Pakistan-Sri Lanka ties
PAKISTAN’S Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Sri Lanka early this year at the invitation of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The tour has created tension in the subcontinent even before the tour.
Khan’s visit took on a new dimension as India’s relations with Sri Lanka deteriorated after the recent cancellation of an agreement with India to build a container terminal at the port of Colombo.
Sri Lanka had signed an agreement with India and Japan to set up a terminal on the eastern edge of the Colombo port in 2019.
Anandabazar Newspaper opined that Sri Lanka’s decision was a diplomatic blow to Delhi.Imran Khan’s visit has given more importance to informal and ancillary issues than formal agreements and has played a significant role in the politics of the subcontinent.
For example, Mr. Khan’s visit ended the cremation of Muslims in Sri Lanka in the Covid epidemic, and the ceremony began with the recitation of the Qur’an at the airport, a rare event in Sri Lankan history, Providing special tourism facilities for Buddhists to visit Buddhist sites in Pakistan, Pakistan’s support for Sri Lankan membership in the UN human rights body, initiation of Muslim-Buddhist harmony, import-export of new products, expansion of Sri Lankan tea market in Pakistan, Sri Lanka trade with Pakistan through Central Asia. The creation and expansion of the sporting goods market is the fruit of this visit.
The re-establishment of the coexistence and sympathy of Muslim and Sinhalese Buddhists instead of the anti-Muslim activities that have plagued social life over the long-running Easter Sunday incident.
The image of the Prime Ministers of the two countries has been brightened and elevated as a result of this visit.
Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also tried his best to maintain good relations with Sri Lanka and join the Quad.
In particular, when China began leasing the port of Hambantota to Sri Lanka for 99 years, India embarked on a similar project; Japan also joined with new technology.
Imran Khan’s visit has changed the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean in the context of the Sri Lankan tug of war between China and QUAD.
The day after Imran Khan’s return at the end of the tour, on 25 February 2021, almost 11 months later, the Sri Lankan government issued an emergency gazette repealing the provision of mandatory cremation.
This is benefiting to both the Muslim and Christian minority communities. No one from the world body, including the OIC, the Arab League or any Human Rights Commission, has been able to address this issue outside of Islamic faith and Sharia.
During Mr Imran’s visit, the two states signed five agreements such as:
(1). Cooperation in the tourism sector;
(2). Increased relations and cooperation between the investment boards of both countries;
(3). Relations and collaboration of the International Centre for Chemical and Biology in Karachi in Pakistan with the Industrial Technology Institute of Sri Lanka;
(4). Relations and cooperation between the Industrial Institute of Industrial Technology of Sri Lanka and A university in Islamabad and
(5). Agreement on the relationship of the Lahore School of Economics with the University of Colombo.
On 24 February, Imran Khan invited the Sri Lankan business community to speak openly. He spoke of investing in Pakistan and increasing trade connectivity.
In particular, he announced Pakistan’s full cooperation in expanding Sri Lanka’s trade with Central Asian countries.
He said the connection from Gwadar to Central Asian countries and the CEPC could open new doors for Sri Lanka.
It will play a helpful role in alleviating poverty. The tourism sector in Sri Lanka and Pakistan is very rich and needs to be utilized. Pakistan and Sri-Lanka can work together to counter terrorism. He mentioned, “There are many historical sites of Buddhists in Pakistan.
Buddhists in Sri Lanka can visit them. Earlier, Pakistan created Kartarpur Gurudwara for the Sikhs and the world was happy over the decision.
Towards the end of his visit, Imran Khan announced a 50 million ‘military credit facility’ to Sri Lanka. It may be noted that Pakistan’s military relations with Sri Lanka are old.
After independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistan established good relations with Sri Lanka. Pakistan can play an important role if there is a China-Sri Lanka-Pakistan alliance bypassing the QUAD.
So, this tour was Imran Khan’s tactical and successful tour. One crop of political victory. Pakistan provided assistance to Sri Lankan militarily in Sri Lanka’s civil war.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has used ‘sports diplomacy’ in his visit. He has spoken in interactive sessions with the sports community.
Sri Lanka announced the construction of ‘Imran Khan High Performance Sports Centre’ in Colombo.
Mr Khan has announced a 52 million US dollars sports equipment and training package for Sri Lanka.
It is worth mentioning here that Sialkot in Pakistan produces high quality sports goods in the subcontinent which is also appreciated in the world market.
The two countries also pledged to work together on security, terrorism and organized crime, as well as drug trafficking. That is why the two countries are accelerating the exchange of intelligence.
At a time when Sri Lanka is under international pressure over human rights, class discrimination, war crimes, Pakistan’s support in the international arena or China’s support is very important. This tie can be a game changer in the entire South Asian Region.
—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.