeed! Indeed! There is much reflection being done on history, on the interpretation. One has also to see that the Ismaili community is very international and in history, the community itself is pluralist. In a way, it almost reflects the pluralism of Islam.

LBC: As you yourself are, one has to say, you are cosmopolitan.

AK: I am Muslim.

LBC: You do not have another identity? None whatsoever?

AK: No, none, none!

LBC: You do not have an attachment to your country of origin?

AK: You tell me my "country of origin". I wouldn't even be able to define it for you, because I am born in Switzerland, I have parents who are from the Muslim World and from the Christian World, I have had my initial education in Africa then Switzerland and then in the United States, I have travelled all my life. And the only guideline that I have in my life, the dominant one, is the religion in which I was raised.

LBC: How can a man live without [country]? That is, not have a place, a precise geography?

AK: But on the contrary, I am freer! I am much freer!

LBC: Sure, but aren't you curious to see the village of your ancestors in India or in Pakistan?

AK: I have to see all the villages where something is happening and the roots that I have are not in a specific place, they are in a function.

LBC: What are your functions? Do you have Council of Ismailis from all over the place, each specifically in its country? How does it function in practice?

AK: Well, listen, it has evolved in time, obviously, between what my grandfather did and what I have done since then, there has been much change. But overall, we have had structures for the Ismaili community, and where there is a concentration of Ismailis, in a country or a region, there is a national council or a regional council. And this council has a responsibility, say, civil, for how the community evolves etc. And those structures are governed by a constitution. It is a universal constitution. This universal constitution has regulations, if you will, "Rules and Regulations" which are adapted according to the country where the Ismaili community lives. The Ismaili community can live in a secular Hindu state, it can live in a country where the national religion is Islam, it can live in a country where the national religion is Christian and thus, I have looked to adapt each, say, instrument of governance that belongs to the community to the situation in which it lives. And that's part of that notion of pluralism in a global interpretation, of what has to be the structure that we have. Alright, that is for the community. And then, apart from the community but acting inside the community, there is the Aga Khan Development Network. These are civil institutions, which intervene in various fields of necessity of life, as much for Ismailis as for others.

LBC: Yes, but what is the aim of those organisations? In any case, we'll see it in the documentary, not to emphasize too much, is there a precise goal, is there a precise mission, which stems from the religion?

AK: Of course, it is a community built around an interpretation of faith, which is its own. That interpretation has evolved across time, and has also evolved geographically, because I think that it is a reality. Any religion evolves, according to the contacts it has with countries, populations. Thus it is the notion of global brotherhood of the same interpretation of Islam.

LBC: But are your projects more for the Ismaili community than others or in areas where there are more Muslims…

AK: You are right and I will tell you… there are priorities. The priorities are high-risk areas. So the high-risk areas are areas of the world where people risk famine, where standards of livings are too low to be acceptable, and then, these areas are identified and I intervene in those areas. Alright, in those areas, there are Ismailis and non-Ismailis. The intervention is done for the totality of the community, without any segregation. On the contrary, we interpret our moral and ethical responsibilities, as obliging us to take care of the populations, which are in the areas of activity. And there are situations where our institutions are in vast majority non-Ismailis.

LBC: Which means?

AK: There are schools, hundreds of schools in the world, that we manage and where there are more non-Ismailis than Ismailis. OK. In our health system, in our hospitals, there is a vast majority of non-Ismaili patients, who come there for treatments.

LBC: Your Highness, are you doing all this by simple charity? Is it to please God? Why? What is the doctrine? Is it steaming from the Faith? Or is it that the Aga Khans have a special philosophy?

