Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations: An overview
-DR. ABDUL RUFF COLACHAL
Relations between the Islamic Pakistan and the Socialist Sri Lanka are generally warm, with both countries being close neighbors in the South Asia region. Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka are also members of SAARC. There is a Pakistani embassy located in Colombo and a Sri Lankan embassy situated in Islamabad
Pakistan is the second largest trading partner of Sri Lanka in South Asia.Sri Lanka was the first country to sign a Free Trade Agreement with Pakistan, which became operational from June 12, 2005. 4,000 items can be imported to Pakistan from Sri Lanka.Bilateral trade between the 2 countries was US$400 million in early 2010, and is expected to increase to US$2 billion by 2012. In November 2010, President Asif Ali Zardari mulled a 250 million dollar export credit line that Pakistan would extend to Sri Lanka. Trade between the two countries reached $500 million by the end of 2010.
Recently, the Sri Lankan Airlines has expressed an interest in expanding its operations in multiple cities in Pakistan and has also invited the Pakistan International Airlines to operate more flights to Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Airlines remarked that \”Sri Lanka and Pakistan are two close, friendly neighbors,\” and that they looked forward to enhancing cooperation between the two airlines.
The Pak-SL relationship also fosters on strong mutual Sino-Pakistan and Sino-Sri Lankan relationship, as China maintains strong mutual interest in the economic and military development of Sri Lanka and Pakistan,
Military cooperation has extended the bilateral relations. In the past, Pakistan assisted Sri Lanka in supplying High-Tech military equipment to the Sri Lankan army in the civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Sri Lanka started buying arms and ammunition from Pakistan in a big way from 1999. The total purchases until December 2007 were worth $50 million while there has been a sudden jump in the quantity of merchandise ordered in 2009 and the amount has been tripled. In May 2000, In April 2009, Sri Lanka requested $25 million worth of 81 mm, 120 mm and 130 mm mortar ammunition to be delivered within a month
President Musharraf of Pakistan supplied millions of dollars of much-needed weapons to the Sri Lanka, when Tamil Tiger rebels were about to recapture their former capital of Jaffna. In May 2008, Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka of the Sri Lanka Army held talks with his Pakistan Army counterparts regarding the sale of military equipment, weapons and ammunition. The supplies of 22 Al-Khalid MBTs to the Sri Lanka Army was finalized during these talks in a deal worth over US$100 million.
During a state visit by President Asif Ali Zardari to Sri Lanka in Nov 2010, Sri Lanka evinced interest in purchase of Pakistani al-Khalid Main Battle Tanks, light weapons and ammunition, and the Sino-Pak joint venture product JF-17 Thunder aircraft.[Pakistan has also offered to train Sri Lankan spies for intelligence gathering purposes Apart from traditional military assistance to Sri Lanka, Pakistan has also offered to train Sri Lankan police and intelligence service officers
With India reluctant to sign a Defense Cooperation Agreement with Sri Lanka and unwilling to supply it with the kind of weapons it is looking for, Colombo has turned increasingly to Pakistan. There are segments of opinion in Sri Lanka that are in fact in favor of the government finalizing a defense cooperation agreement with Islamabad.
Sri Lanka has also shown interest in signing a nuclear deal with Pakistan, now snubbing a similar offer from India. The snub is thought to come in the wake of India’s vote against Sri Lanka on the Tamil issue at the UN human rights council.
Regular mutual visits between Colombo and Islamabad by leaders of Pakistan and Sri Lanka have taken the relations to anew height.
Sri Lanka – Pakistan Joint Economic Commission plays important role in streamlining the military and other economic deals. Both express the hope that deliberations of Joint Economic Commission would prepare concrete and significant recommendations to advance further growth in various areas of mutual interests. The 11th Session of Sri Lanka – Pakistan Joint Economic Commission was held in Colombo today. The Federal Minister for Industries and Production Pakistan, Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi represented Pakistan at the forum while Minister for Industry and Commerce Sri Lanka Rishad Bathiudeen represented Sri Lanka.
Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi said that the newly elected government in Pakistan is very keen to strengthen economic relationship with the countries in the region and Sri Lanka is one of the most important neighbors in this context. Rishad Bathiudeen said that Sri Lanka and Pakistan have been enjoining extremely cordial relations as Pakistan has been a very close and genuine friend of Sri Lanka.
Discussions are on as a follow up to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s offer to assist Sri Lanka in sugar sector. The two Ministers had detailed discussion about prospects of enhanced bilateral cooperation and agreed to collaborate closely in setting up sugar industries in Sri Lanka with the assistance of Pakistan. The Pakistani side agreed to the Sri Lankan proposal for charting out and formalizing cooperation between the Sugar Research Institutes of the two countries with the signing of a MoU for cooperation.
The two sides discussed a whole gamut of issues to bolster economic ties between the two countries, while the Pak minister of Industries and Productions expressed appreciation on behalf of the government of Pakistan for the vision with which President Rajapaksa is developing Sri Lanka’s national economy.
While thanking the support extended by Pakistan to Sri Lanka for years, President Rajapaksa urged Pakistan government to explore the possibility of cooperation between the two countries in pharmaceutical sector as well. . He also expressed Sri Lankan government’s resolve to further strengthen cooperation between the two countries.
Pakistan is mindful of the fact that existing cordial and friendly relations between the two countries can be further translated into substantial economic and commercial cooperation. Both insist that they are connected by deep rooted mutual cooperation, while sharing common views on many bilateral, regional and international issues. Both the nations have always stood by each other, in much needed and difficult times.
Although the bilateral economic-military ties are growing stronger between the two, there is very little in the domain of culture and other fields. Hopefully both would pay attention this vital link for collaboration.