A page on Aga Khan from a reporter's diary

Dec 26 - Jan 01, 2006

With the expanding horizons, role and above all abiding personal interest of HRH Prince Karim Aga Khan in Pakistan over the years a peep into the history of the charismatic Ismaili leader is in order.

Prince Karim was barely out of teens when his late grandfather surprised everyone by choosing him as his worthy successor way back. In this choice he had even bypassed his oldest son (and Karim's legendary father), Prince Aly Khan, who in his capacity as Pakistan's UN Rep and his known acumen had been considered a likely choice, or his uncle Prince Sadaruddin, again with worldwide repute as an astute diplomat and businessman. But how farsighted was late Aga Khan has since been amply proved by subsequent history and the sound track record of Prince Karim with his deft and most enviable handling of burgeoning affairs of his community across the globe, notably in Europe, Africa, Asia and North America.

It is with a tinge of nostalgia, fondness, excitement and sense of history that I recall the first visit of the then young and debonair Prince Karim Aga Khan to Pakistan in early 1961. Especially when I became part of his entourage during his historic and most memorable visit to the Northern Areas. A PIA aircraft was specially chartered for the visiting dignitary whose popularity graphs among not only his expanding community but also even among common people was at a feverish pitch.

The Government of Pakistan, with Ayub Khan at the helm, too was keen to make it a big success. A DC-3 (Dakota) of PIA was readied, which flew Prince Karim from Chaklala to Risalpur, Peshawar and later to Gilgit on his epoch making first visit of Hunza Valley. The legendary Mir of Hunza Mir Jamal, his brother Prince Aish in their colourful traditional robes and in toe along with all the fairytale customs, fanfare of the then highly restricted and fabled valley made it a world story. The opening up of Gilgit, Hunza, construction of KKH and other modern developments are all of later period and were unthinkable at that early stage.

Being with PIA Public Relations, I had along with Haseeb Ahsan, then a PIA colleague, joined the entourage along with the crew, which was led by another legendary pilot Capt. Ghani Khan, who commanded those workhorse Dakota in the difficult Northern Areas with such consummate skill. Capt. Ghani who went on to become a celebrated Jumbo Commander, has since retired and lives happily his retirement years in Mardan, where he belonged.

It was such exhilarating experience to look at the young Prince Karim Aga Khan, in his relaxed mood and shy disposition. And the great fuss being made by late Mir of Hunza, to see that Aga Khan was accorded a right royal treatment in every way. Present Mir of Hunza Ghazanfar, was a tiny toddler in the lap of Rani Sahiba, his mother who belonged to the ruling family of neighboring valley of Nagar. He may surely have some vague but sure recollection of the event, which then made waves the world over.

I distinctly remembered the great reception, the overwhelmingly enthusiasm of the followers at each stopover, Risalpur, Peshawar and Gilgit and back at Chaklala. Nearly half a century ago many things have changed, including the face of Gilgit and Hunza and those Dakotas - now consigned to a museum. But the impact of that visit was unmistakably there. The whole of Northern Areas has a large and distinct presence of Aga Khan through his many highly visible projects especially in the health, education, tourism and other commercial sectors. All over Pakistan not only Prince Karim through his direct investment or through some central organizations but also with his community help have set up projects which have played stellar role in the uplift of country's economy. Look for example Aga Khan Medical University and Hospital, Aga Khan Foundation, chain of Serena Hotels, and some leading chain of hotels by his followers, and other ventures in hospitality and travel related business, other sectors of commerce which speak of this expanding role and confidence of Aga Khan and his community in the future of Pakistan as emerging nation in every sphere. However, looking at Aga Khan and his known areas of specialization, other than horse breeding and a leading horse owner, his various forays into communications (newspaper and multimedia), aviation and resorts the likely developing of a ski-resort in the North, have somehow never materialized. Whatever, the reason, there is always chance to make good on a good opportunity if there exists one, like those unfulfilled dreams of Prince Karim Aga Khan in Pakistan.