AK: No, no, it comes from the principle that I have to intervene and help where the quality of life is not acceptable. So, be it in Northwest Pakistan, be it in Mozambique, be it in Afghanistan or in Tajikistan, the intervention has to be done where there is the greatest demand. Alright. You see that in the decades since the death of my grandfather, the situation has greatly changed. Thus, take for instance the Uganda case. Under Idi Amin there was, in Uganda, a national catastrophe, a regional catastrophe, because it had a ripple effect of very grave risks for all of East Africa. Then the immigrants leave, Muslims, non-Muslims, nationals, non-nationals, nothing doing. OK. Fifteen or twenty years later though, the leadership changes. A new president comes to power. What does he do? He contacts me immediately and tells me "Come back and help me rebuild my country." So, if you want, time changes situations, makes them different. Thus the institution that I represent, the Imamat, has to adapt according to the needs. It has to go beyond, it should anticipate situations. It has to be in a position to say that such and such area of the world is at great social, economic, political risk, whatever. Other areas are stable. These are areas where people live in acceptable conditions.

LBC: Is it different from the community, that is, is all this under the sponsorship of the Ismaili community or is it under the Aga Khan Foundation? Or there is no difference?

AK: No, no, I wouldn't say that. I would say, if you take for example Tajikistan, Tajikistan went through a civil war that just ended. In Tajikistan, there is one part with a high Ismaili density and another part with a high non-Ismaili density. OK. The totality of that part represents a high-risk population because it lives in atrocious conditions of economic poverty. Alright, for whom do I intervene? I intervene for all that population.

LBC: And who finances all that?

AK: The Imamat, plus all our partners, we have many partners. We would never be able to be efficient in all the fields where we wish to be with only our own resources. That is not possible.

LBC: I will ask you a question, I think hundreds of journalists have asked you this question: Why did you succeed your grandfather Aga Khan III and not your father who was still alive?

AK: I can only tell you what he said. My grandfather had been Imam for seventy-two years of his life. So at the age of eight, he was Imam of the Ismailis, up to the age of eighty.

LBC: It is possible at the age of eight to become the supreme chief of a community? How does that work? Isn't there a council, which oversees?

AK: Indeed, indeed! In all religious structures or other, there are structures. My grandfather died after seventy-two years of Imamat and he left in his Will, an explanation and he said: Voilà, the world is changing and the world is changing at a rapid pace. And I want to be followed by someone who is much younger than me. Because that someone will have, I hope, the possibility to react to the changing world with a new vision. And that is what happened, because when he died, he was eighty years old and I was twenty. I was still in University.

LBC: And how did your father react to this?

AK: He has been of a rigour, of a loyalty absolutely remarkable. Remarkable!

LBC: And you have appointed your successor? How does it work?

AK: The Imam names his successor and then, of course, he is of his choice up to his last day.

LBC: So we do not know your successor in principle?

AK: I do not talk of it.

LBC: And why did your grandfather leave his country of origin?

AK: Because, I think, he lived in a period when he was worried that the marasm (difficulties) of the Third World would interfere with what he wanted to do for his community. And he made the decision to say, if I am to serve my community, I am obliged to seek competencies of the modern world, networking with the modern world, nations of modern development to bring them to my community. And that's exactly what he did.

LBC: In any case, many from his community followed him to Africa, I think?

AK: No, no, wait, you are talking of my grandfather? My grandfather left India to establish himself in Europe. Voilà! Ismailis stayed in most of the countries where they were.

LBC: They stayed there?

AK: Yes, when my grandfather died, there were perhaps in England a hundred Ismailis.

LBC: Why is it said that the Ismailis are great businessmen in the world?

AK: Oh, I think it is perhaps a notion of Ismailis, which were more on the forefront. Of those that were more in the forefront! Since the sixties, seventies, the community has much much evolved. To begin with, there is a large percentage of the community that lives in rural areas, which are absolutely not urbanised. Secondly, there is a new generation, rather several generations of professionals, men and women who have a modern education, who are bilingual, trilingual and who have professional activities as much in the West as in other countries. So, if you will, this notion of a business community does not now represent reality anymore.

LBC: And why is it that we have that impression, and it's good - I think it is an advantage, that they are more modern, modern in the Western sense.

