Expansion in Pak-Sri Lanka ties

Courtesy :-  Malik Muhammad Ashraf

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa visit to Pakistan has, undoubtedly, given a new dimension to bilateral relations between the two countries, in view of the fact that they have agreed to enhance bilateral trade from the current volume of $375 million to $2 billion within the next three years, besides expanding cooperation in the field of economy, defence, media and technical education. Till recent past, the relationship between the two countries predominantly focused on defence cooperation because of Sri Lanka’s war against the Tamil Tigers. It is, perhaps, not an exaggeration to say that Pakistan actually helped Sri Lanka end the 30-year insurgency by providing the much needed arms and ammunition to fight the militants. The Tamil Tigers were so enraged by it that they even tried to kill the Pakistani Ambassador in 2006.

The process of expansion and diversification of bilateral relations actually started when President Asif Zardari visited Sri Lanka in December 2010. President Rajapaksa’s recent visit, in fact, has consolidated the gains of understanding that was reached earlier between the two leaders. The relationship is characterised by the vision and realisation between the two sides that their cultural heritage provides a sound basis for building and nurturing a multifaceted partnership to their mutual advantage. Their shared values and concerns about regional security justified an increased synergy of their economies and reinforcing of the institutional framework for cooperation. Pakistan and Sri Lanka agreed to strengthen multi-sectoral cooperation and consequently, one MOU and three agreements were signed during the visit to formalise the cooperation in different fields.
One agreement pertained to waiving off visas for officials and diplomats to facilitate an increased level of interaction between the two countries. Under the second agreement on customs, both the countries agreed to make efforts and cooperate with each other in the prevention, investigation, prosecution, transfer of illicit substances and illicit trafficking in narcotics. The third agreement for cultural cooperation expressed commitment in spiking relationship in the fields of arts, culture, creative studies, archaeology, sports, education, information and media; to achieve this objective, it was agreed to enhance exchange of cultural delegations, besides the holding of exhibitions for promoting and highlighting cultural heritage of both the countries. The MOU on agriculture focused on cooperation for mutual benefits. Pakistan also offered Sri Lanka $200 million buyer’s credit loan, giving it the option to make the payment either on barter or in local currency that was much appreciated by the Sri Lankan government.
The high point of parleys between the two Presidents was the decision to reinvigorate the Joint Economic Commission, and task it to work out modalities for a new and unconventional phase of economic cooperation marked by barter trade, currency exchanges and banking interchanges. Sri Lanka is the first country that has signed a free trade agreement with Pakistan, which became effective in June 2005 under which 4,000 items can be imported. So, there has been a significant increase in the volume of trade between the two countries in the last four years after the signing of this agreement.
More so, Sri Lanka, like Pakistan, rejects India’s hegemony in the region. The commonality of views on this issue is yet another strong pillar of the Pak-Sri Lanka relationship. Further, Sri Lanka has always stood by Pakistan like a true friend. For instance, when all the cricket playing nations of the world showed reluctance to send their teams to Pakistan on the pretext of terrorism, it was the Sri Lankan administration that showed solidarity with us and send its team to Lahore. It was, however, most unfortunate that the terrorists were able to spoil the show by attacking it. Pakistan’s government and people appreciate that gesture and hold the Sri Lankans in very highest esteem.


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