The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world's 15 million Ismaili Muslims and renowned philanthropist, spoke to The Globe and Mail Friday in a conversation that ranged from the prospects for Afghanistan to his profound admiration of Canadian pluralism.
On the day he received honorary Canadian citizenship, the Aga Khan urged the West to remain in Afghanistan for as long as necessary to achieve stability, and said he hoped Canada would continue to provide development aid after its military commitment expires in 2011. He offered one criticism of NATO's plan, however, saying efforts should be concentrated on professionalizing the Afghan police, rather than the Afghan army, where NATO has focused its training.
The Aga Khan, who traces his ancestry directly to the prophet Muhammad, is seen as one of the Muslim leaders most closely engaged with the West. His foundation carries out development work in areas such as education and health care in Africa and Central Asia.
The following is a full transcript of that conversation.
Globe and Mail editor-in-chief John Stackhouse: I interviewed you, if you'll recall, in 2002, and I was reading through the interview and thinking how the world has changed since 2002. That was when you made some very interesting comments about Canadian pluralism, and you referred to Canada as a model for the world. We wanted to start by asking how Canada, well the world, changed. The BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China]ountries are more influential. I don't think anyone knew the term "BRIC" in 2002. The world has different models, perhaps, than in 2002 and I'm curious how you see Canada's place in the world being different today than then and how the world has changed as well.
Well, I think one of the key issues is this question of the future, regionalism. I think we're seeing regionalism becoming a more and more international factor in the way countries relate to each other. I would give you the East African community as one example of countries that in the past were part of a colonial system. Not all five of them, one wasn't part of it. But today you have five African countries you'll see their national interest to enter into a constructive group, particularly economic and social, and they're working towards that. So I think that's one phenomenon we will see more and more of, and I think the European communities can be ... So I think we're seeing that as a phenomenon.
So one of the questions facing Canada is going to be: What is Canada's new position in relation to these wider groupings? You always had this intimate relationship with the United States, but I think that Canada has so many assets to offer - which it doesn't always recognize - that it will be welcome in a number of these constructs in one form or the other. So I think you have enormous international opportunity and it's really for you to take what you want to take.
Does Canada still have the same relevance, especially in areas like East Africa, as we had a decade ago?
I would say more than ever before. And the reason is that you are still today, in my view, the case study of a pluralist society. And if you look around the world, at least the world I work in, you can see how these stresses and strains are causing havoc today as they caused havoc ten years ago. Look at what's happening in Kyrgyzstan, look at what happened in Kenya, you see these issues coming out all the time, all the time. They're not going away. And I think that Canada still has a very, very important role in trying to, in a sense, show that this is always going to be a work in progress. There's not a definitive solution. It's always going to be a work in progress. But the methodologies that have been used in Canada to achieve the outcome I think are very, very important indeed. And I'm not seeing that happening in very many countries today.
I'm seeing on the contrary the division of communities: linguistic, religious, ethnic, tribal. And so in that sense, Canada remains a very important example. I think in the other area, relationship between what I would call the state economy, is another critical issue that Europe is trying to deal with that many developing countries are trying to deal with ... and finding the correct balance is, I think, something which is ahead of us. It's not solved. I don't think Europe has found the answers. I don't think south of Canada either has the answers. So that's another major state issue that all the countries that I'm working in are going to be working on. They have to come to grips with that.