Commentary: Sri Lanka-Pakistan Relations: Visit of Gen. Bajwa
Akash Sahu, Young Professional, VIF

Pakistan has been traditionally working on enhancing mutual cooperation and strengthening of bilateral relationship, especially focusing on defense ties, with Sri Lanka. On more than one occasion, Sri Lanka has expressed gratitude for Pakistan’s help during the long Eelam War, particularly with reference to the urgently needed supply of offensive weapons towards the end phase of the war.

With this end in view, recently, the Chief of Army staff of Pakistan, General Qamar Bajwa undertook a three-day official visit to Sri Lanka (January16-18, 2018) for enhancing friendship and trust between the two south Asian countries. The visit was at the invitation of his Sri Lankan counterpart, General Senanayake. His meetings with the host government’s military leadership included talks with the Sri Lankan Chief of Defense Staff Admiral Wijegunaratne at his office in Colombo on the Jan 16, during which issues of defense cooperation and training of the tri-services personnel came up for consideration. Gen. Bajwa also met the Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Ranasinghe and Commander of Air Force, Air Marshal Jayampathy at the Naval and Air Force Headquarters, respectively.

At the political side, General Bajwa called on the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe. They reportedly discussed matters of bilateral importance with special focus on South Asian region and its economic development. General Bajwa also called on President Sirisena on Jan 17 at the Presidential Secretariat; he recalled the visit of Sri Lankan cricket team to Pakistan when it was a relatively hostile environment, while the President recalled the friendship between two countries and expressed his gratitude for Pakistan’s help during the war.

According to an earlier report in Colombo Page, the High Commissioner of Pakistan in Sri Lanka, Dr. Hashmat had also called on President Sirisena on Jan 4, and informed him that an expert’s team would soon be visiting from Pakistan to examine feasibility of a setting up a dairy farm at Poollanaruwa. The President expressed gratitude to the Prime Minister of Pakistan for helping Sri Lanka with prompt supply of fertilizers recently to tide over a shortage. The High Commissioner also updated the President on the progress in other Pak-funded development projects through the High Commission along with those under the line of credit of $200 million provided by Pakistan.

Regular High Level Exchanges

Sri Lanka and Pakistan have maintained a warm relationship through regular high level exchanges. Some of the notable one’s among these are: high powered defense delegation from Pakistan in 2012 to kick-start first formal level talks between the two countries wherein they focused on experience sharing; visit of a four member naval delegation from Pakistan in 2013 to deepen maritime ties and address the challenges faced by defense training institutes in Sri Lanka.

At the political level, President Sirisena went to Pakistan on a state visit (April, 5-7, 2015). Discussions covered a wide range of issues of mutual interest to enhance bilateral cooperation and build greater understanding between the two countries. The Sri Lankan side thanked Pakistan for the housing aid provided for relief in the war torn areas. The high level of cooperation in education was highlighted and Pakistan offered assistance of National Database and Registration Authority to revise the identity card system of Sri Lanka. President Sirisena invited Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to commence flights between the two countries to facilitate in transportation of persons and goods. Six agreements and instruments were initialed including on cooperation between atomic energy and anti-narcotics agencies of both countries. Engagement on disaster management and between Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC) and Ceylon Shipping Corporation Ltd (CSCL) were also agreed upon.

Srirsena’s visit was followed by a two-day visit (Jan 6-7, 2016) of the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif. The Sri Lankan side thanked Nawaz Sharif for development assistance and support at the UN Human Rights Council. The discussions also covered cooperation in the field of education, defense, shipping and tourism. Both sides agreed to raise the target of bilateral trade and business to US $1 billion and to set up a Joint Working Committee to look into issues that pose a hurdle for greater engagement in business relations. Both countries have a Free Trade Agreement in place since 2005. Setting up of different economic, industrial and technological zones all over the island and Megapolis development plan was also a point of talks between the premiers for which investors from Pakistan will be invited. The visiting PM committed Pakistan’s investment in various sectors of Sri Lanka’s economy like sugar, cement, automobiles, pharmaceutical and infrastructure development. He also spoke of mega projects in Pakistan facing severe power shortage where Sri Lanka can help with its expertise.

The leaders cherished the historical and cultural linkages between two countries and sought to increase the interaction in sports, tourism and arts. Sri Lanka signed eight bilateral agreements with Pakistan on health, science & technology, culture, gem & jewelry, trade, terrorism financing, money laundering and statistics. Memorandum of Understanding were signed on several areas to constitute joint venture on fishing, power generation, trade and investment etc. Areas of youth and skill development, exchange of census data and financial intelligence were also covered.

Trade and Cultural Cooperation

President Sirisena inaugurated the third edition of Pakistan single country exhibition in Sri Lanka (26 Jan, 2018) in the presence of Minister for Commerce of Pakistan, Pervaiz Malik and the High Commissioner of Pakistan in Sri Lanka. The Minister stated that Sri Lanka was one of the top focus countries in trade for Pakistan and added that the exhibition would be vital in increasing the business to business contact and promote Sri Lanka-Pakistan business interests. The exhibition was organised by Trade Development Authority of Pakistan and featured several leading Pakistani companies in engineering, auto parts, agro products, textile and clothing, handicraft, pharmaceuticals, furniture and services.

A 15 member delegation of Sri Lankan Buddhist monks participated in the Vesak ceremony, also called Buddha Purnima, in Islamabad in June, 2016. The delegation was led by Daya Gamage who appreciated the efforts of Pakistani Government in preservation of the ancient Buddhist sites in the region. They visited a monastic complex called Takht-i-Bhai in Mardan district of Pakistan, an urban settlement of Gandhara civilisation discovered in 1836. It has been designated a world UNESCO heritage site. It may be mentioned here that in almost all high level exchanges between the two counties, religious, diplomacy, mutual respect and linkages of Islam and Buddhism have been a common denominator.

Analysts believe that Sri Lanka-Pakistan relations are likely to get further boost in the coming months and years with the Chinese providing Pakistan the required platform to piggy-back on its growing interests in the region. India of course would have to keep a close watch on these developments.

Sources:

• Press releases, News, The High Commission of Pakistan in Sri Lanka.
• Colombo Page, Pakistan expert’s team to visit Sri Lanka to explore possibility of establishing a dairy farm in Polonnaruwa; 5th January, 2018.
• Media releases, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka.
• The Daily Mirror, Lankan delegation visits Pakistan to promote religious and cultural tourism; 9th June, 2016.
• Daily News, Pakistani General Praises Lanka’s achievements; 19th January, 2018.
• News first, Pakistan Chief of Army meets President Maithripala Sirisena, Keshala Dias, 18th January, 2018.

(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)


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