Monday June 17, 2024

A new dawn in Pak-Sri Lanka relations

December 06, 2010
The relations between Pakistan and Sri Lanka date back to the formative years of the two countries. The two countries laid the foundation of their friendship in 1948 when Sri Lankan Prime Minister DS Senanayake visited Pakistan. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have continued to maintain strong, robust and reliable relations through increased interaction at the highest political level and in the people-to-people domain. The bilateral relations between the two countries, under the overarching umbrella of Saarc, help promote a brighter and integrated future for all the people of South Asia.
The recent visit by president Asif Ali Zardari is a watershed in Pak-Sri Lanka relations. Zardari made it clear that with the continued commitment of the political leadership of Sri Lanka and with the dawn of people’s government in Pakistan, the people and the government of Pakistan stand with the government and people of Sri Lanka in their march towards a bright future, a future of progress and prosperity.
Zardari and Mahinda Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan president, agreed to expand mutual ties beyond political, defence paradigm to ‘overall comprehensive engagement’, including trade, joint investments and cooperation in new areas. A number of agreements were signed between the two countries. Pakistan and Sri Lanka agreed on defeating terrorism in all its forms. The two presidents agreed on taking the existing level of Pak-Sri Lanka relations to new heights, encompassing a multi-sector engagement in addition to defence, which had been a major sector of collaboration between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the past.
Pakistan values its close relationship with Sri Lanka as both the countries have always stood by each other in turbulent times and share common views on regional security. Both the countries are facing existential threat from a hostile India. India has destabilized Sri Lanka by supporting Tamil Tigers. Thanks to Pakistan’s active support to the Sri Lankan government that the later has been able in defeating Tamil Tigers.
Zardari eulogised Sri Lankan government in defeating terrorism on its soil, and stressed the need for continued intensive cooperation to counter this menace.
On economic front Sri Lanka has welcomed Pakistan’s $200 million buyers facility and offered it to make the payment either on barter or in local currency, to ease pressure on their foreign exchange reserves. Zardari suggested that Pakistan and Sri Lanka should carry out barter trade in natural resources.
Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka have natural resources, which could be exchanged, without tying the trade to the dollar. Zardari called it a ‘win-win situation for both the countries’ while he was addressing Pak-Sri Lanka business forum in Colombo. He also suggested a system of bilateral trade, wherein capital could be repatriated, but not the profits. In this way, the profits earned by a Pakistani investor in Sri Lanka would be retained in Sri Lanka to be ploughed back into the business. This idea shows the commitment that a Pakistani investor is not a ‘fly-by-night’ operator and is committed to Sri Lanka on a long-term basis.
Zardari has urged the trade and investment officials of the two countries to meet soon in order to work out details of barter trade and profit retention. He said that the next ten years would be crucial for the development of Sri Lanka, which had successfully eliminated terrorism from its soil after a long struggle. This period is a lifeline and a long struggle lay ahead for Sri Lanka. Pakistan can help Sri Lanka in its recovery programme and the Pakistani president urged the business community to make use of this 10-year window of opportunity in Sri Lanka and contribute to its development for mutual benefit. Sri Lanka needs a lot of cement and steel and Pakistan has the potential to supply these items. Zardari stressed the need to firm up ties in the defence sector. During Sri Lanka’s civil war, Pakistan was the main supplier of military hardware to Colombo, second only to China. Personnel from the Lankan armed forces often get trained in Pakistan.
The volume of trade between Pakistan and Sri Lanka has increased in the last four years after the signing of the free trade agreement. Bilateral trade between the two countries has doubled within a short period of time from $150 million to $300 million during the last three years, which is a direct outcome of FTA. Pakistan is the second largest trading partner of Sri Lanka within the South Asian region. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have identified cement, sugar, dairy production, chemical plants, textiles, tourism and pharmaceuticals as potential areas of mutually beneficial collaborative projects in Sri Lanka.
Pakistan has offered scholarships to Sri Lankan students to pursue the subjects of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and engineering for the academic year 2010-11. The scholarships are granted under the Pakistan Technical Assistance Programme. It would enhance people-to-people contact.
In the past, Pakistan helped the Sri Lankan state for three reasons. First, increasing Pakistan’s ability to participate in South Asian politics and posing itself as a counter-balance to India. Second, increasing its nuisance value in the region. Third, fighting Tamil militant forces, which are considered a product of Indian intelligence agencies. Zardari has the vision to expand these ties beyond defence and political paradigms.
Pak-Sri Lanka ties can serve as a shining example of cooperation at the bilateral, regional and international level. As the business and trading communities of both the countries complement each other’s strengths, and as the two governments stand by each other in various bilateral and international fora, we rejoice in the fact that this has been a relationship of choice and not of compulsion. We take pride in the unconditional support and in diversification of the relationship that has manifested itself on a broad base. We take strength in our deep continued ties, of our 2,500 years of the Buddhist and Gandhara eras, and mutual respect on the basis of sovereign equality, and move to the future with a common and shared objective to faithfully and sincerely contribute to regional and global peace.
(The writer is the Advisor to the Chief Minister Sindh on Information & Archives and Secretary Information PPP Women Wing Sindh)