(MENAFN – NewsIn.Asia) PKBalachandran / Ceylon Today
Colombo, March 1: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s two-day visit to Sri Lanka, which ends on 24 February, adds a new dimension to Pakistan-Sri Lankan relations. So far reliant on the defense relationship established during Lanka’s borderless war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka-Pakistan relations are now poised to acquire an economic and even political dimension.
Imran Khan’s successful mediation of Lankan Muslims on the issue of COVID-19 burials has inadvertently created Pakistan’s role in solving the Muslim problem in Sri Lanka.
Sooner or later, Pakistan may join US-led India and the West in playing a role in Lanka’s communal politics. This stems from the inability of successive Lankan governments to resolve the country’s ethnic and religious issues through internal dialogue and effective action.
Imran had told a group of Muslim parliamentarians who met him briefly on Wednesday that he had discussed the matter with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and had received a “positive response” from them.
This is reflected in the Joint Communique. “The two sides underlined the importance of interfaith dialogue and harmony as the key to promoting cultural diversity, peaceful coexistence and mutual empathy,” the communique said.
Media reports said that, Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa told Buddhist monks that there was pressure from various parties to drop the burial ban. The monks replied that if the technical experts agreed to allow burial, they would have no objection.
The Minister of Health, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, later issued an extraordinary newspaper, which sanctioned burial of the COVID-19 dead (along with cremation) under strict conditions supervised by the State.
Given the urgent need for Pakistan and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to support the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to face a resolution against Sri Lanka in March, the government needs to accommodate Muslim demands. . The OIC has asked for the lifting of the ban.
But the downside is that Sri Lankan Muslims can start running to Pakistan, and to the OIC, to solve their problems with the Sri Lankan State just as Tamils run to India, the West and the UNHRC to solve their problems with the Lankans. Country.
But certainly, 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, Sri Lanka has been invited to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to reach out to emerging markets in Central Asia.
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 21, 2019 Easter Sunday, Muslim suicide bombers in Lanka inspired by the Islamic State (ISIS) have killed 277 innocent people, and Pakistan has so far lost 70,000 lives in terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic fanatics.
On this issue, the Joint Communique said that the two sides “emphasized the need for a stronger partnership to support and coordinate in dealing with matters related to security, terrorism, organized crime and drug and narcotics trafficking and intelligence sharing.”
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; sponsoring the Asian Civilization and Culture Center at Peradeniya University in Kandy, Sri Lanka’s cultural capital and encouragement for Sri Lankans 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 allow Pakistan to demonstrate Pakistan’s secular credentials despite being recognized as an Islamic state. It can demonstrate its accomplishments in saving these priceless monuments and idols from religious fanatics and idol thieves and winning praise from Buddhists in Sri Lanka and other East Asian countries.
Selling CPEC and BRI
Significantly, Imran invited Sri Lanka to take advantage of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which runs through China 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 that China considers part of the BRI, although the Sri Lankan government has not described them as such. But Sri Lanka tends to be interested in BRI even though it hasn’t officially joined. Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombo recently told Xinhua that BRI is providing Sri Lanka with an opportunity to develop its international trade and secure foreign direct investment.
CPEC can also play a role in realizing the joint Lanka-Pakistan goal of bringing 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. Cooperation between the Industrial Technology Institute of Sri Lanka and COMSATS University Islamabad is the subject of another 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 mechanisms for frequent intergovernmental consultations are also 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 people of Pakistan for the continued support provided 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 in a trip that was otherwise very fruitful: the Lankan government has backed out of commitments to allow him to speak in parliament. Apparently, Colombo was afraid that he would talk about the Kashmir issue and step up hacks in New Delhi. Imran did not mention Kashmir in official talks but did refer to a trade and investment conference in Colombo.
He said that Kashmir is the only problem between Pakistan and India. After becoming Prime Minister, he had offered India the opportunity to hold peace talks with Pakistan, but to no avail, he said. The only way to solve any problem is through dialogue, he added.
COVID 19 killed Defense Imran Khan Mahinda Rajapaksa Pakistani Muslim Sri Lankan trade