The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has been heavily engaged in providing humanitarian relief and support, working in close partnership with the Pakistan government, UN organizations, bilateral and multilateral agencies, involving more than 1,000 staff and volunteers.

In addition, on October 10, 2005, His Highness the Aga Khan announced that the AKDN is making an initial contribution of Rs. 30 million (US $500,000) in support of the relief assistance being provided by the government which was matched by Habib Bank Limited, owned by the Aga Khan, with a further Rs. 30 million (US $500,000) donation towards the President's Emergency Relief Fund.

Focus Humanitarian Assistance, an AKDN affiliate, was among the first local agencies to deploy search and rescue teams alongside the British RAPID Force team initially at Margalla Towers, in Islamabad, and then to Muzaffarabad and surrounding areas. FOCUS has carried out evacuation and relief operations in more than a dozen locations in AJK and NWFP, including some of the most remote and difficult-to-access areas. Managed by the Aga Khan Foundation, 4 AKDN helicopters, two of which have been deployed to Pakistan from their base in Central Asia, have carried out more than 750 sorties, carrying more than 580 metric tons of relief and medical cargo for about 85,000 people, over 3,800 passengers (including villagers requiring evacuation and relocation, government officials, army personnel, aid workers, medical staff, and international diplomatic officials), and more than 1,100 casualties. They have delivered relief goods including 1,150 tents, and more than 16,500 blankets, and have evacuated more than 1,100 casualties from vulnerable locations.

The Aga Khan University, the Aga Khan University Hospital, and the Aga Khan Health Service, have provided emergency medical services, including specialized trauma surgery, mass vaccinations, and trauma counseling. Emergency training in basic nursing, life support, medical and psychiatric support has also been provided. More than 80 doctors, including physicians, surgeons, pediatricians, anesthesiologists, and other medical specialists are working in the disaster areas. Furthermore, 40 nurses, and teams of medical technicians, field officers, and medical students have been deployed in the disaster areas of AJK and NWFP to facilitate the relief work. Medical and surgical supplies continue to be provided and are regularly replenished.

For the earthquake appeal made by the Government of Pakistan, His Highness the Aga Khan, Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), has made a three-year $50-million commitment to support rehabilitation, socio-economic development, and earthquake-preparedness in areas of the North West Frontier Province and Azad Jammu and Kashmir affected by the 8 October shock. Prince Amyn Aga Khan, brother of His Highness, at the recent international donor conference, convened by the Government of Pakistan on November 19, 2005, made the announcement.

The AKDN committed to provide a combination of financial and technical support and will draw on the extensive expertise and experience of its agencies gained through decades of work with urban and rural communities in high-mountain, seismically sensitive areas in Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia. The commitment includes:

* Education in land planning, training in seismic-resistant construction, disaster preparedness, and the development of civil society expertise and capacities to improve planning for urban and rural communities, all to optimize the rebuilding of the habitat and to help mitigate the impact of future earthquakes.

* Community mobilization for rehabilitation and socio-economic development.

* Training, including in-service training, of health and education professionals to serve remote and isolated mountain communities.

* Technical advice and longer-term support for safer and more efficient aerial access to the affected region, including the improvement of the quality of air transport infrastructure, such as helicopter landing pads, approach guidance systems, refueling bases and maps.

* Continued support for access to the affected areas from AKDN's Pakistan-based helicopters, and others in the region as necessary, whose design specifically enables them to function effectively in high-mountain zones.

The AKDN will contribute the extensive experience it has gained in recent decades in the mountain zones of the Hindu Kush, Pamirs, and Tien Shan in Northern Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia. This includes lessons learned about such issues as the special needs of rural and urban planning in mountain habitats, the development of energy and water sanitation infrastructure and resources, seismic-resistant construction, as well as training and capacity building for disaster preparedness, particularly at the community level.