AK: I think that it comes to the same question we discussed previously. Let's go back. How did the westerners learned about culture, about Greek philosophy? How did they learn it? They searched amongst philosophers, scientists, theologians. They went looking amongst the Muslim intelligentsia of that time, for translations, which had disappeared from their original state and, the Muslim world became a world of transition so that the West relearned its own history. Alright! What is happening today? I am saying to myself, that the Muslim World, at least the Ismaili community, we should not live outside the realities of our world. On the contrary, we have to absorb them make them work for us and to our advantage. And if there are organisational systems in the human society that work well today, or at least better than others, we would lack intelligence, not to say more, not to see what we can learn, what we can integrate, what we can remodel. Because we do not have to take everything. We should take what helps us. And that's where that relation with the West looks important to me. One does not lose his identity; one does not lose his religion…

LBC: Because you are not completely dissolved in the societies in which you live…

AK: Absolutely not. The vast majority of the community is not in the West, and its first language is not a Western language. We have made English our second language. That yes! Because, in the sixties, in the seventies, we needed to have a language policy. If a community was without a language policy, it would dissociate itself from its development potential. And English is the language that we chose. So today, the Ismaili community speaks Farsi, Arabic, Swahili, English, French, Portuguese, etc. And then, there is a language that is more and more common, it's their second language, for a large majority it is English.

LBC: During your reflections, did you think what would have been the face of the Ismailis in the world if your grandfather would have not left India?

AK: If he would have not left India, I can only speculate. But I think that the community, not only the Ismaili community, which turns its back to parallel civilisations which are powerful, builders, efficient, which have created institutions that renew themselves, I think it means not acting in the interest of the concerned populations. And personally, I have no shame, none whatsoever, if I have to follow today in the same footsteps that the Christians followed in their history: to learn from the Muslim World, well, so what? Why should it matter?

LBC: Socially speaking, you have some differences with other Muslim communities; polygamy is forbidden amongst the Ismailis. And since when is this?

AK: It is my grandfather that took that decision, and I have maintained it. "Forbidden", is perhaps a word, which does not correspond, but we think that it is a practise that we should discourage. But it is not forbidden, you understand. Each family will decide ultimately for itself what it wants to do or not do. And that is what happens. But I think that this notion to have a unique family in the modern world, and I underline modern world, I don't talk of the past, I think that it is a social structure which is good. Today my worry is not there. My worry is the notion of unique family, which is in the process of destroying itself. Voilà! We are further than the polygamy today. Today we face a situation where a part of our world accepts that children are born outside the family.

LBC: And is that why you have two weddings: The civil wedding and the religious wedding?

AK: No, no, no. That is a form, but in fact marriage is not sacred in Islam. It is a contract between a man and a woman.

LBC: Rightly. But is it because you are in Europe that you do that?

AK: No, we do it because it has become a tradition, even in non-Ismaili Muslim communities, to seek blessings over the marriage etc.

LBC: Your Highness, your wife is directly named Begum or do you have to name her yourself?

AK: She automatically gets the title… It is an honoured title, if you will, of a woman of high rank. Voilà!

LBC: Is she veiled?

AK: No, she is not veiled.

LBC: Are you concerned by politics in general?

AK: I am not a political personality but politics do influence all the countries where there is an Ismaili community, it influences international organisations and international financial systems, it influences the priorities of the Western countries and the developing countries so the answer is indirectly yes, but not directly.

LBC: More precisely, Middle East? Do you have clear positions concerning the Israeli-Arab conflict, concerning Jerusalem?

AK: No, It is not an everyday question in my life because I am not involved there, I am much more engaged in Afghanistan, because there is an Ismaili community which lives there and in all neighbouring countries. Well, for the situation in Middle East, I…

LBC: There isn't in Palestine?

AK: No.

LBC: No? Not at all?

AK: No, No. Well, I have been a student of history, I have read the Balfour Declaration, I have read the Sykes-Picot Agreement when I was student, and it had just been released, so if you will, I know history. And it is terrible. It is terrible. But we have a terrible historical heritage that we have to resolve. We have to resolve it. And I think that this situation in the Middle East shows a fundamental problem that is: if you leave a situation to degrade, decade after decade, it ends up becoming a global problem. And now, we should find a solution. This situation has lasted much too long, much too long.

