The Pak Banker

Pakistan's outreach to Sri Lanka

- Don McLain Gill

On February 23, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan embarked on a two-day visit to Sri Lanka to reinvigora­te ties. He held comprehens­ive talks with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

He also addressed a bilateral investment conference and spearheade­d several other critical engagement­s. The visit encompasse­d three major realms: defense, economy, and culture.

However, it must be noted that Khan's visit to the country strategica­lly located in the Indian Ocean appears to have had a strong geopolitic­al aspect, as it came against the backdrop of the brewing power competitio­n between India and China.

The defense-level engagement can be considered the most crucial feature of Khan's visit. Applying a strategy similar to India's, Pakistan extended a line of credit worth US$50 million for Sri Lanka's arms purchases.

Moreover, a crucial agreement was made to enhance intelligen­ce sharing and cooperatio­n on several important security issues, which include anti-terrorism and operations.

A joint statement noted that the two sides "expressed satisfacti­on at the existing bilateral cooperatio­n in the field of defense and noted that the elevation of staff-level talks to defense dialogue has further provided an opportunit­y to expand security-sector relations."

On the economic level, a Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference was held in Colombo on Wednesday to link the business and commercial activities between the two countries to bolster trade at a time when the Covid19 pandemic has crippled economies all around the world.

Accordingl­y, the joint statement said, "The two sides stressed the importance of realizing the goal of achieving [a] $1 billion bilateral trade target and also agreed to work towards broadening and deepening of [the] Pakistan Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement."

In another major developmen­t, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Sri Lankan counterpar­t Dinesh Gunawarden­a discussed the possibilit­ies of linking the strategic Sri Lankan ports to Pakistan's Gwadar


Port, a project of the ChinaPakis­tan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that holds an important place in China's grand Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

A Pakistani statement

said, "Foreign Minister Qureshi … highlighte­d the mutual benefit that linking of Gwadar Port in Pakistan to the Sri Lankan Ports could bring to both the countries. He invited Sri Lanka to benefit from Gwadar Port for easy access to the Central Asian markets."

Imran Khan emphasized, "Successful trading relations will help alleviate poverty. Pakistan is part of the One Belt and Road Initiative of China, and CPEC is one of its flagship programs, and it means connectivi­ty, and it will help enhance Sri Lanka's connectivi­ty right up to Central Asia."

In line with this, Khan also underscore­d the "exceptiona­l quality" of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka bilateral partnershi­p, which is "marked by trust, understand­ing and mutual support," before inviting Mahinda Rajapaksa to visit Pakistan at the "earliest convenienc­e."

The Pakistani leader also stressed the importance of building a "robust economic partnershi­p characteri­zed by enhanced bilateral trade, investment­s, and commercial cooperatio­n.

In a statement to Arab News, Bandula Dissananay­ake, secretary general of the Sri Lanka National Chamber of Commerce, said, "The first-ever investment forum with 39 Pakistani business magnates will pave the way for developmen­t in trade and investment­s."

Finally, in the cultural realm, Imran Khan illustrate­d how Pakistan should serve as a major destinatio­n for religious tourism by Buddhistma­jority Sri Lankans. In his talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Khan highlighte­d Pakistan's Buddhist heritage and stressed the building of cultural ties based on this shared cultural connection.

Khan said, "Pakistan probably has one of the greatest Buddhist heritages in the world and we invite people from Sri Lanka to visit them." He said the northern region of Pakistan is the center of an ancient Buddhist civilizati­on and that a sleeping Buddha statue was recently discovered there. Accordingl­y, he added, "We are planning a Buddhist trail … with all the Buddhist great shrines and Buddhist places."

Pakistan's multidimen­sional approach toward Sri Lanka implies two important things. First, it wishes to break out of its isolation in South Asia and leverage on its neighborho­od relations based on the Indian model of regional relations.

 ??  ?? “The defense-level engagement
“The defense-level engagement

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