Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan
Remarks by His Highness the Aga Khan
at the Inauguration of the Ishkashim Bridge
Ishkashim, Tajikistan, 31 October 2006
Vice President Khalili
Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am delighted to be present with you today as we inaugurate the Ishkashim Bridge.
It has always seemed to me that bridges are among the most powerful and important symbols in human society – symbols of connection, of cooperation and of harmony. When harmony breaks down and conflicts ensue, the destroying of bridges is usually among the most urgent targets. But when peace and healing come, then it is the construction and rehabilitation of bridges that marks our progress.
In the recent past, in this region, bridges have opened at Tem, Darwaz and Langar. Like them, the Ishkashim Bridge is a concrete expression of cooperation amongst the Governments of Tajikistan and Afghanistan and the Aga Khan Development Network. It symbolizes our common determination to help open up the region to new development and improved prosperity.
I would like, first of all, therefore, to express sincere gratitude, to the two national governments and to the local governments in both countries, for making a strong commitment to rehabilitate this Bridge, and for remaining steadfast in delivering on that commitment. Allow me also to express my deep appreciation to all the volunteers from the local communities who prepared these sites for today’s ceremony.
Each of the bridges I have mentioned has had a considerable moral and symbolic value, inspiring a spirit of confidence, progress and hope. But these projects also have a very concrete economic value, allowing for a substantial expansion of productive exchange. People in both countries are granted unprecedented access to markets beyond their immediate frontiers. Goods originating in Pakistan can now make their way to Tajikistan. Products from China now have a fast road transit to Afghanistan.
The Iskhashim Bridge is not only a transit point, however. It is also a meeting place. Like the other bridges, it is a place where people from more remote settlements can gather to trade in goods and services. A widening variety of peoples can have access here to a widening variety of products. The market site at Ishkashim will surely have a salutary impact on the surrounding populations, and we are deeply grateful to UNDP’s Border Management Program for Central Asia (the BOMCA) for building the market here as well as for their support to the border management posts at Tem and Darwaz.
The Aga Khan Development Network has contributed $ 1,700,000 to the four bridges at Tem, Darwaz, Langar and Ishkashim, but we would like to go further than this, as next year we hope to build new bridges at Vanj and Shurobad. Since the beginning of this exciting programme, over 2000 tons of wheat, 500 tons of milk and 160 tons of beans have crossed from one country to the other, significantly increasing food security. The local cost of tea has dropped by a third, and salt is now available in the remotest areas of Afghan Darwaz. Jeeps and hundreds of tons of cement, household goods and fabrics are significantly more available to the peoples either side of the Pyanj than ever before. Hundreds of sick people have crossed the river to seek medical support from the hospitals here at Ishkashim, and at Darwaz and Khorog, and for the first time vehicles of up to 30 tons will be able to cross from one country to the other.
Links and meeting places created by the bridges do more than simply facilitate commerce. We exchange questions and answers. We trade in products, but we can also trade in ideas. Communities on each side of the border will know one another better and be better able to help one another grow, prosper and share the lessons of life.
But let us not forget, as we celebrate this achievement, that these bridges bring with them a great responsibility. It is my hope and desire that what is carried across them – in whichever direction – is done for the purpose of creating happiness and health, wisdom and prosperity – in both the economic and the moral realms. Peoples who live on either side, and the authorities who govern them, together must assure security and regulatory enforcement, even as they work to facilitate safe passage – through an easier visa process.
It is my prayer today that the Ishkashim bridge will further join the peoples of this region and their neighbours, multiply the fruits of their labour, and bring harmony, stability and prosperity to all.