LBC: Do you have a precise idea of peace, how do you see it? Jerusalem, for you, does it represent for you, for example, a special city for Islam?

AK: But of course, it cannot be otherwise. To tell you that I have a precise vision of the legal status of Jerusalem, no, I do not have a precise vision. If you are to ask me: do I have a vision of what has to be the next step in Afghanistan, I would tell you yes, you understand, because I am directly involved.

LBC: But in the Middle East, no?

AK: Not directly.

LBC: Even though there is an Ismaili community in Syria?

AK: In Syria, we are involved by the Syrian position because each community is part of the national psyche, you understand.

LBC: So we will talk of Afghanistan. But first, how do you define Jihad?

AK: But how do you see the Jihad, what is the definition that you want to give yourself of Jihad?

LBC: Holy War, what is called holy war since history, and the present interpretation, of course?

AK: To begin with, I think that there are several interpretations today. I do not think that there is in the Muslim World only one definition of Jihad. The word is used too frequently, and in too many fields. But the Jihad is before anything else, a personal discipline. To begin, it is the search for personal improvement, which means that it is a personal effort in life. That's one definition. Another definition is the war against non-believers. Well, another definition. Third definition, it is war against those who attack a Muslim community, those who victimise a Muslim community. Another definition. So if you want, in the notion of Jihad, I think we have to be very careful not to give to this word a unique interpretation. Let's say this word is used in various situations in our world, today.

LBC: Who are the non-believers for you?

AK: If I go back in time, a long time ago, I think we have to say that the "People of the Book" are the monotheists. That's the basic definition. Well, today I think in Islam we should admit that in social life, we are obliged, and we have to accept the notion of a larger responsibility. That's the one in my interpretation. And I believe it to be true. I would say even more than that, that in Muslim history, when this type of circumstances has occurred, the Islamic period has often been the most beautiful. This is very strange, it's a phenomenon of history but it is a reality.

LBC: Yes, (but) it has been most beautiful for the Muslims, no?

AK: But of course, that's what I said. Because it is the humanism of Islam, which allowed us to build a society, where everyone was happy to live in that society. Isn't this the wish that we should have?

LBC: When you say "non-believers", you talk of the "People of the Book" or the monotheist. Well, there has been a Jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet Regime, that is against communism, thus against "non-believers". So you interpret that Jihad as a good Jihad in the interest of Muslims?

AK: The Jihad in Afghanistan? Listen, certainly I could not have been in favour of an invasion be it in Afghanistan or elsewhere. You see? The notion of invasion is, for me, an un-acceptable notion. In retrospect, if you ask the Russians today, they will tell you "We should have never done it". By opposition, when you talk to me of a Jihad between Muslims, I have a lot of difficulties accepting that, a lot!

LBC: Well, and now that there will be an American invasion of Afghanistan, how would you see all this?

AK: It is already in place. It is already in place!

LBC: Yes, so what do you think of it?

AK: I think that unfortunately, the civilised world has not been able to change the social, ethical, human norms that the Taliban movement tried to impose on Afghanistan. And here I want to be clear: everyone who tried to change this, Muslim and non-Muslim, they all failed. We cannot say that it is a unilateral failure of a Muslim World or of a Christian World. It is the civilised world, as I understand, which did not succeed in changing that situation. Today, one has to ask this question: "What do we wish for Afghanistan?" One has to ask what this conflict situation will bear. And that is where I have engaged myself, and I engage myself everyday, to try to contribute to the visualisation of a pacified, pluralist, modern and stable Afghanistan and where the original demographics, the demography preceding the conflict, can be re-established. And there are four million refugees that have to be repatriated. So if you want, the problem that I ponder is that the military situation is there, but the most important point is how do we rebuild Afghanistan? If we had to go through that tragedy, and come to that situation where the Afghan population are presently, what can we wish? What can we pray for, for this population? And that is where I think, if you want, that the Ummah can come to a consensus and should contribute to that visualisation.

LBC: So you are rather optimistic?

AK: Ah no!

