ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Friday announced Prime Minister Imran Khan’s two-day visit to Sri Lanka that has been hit by a controversy over the cancellation of his planned speech to the country’s parliament.
A statement issued by the Foreign Office said that Mr Khan would visit Sri Lanka from Feb 23 to 24 on the invitation of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. He would be accompanied on the trip by some federal ministers and senior officials.
This will be Mr Khan’s first visit to Sri Lanka after assuming the office of prime minister.
Giving details of the premier’s programme, the FO statement said that Mr Khan would be meeting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa during the visit.
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, the FO said.
“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 said.
Mr Khan will also participate in a joint ‘Trade and Investment Conference’.
A number of memorandums of understanding to enhance bilateral cooperation will also be signed during the visit.
However, there was no mention of the speech to the Sri Lankan parliament.
The Sri Lankan government, while cancelling the event, officially stated that this was being done because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, diplomatic sources and Sri Lankan media say that it was done out of concerns that Mr Khan could speak about the situation in occupied Kashmir, which could further damage Colombo’s already troubled relations with New Delhi.
Another speculation doing the rounds is that the Sri Lankan government is worried that Mr Khan in his speech could make a reference to the plight of Sri Lankan Muslims, who have been facing abuses and discrimination in the Buddhist-dominated country.
Foreign Office spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri at the weekly media briefing had said that the elements of the visit would be decided according to “the Covid-19-related health and safety protocols”.
Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2021