(MENAFN – NewsIn.Asia) By PKBalachandran
Colombo, February 25: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s two-day visit to Sri Lanka, which ended on Wednesday, has boosted Pakistan-Sri Lankan ties. In addition to traditional defense and security relations, which will be enhanced, they can gain a strong economic base, and Pakistan can become a factor in the politics of Lankan Muslims.
Imran’s intercession in the matter of burying the body of COVID-19, could result in the government lifting the ban, thus closing the curtain of the bitter conflict between the State and Muslims, where burying him is a mandated Islamic practice.
It is clear that from now on, Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations will have a large trade and investment component as the two countries have pledged to increase two-way trade from the current US $ 460 million to US $ 1 billion. For the first time ever, Sri Lanka was invited to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to reach out to emerging markets in Central Asia.
The Chinese factor in the matter was evident when Imran called CPEC the ‘flagship of the Belt and Road Initiative’, President Xi Jinping’s pet scheme with global reach.
Of course, security will remain a key element in relationships as in the past. But it will also be increased by Pakistan’s credit limit of US $ 50 million for Sri Lankan defense projects. The two sides have agreed to cooperate in dealing with a common enemy – terrorism and religious extremism. As of April 2019, ISIS-inspired suicide bombers in Lanka killed 277 innocent people, and Pakistan has so far lost 70,000 lives in terrorist attacks carried out by Islamist fanatics.
Joint Communique “emphasizes the need for stronger partnerships to support and coordinate in dealing with matters relating to security, terrorism, organized crime and drug and narcotics trafficking and intelligence sharing.”
Regarding the burial of Muslims who died from COVID-19, Imran has informed a group of Muslim parliamentarians who met him before his departure that he had discussed the matter with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and had secured a ‘positive response’.
Significantly, there is an oblique reference to this in the Joint Communique which says: “The two sides underline the importance of interreligious dialogue and harmony as the key to promoting cultural diversity, peaceful coexistence and mutual empathy.”
Media reports said that on Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa told Buddhist monks that there was pressure from various parties to drop the burial ban and that the monks said that if technical experts agreed to allow burials, they would not object.
Given the urgent need for Pakistan and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to face a resolution against Sri Lanka in March, it is necessary to accommodate Muslim requests. The OIC has actually asked for the lifting of the ban. Reports indicate that the ban will soon be lifted.
New Building Block
Imran was able to reiterate, for Pakistan, the goodwill of the Rajapaksas regime. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa described Pakistan as a ‘close and true friend’. And Imran Khan, on his part, announced a credit limit of US $ 50 million for Sri Lankan defense projects. He provided a grant of US $ 327,916 (PKR 52 million) for a modern sports facility in Sri Lanka which is named the ‘Imran Khan High Performance Sports Center’.
Other prizes are: 100 scholarships for undergraduate medical students; sponsored the Asian Civilization and Culture Center at Peradeniya University in Kandy, Sri Lanka’s cultural capital and a push to use the ‘Buddhist Path’ that Pakistan will install to attract Buddhist pilgrims to ancient Buddhist sites in the Gandhara region now called Khyber Pakhtunkwa. This will enable Pakistan to demonstrate its accomplishments in saving these monuments and idols from religious fanatics and idol thieves and win praise from Buddhists in Sri Lanka and other Buddhist countries.
Sell CPEC and BRI
Significantly, Imran invited Sri Lanka to take advantage of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that runs through the country from the Karakoram range in the North to the Arabian Sea in the South. He described CPEC as the ‘flagship project’ of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Sri Lanka has a port, airport and an upcoming Port City of Colombo which China considers part of the BRI, although the Sri Lankan government has not described it as such.
But Sri Lanka tends to be interested in BRI even though it has not officially joined. Secretary of Foreign Affairs Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombo recently said that BRI provides Sri Lanka with the opportunity to develop its international trade and secure foreign direct investment.
CPEC can also play a role in realizing the Lanka-Pakistan common goal of taking bilateral trade from a current low of US $ 460 million to US $ 1 billion.
During Imran’s visit, an MoU was signed on tourism promotion and cooperation between the Sri Lanka Investment Agency and the Pakistan Investment Agency. Another MoU considers cooperation between the Sri Lanka Institute of Industrial Technology (ITI) and the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences, Karachi University, Pakistan. The collaboration between the Industrial Technology Institute of Sri Lanka and COMSATS University Islamabad is another material for the MoU. The University of Colombo and the Lahore School of Economics have agreed to work together.
Another significant outcome was: the decision to forge a relationship between the parliamentarians of the two countries who are lawmakers and opinion makers. Decisions to set up intergovernmental consultation mechanisms are also frequently taken.
The two sides noted the close cooperation between them in regional and international forums on issues of common interest, and agreed to further strengthen a coordinated approach to these issues.
The Prime Minister of Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa thanked the government and the people of Pakistan for the continued support given by Pakistan to safeguard Sri Lanka’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Such support has significance now in the context of Sri Lanka’s possibility of confronting the UNHRC, a hostile resolution to its alleged failure to atone for “war crimes” in its fight against Tamil Tiger terrorism.
However, Imran had one disappointment during his trip – the Lankan government backed out of commitments to allow him to speak in parliament. He was denied the chance to become the third Pakistani official to speak in the Lankan parliament after General Ayub Khan in 1963 and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1975.
After learning of the fact that his plans to speak in parliament were thwarted because the Lankan government feared he would raise the Kashmir issue (the hobby horse of Pakistani politicians) and raise the issue of hackles in New Delhi, Imran chose not to embarrass his host. by insisting that the item is on the agenda.
Kashmir Issue Raised
Imran did mention Kashmir at the trade and investment conference in Colombo. Kashmir is the only dispute between India and Pakistan, he said, adding that it could only be resolved through dialogue, GEO Pakistan news reported.
Imran said he offered the Indian government a chance to hold peace talks with Pakistan once elected but nothing came of it. “We want to resolve all disputes in the subcontinent through dialogue.”
Officially, his speech in parliament was canceled ostensibly because the Chairman had written to the government saying that, in light of the COVID 19 pandemic, he may not be able to ensure the full presence of MPs. But only a few take this excuse seriously.
CPEC Pakistan BRI Cultural Diplomacy Sri Lanka Trade Religion