LBC: You say that it is possible. Me, I think that the whole problem is that we are not able to put a government to replace the Taliban. I think that, that is the problem of the United States that is the problem of Pakistan, of Iran and of everyone.

AK: Listen, I think we should look further. I am not optimistic because I don't like war. But we there are. I am optimistic in the vision of what can be put into effect in Afghanistan because I am convinced that we can come to a consensus of vision for the large majority of Afghans and the neighbouring countries. I am profoundly convinced. I think further that that vision of consensus should be supported vigorously, but vigorously, for the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Morally it is intolerable that the Afghans continue to live like this for more decades, that's not possible!

LBC: "To live like this", that means under the Taliban regime?

AK: No, in civil war! From the Russian invasion, to the internal war situation, until the position of the Taliban, you see, the Afghans have been living in conflict for years.

LBC: Yes, you visited the Northern Alliance, two years ago. Was that a political position?

AK: No, it was a geographical position. [Smiled] I will tell you why: Because the Tajikistan area in the North is massively Ismaili. The area immediately in the South is massively Ismaili. So if you take the Gorno-Badakshan, which is the area East of Tajikistan, and you take the Afghan Badakshan, it is a common ethnic that speaks the same language with a large majority of Ismailis - and one had to find a way to stabilise that area which was a high-risk area, not only because of civil war, but also because of the fact that they live in a terribly difficult environment: six months of winter, no important economy, a completely dying agriculture. In 1982, we were facing famine in Tajikistan. And national infrastructure was destroyed. To feed the Tajiks of the East, one had to bring food from Kirgystan, from Kirgystan by road to the East of Tajikistan, all this because it was not even possible to communicate inside the country. Well, this was the situation even before the arrival of the Taliban. The Taliban are a quite recent phenomena. You understand? So I had a policy, if you will, regional, which consisted of studying the problem in the North-West of Pakistan with a large Ismaili concentration, East of Tajikistan, North-East of Afghanistan, the whole area. Mountains dominate that area. So they face the same problem of agriculture, same problem of survival, same problem of insufficient human capacity, same phenomena of isolation, so if you will, there the borders have no significance. It is one entity. Well, it so happened that since, of course the Taliban arrived and started treating all Shias as if they were heretics and all Shias reacted. Voilà!

LBC: So they left. What is the situation of the Ismailis presently in Kabul or in the regions under Taliban regime?

AK: Oh well! Like all Shias, we step back, step back, and step back. It happened that the Taliban never conquered two provinces; the Panshir and Badakshan. Voilà! But I have a large refugees population in Pakistan, I have refugees in Iran, in Tajikistan and therefore, if you will, the Ismailis of Afghanistan are among the refugee communities but they did not all leave. Let's not be mistaken.

LBC: Do you agree with the Western World and particularly the United States that one has to finish the Taliban?

AK: Listen, it is difficult to see any other solution. That is my problem. I don't see another solution. Honestly, I don't think that there is. And I will tell you why: One has looked at this question for such a long time now. Everyone has looked at it, not only me, the Arab League and others have also looked at it. I am not naming all of them, but everyone has looked at it. I think the fundamental question is really the question of the future of Afghanistan. One has to ask the question to the Muslim World "What is your visualisation, your wish of the future of Afghanistan?" And I think that if this question is asked from the Muslim World, it will say "We wish a country different from what the Taliban have tried to impose." Voilà!

LBC: Yes, but one has not yet asked that question to the Muslim World, maybe?

AK: How can we?

LBC: There are surely many ways. No?

AK: I would tell you, that's going too fast. Even up to six month ago, I have asked that question. I have asked that question to many state leaders, leaders from the government, from the Muslim World, from Central Asia, from Western Europe. Do you know what was the answer? None! There was no answer.

LBC: A question mark?

AK: I haven't heard from anyone, whosoever….

LBC: Even Iran?

AK: Iran itself, they had a hard time articulating their philosophy on an ever-changing Afghan situation. Well, today it is much easier.

LBC: Do you think that the United States has other goals than the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, in Central Asia? Is there another dimension in the war against terrorism?

