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Pakistan asked Sri Lanka for PM’s address to its parliament

February 19, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran’s maiden Sri Lanka visit will start on Feb 22, and the host country has released details of his two-day engagements in Colombo.

During the visit, he will meet Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and attend an investors' conference. Imran Khan’s speech at the Sri Lankan parliament had been included in PM's itinerary on the Pakistan government's request. However, an information coming from Colombo has also been confirmed in Islamabad that his address to the Sri Lankan parliament has been cancelled. Thus his name could not be included in Pakistani heads of governments who got an opportunity to speak to the Sri Lankan parliament. Earlier, General Muhammad Ayub Khan in 1963 and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1975 had addressed the Sri Lankan parliament. Since then, no Pakistani ruler got an opportunity to speak in the Sri Lankan parliament.

In 1962, Indian premier Jawaharlal Nehru and in 1985 British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher spoke in the Sri Lankan parliament. In 2015, India’s Narendra Modi was the last foreign prime minister who got the opportunity to speak in Sri Lankan parliament.

About cancellation of PM Imran Khan’s address to the parliament despite earlier approval, Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage told the media that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena had requested for cancellation on the pretext of COVID-19.

However, Kalsoom Quaiser Jilani, a press attaché at Pakistan’s High Commission in Colombo, did not give any details about the happening except for saying that the entire visit of PM Khan was arranged and scheduled by the Sri Lankan government. The Foreign Office did not issue any official statement in this regard. However, some circles believe Indian negative diplomacy played a role in cancellation of the address. Diplomatic circles say Prime Minister Imran Khan might have presented Pakistan’s viewpoint on the Kashmir issue, which would have invited the Indian ire for Sri Lanka, and to avoid it, the host country cancelled the address.

On the other hand, diplomatic circles say such a big change in the visit plan, which has been published in the foreign media, has been offensive for Pakistani authorities. Pakistan has been maintaining silence on the issue, raising questions that whether the development could have impacts on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit.