COLOMBO: Prime Minister Imran Khan has emphasised finding ways and means to enhance trade and connectivity through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor right up to Central Asia for Sri Lanka.
Addressing the joint presser along with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said that Pakistan is part of the Belt and Road Initiative of China and CPEC is the flagship project of this programme, which offers great opportunities of connectivity and trade.
Imran Khan said, “We discussed areas, where we can enhance trading ties between Pakistan and Sri Lanka and the latter, can get the maximum benefit from the connectivity being offered by the former.”
Prime Minister Imran stressed that his country and Sri Lanka share the common problem of terrorism as both countries have suffered a lot due to this menace. He said that Pakistan faced the worst kind of terrorism for ten years and lost around 70,000 people.
Imran Khan maintained that Pakistan played its part in helping Sri Lanka curb terrorism from its soil, which was impeding development, growth and tourism. He said that no country can progress if there is terrorism.
He said now the two countries, along with other nations of the world, are facing another problem of the coronavirus. He added that the Covid-19 pandemic hit the poor countries the most and they should be entitled to get debt relief from the richer nations.
Inviting the prime minister of Sri Lanka to visit Pakistan, Imran Khan said, “My country has the greatest Buddhist heritage sites and we recently discovered a 40-feet long sleeping Buddha.”
He stated the northern areas of Pakistan are the centre of ancient Gandhara Civilisation in the region. He also invited people from Sri Lanka to visit Pakistan as it is planning for a Buddhist trail to attract the Buddhist community from all over the world.
Imran Khan also thanked his Sri Lankan counterpart for a warm welcome to him and his delegation.
Speaking on the occasion, Mahinda Rajapaksa said: “We have agreed to enhance bilateral ties in the fields of economy, trade, investment, education, defence, tourism, aviation and other sectors.” He informed that a framework for Pakistan-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and enhancing parliamentary interactions between the two countries were also discussed.
Mahinda Rajapaksa added: “We have agreed to work together to fight terrorism and armed struggle through sharing of information.” He said that political stability and regional peace will be key to achieving sustainable development, economic growth and prosperity in South Asia.
He also acknowledged Pakistan’s support to curb terrorism from Sri Lankan soil and thanked Islamabad for its cooperation in the realm of sports.
Mahinda Rajapaksa thanked Prime Minister Imran Khan for visiting Sri Lanka on his invitation.
Earlier, Prime Minister Imran Khan held a one-on-one meeting with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees in Colombo. The two leaders affirmed resolve to strengthen relations in diverse areas in a meeting held at Temple Trees – the office of the Sri Lankan prime minister.
A red carpet was rolled out for Prime Minister Imran and the national anthems of Pakistan and Sri Lanka were played on the occasion. Cultural troupe attired in traditional dresses presented a welcome dance.
PM Imran left earlier on Tuesday for a two-day official visit to Sri Lanka.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka have maintained close, cordial and mutually supportive relations since 1948. The Prime Minister’s visit would further strengthen bilateral ties.@PakPMO @MFA_SriLanka @PakinSriLanka#PMIKinSL pic.twitter.com/hUpd8f9gqp
— Spokesperson 🇵🇰 MoFA (@ForeignOfficePk) February 23, 2021
This is Khan’s first visit to Sri Lanka after assuming the office of prime minister in August 2018. He is accompanied by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Advisor on Commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood and Minister of State for Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari, Radio Pakistan reported.
During the visit, Khan will hold talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Rajapaksa, and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, officials familiar with the situation said.
Bilateral talks would cover issues of trade and investment, health and education, agriculture and science and technology, defence and security, and culture and tourism. Key regional and international issues would also be discussed, a Foreign Office (FO) statement confirmed.
“During the visit, the reconstitution of the Sri Lanka-Pakistan Parliamentary Friendship Association will be announced to further promote parliamentary exchanges between the two countries,” the statement added.
Khan will also participate in a joint “Trade and Investment Conference”.
Adviser to the Prime Minister for Commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood on Twitter said the government’s aim was to enhance trade and investment relations with Sri Lanka so that they were commensurate with bilateral ties.
“In line with our policy of enhancing regional trade and connectivity, a delegation of prominent businessmen has arrived in Sri Lanka for visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan on February 23-24, 2021,” the adviser said on his official Twitter account.
Razak Dawood said Sri Lanka was very important country for Pakistan as “we signed our first-ever Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with it”.
He said during the visit, the whole spectrum of bilateral trade and economic relations would be discussed, and a trade and investment conference would be held at Colombo on February 24.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka, he said, had agreed to reactivate the forum of Joint Working Groups (JWGs) for redressal of technical issues pending between the two trading partners for prompting trade liberalization to increase bilateral trade between both of the countries.
It was decided to conduct the next JWG meeting during the first half of current year, he added.
As Sri Lanka prepares to welcome Khan, several members of the country’s Muslim minority expressed hope for him to take up their concerns during talks with government officials.
Muslims make up nearly 10 per cent of the country’s population of 22 million, which is predominantly Buddhist. The Indian Ocean island was torn for decades by a civil war between separatists from the mostly Hindu Tamil minority and the Sinhala Buddhist-dominated government.
The government stamped out the rebellion some 11 years ago.
However, in recent years, Buddhist hardliners, led by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or “Buddhist Power Force” — a Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist group — have stoked hostility against Muslims, saying influences from the Middle East had made Sri Lanka’s Muslims more conservative and isolated.
In 2018, scores of mosques, Muslim homes and businesses were destroyed as Buddhist mobs ran amok for three days in Kandy, the central highlands district.
Representatives of the nation’s Muslims said that they were banking on the “great Muslim leader” to “speak on our behalf.”
“The community wishes to welcome a great Muslim leader who is coming as his country’s prime minister for the first time. He is in a vantage position to speak on behalf of the Sri Lankan Muslims,” NM Ameen, president of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council, told Arab News.
“Prime Minister Khan must use his visit to assist in our struggles for human rights, justice and accountability for all in Sri Lanka,” Shreen Saroor, women’s rights activist and co-founder of the Women’s Action Network, said.
A day earlier, SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Iftikhar Ali Malik had said that 2-day maiden visit of Prime Minister Imran to Sri Lanka will further cement bilateral ties with special focus to gear up trade and strengthen economic cooperation between two countries.
In a press statement, Malik had said it was a good omen for the private sectors of either countries that PM Imran will also participate in a joint ‘Trade and Investment Conference’ aimed at promoting trade and investment between the two countries followed by a number of MoUs to enhance bilateral cooperation.
He had said that the current trade between both countries was not entirely encouraging, but both countries have markets for each other’s primary products.
SAARC Chamber chief had observed that Pakistan was an important market for tea products, which also happens to be a top Sri Lankan export item, and Pakistan also a significant importer of copra and rubber, both items are important Sri Lankan exports.
Similarly, Sri Lanka was an important market for textile products, machinery, and pharmaceuticals along with other products that Pakistan records significant exports .
He had said there exists a huge trade potential between both countries if the FTA is utilised properly.