AK: I would hope not. And I think there is a consensus around this vision of the future of Afghanistan. And that consensus has been built with Russia, and the other neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, and I think today the debate is "What will be the government that will follow?" Secondly, it is "what is the reconstruction programme?" And my preoccupation is the reconstruction programme, because, and I mentioned it in the interview of Le Monde, hours count. There are people that are dying of hunger. Therefore we do not have the right to wait in time, for a more or less vague shaping of the future of Afghanistan. We do not have the right to do this.

LBC: You have always had very close relations with the White House; because I know the Aga Khans, since Kennedy, have always been well received at the White House, does this persist with President Bush?

AK: It persists in the sense that I completed my university studies in the United States, so I have obviously been educated with people who have now important roles in the United States but it is not at all a privileged country in my life. I would say that Europe, in the future of the Ismaili community, is as much important as the United States, or I would say, North America. For different reasons: I give you one example: Canada. Canada for us is a country of great, great importance. Why? Because, Canada has been able to build a pluralistic society, in a modern economy, well, Voilà!

LBC: The United States, no?

AK: A lot less.

LBC: A lot less?

AK: A lot less!

LBC: That means that you have contacted President Bush since September 11?

AK: Let's say there have been contacts, I don't want to say with whom or how, but there have been contacts with all the states which are concerned by Afghanistan because they know we have an important Ismaili community in Afghanistan, they know we have a network of humanitarian organisations, they know we have development networks in Pakistan, in Tajikistan, therefore we are able to, I hope, contribute in a significant manner to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. So, by the facts of life, we are amongst those who will have to contribute and we wish to do so.

LBC: So, if there is, for example, a conference, a reflection on the future of Afghanistan, you will apparently be approached?

AK: I see it in a different perspective: What I want first is to hear what the Afghans themselves are saying, province-by-province. I cannot design a programme, for anyone, without first listening. And you can imagine that in a province where there is an agricultural production, which will be destroyed, that is drugs, and other provinces in the high mountains or provinces dominated by an important city, the reconstruction programme will be different. So one has to have the intellectual humility to go and hear, to listen on how these people express themselves in each province. And it is from there that we will build, I think, a common programme. Then we'll have to divide between us, all those who want to work together, to say "I am taking care of this and that activity or I take partners for this or that activity" and let's rebuild the country.

LBC: Are you in contact presently with UNO, which is, with Lakhdar Brahimi who is the special delegate for the region, are you in contact with the Northern Alliance, the King…

AK: Listen, I am replying to you: Honestly, I am in contact with all those who should be concerned by Afghanistan. All! And that has been since a long time.

LBC: You are received in the Western World as the Supreme head of the Ismailis or as a Prince?

AK: Oh, that, I cannot put myself in the head of the people that receive me [smile, laughter]... euh... I don't know how to reply to this. No, I think each country reacts in a different manner. C'est la vie!

LBC: Your Highness, at the end of this conversation, if we want to summarise your entire mission on earth, how can you say it in two words? First, are you preaching your religion where you are? Or you do not have a precise goal concerning that religious mission?

AK: But of course!

LBC: You do preach it…

AK: Of course, I do. Not only in the Ismaili community but also with others. We have continuous discussions with various religions, other political, academic personalities, of course, because the fundamental problem is the problem of ethics in the modern society. And this problem of ethics in the modern society is a problem of the whole world. And that is where, I think, I wish, I will be able to contribute to the reflection of that question.

LBC: And what is your main project in life, in your opinion?

AK: I would say there are several. Well, obviously I wish that the Ismaili community lived in peace and with an acceptable quality of life. I wish that the institutions renewed themselves. I have the greatest respect for time and I think that we should anticipate it if we can, and build before time, because otherwise we are shortchanged. I wish that there were a real, living ethical base, not only a discussed one, but a living one in the modern society, because otherwise, be it a Muslim society or a Christian society whatever, I see a society without direction. And that worries me. So these are the questions that I ask myself.

Audio for Interview of H.H. The Aga Khan-2001-11-08

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