• Holds one-on-one meeting with counterpart Rajapaksa
• Five MoUs signed to boost ties in diverse fields
• Leadership, top officials, businessmen from both countries to attend trade, investment conference today
COLOMBO: Pakistan and Sri Lanka on Tuesday agreed to further strengthen bilateral relations in diverse areas, including trade, investment, science and technology, tourism and culture through enhanced connectivity.
“My visit is aimed at strengthening bilateral relationship [with Sri Lanka], especially trade and economic ties through enhanced connectivity,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said while addressing a joint press conference with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa here after holding a one-on-one meeting, followed by delegation-level talks.
Since Pakistan is part of the Chinese president’s Belt and Road Initiative through its flagship China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, Sri Lanka could benefit from it through enhanced connectivity up to the Central Asian states, said Prime Minister Khan who along with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Commerce Adviser Abdul Razzak Dawood and Special Assistant Syed Zulfikar Abbas Bukhari is on a two-day visit to Sri Lanka on the invitation of PM Rajapaksa.
Around 40 leading Pakistani businessmen are also accompanying the prime minister during his visit. The Pakistan mission in Colombo has invited 200 top businessmen and investors from Sri Lanka to the joint trade and investment conference being held in Colombo on Wednesday (today) by the commerce ministry and the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan.
Prime Minister Khan and his counterpart will also grace the conference. On the sidelines an opportunity will be provided to the two business communities representing the key sectors of textile, pharmaceutical, construction, information technology, agro and food, tourism, footwear, hospitality and tourism to engage in effective B2B meetings for enhanced cooperation.
While addressing a joint presser with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa, PM Khan told the media that he had asked his delegation to find ways and means to enhance trade and economic relations between the two countries through increased connectivity. While highlighting the importance of resolving disputes through dialogue and promoting the vision of peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia and beyond, he underlined the imperative of constructive engagement by all sides to promote a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s shifting focus from geostrategic to geo-economics was discussed at the meeting during which the three pillars of Pakistan’s vision — peace, development partnerships, and connectivity — were underscored. The two sides reiterated their commitment to the principles and objectives of Saarc charter and agreed to take forward the Saarc process for regional cooperation.
Mr Khan said with Pakistan having faced the worst kind of terrorism that claimed over 70,000 lives in a decade and Sri Lanka also facing the menace for 30 years, the two countries shared the common problem. He also mentioned the role played by Pakistan in addressing the problem that was hindering Sri Lanka’s progress and development.
The premier said there hardly came any investment during the 10 years amid the wave of terrorism in Pakistan. Then coronavirus hit the economy of both countries, he said, highlighting the need for getting debt relief from the developed world as well as the international financial institutions besides urging the United Nations and other international institutions to step in to help the developing nations. He explained that Pakistan had provided a stimulus package of $8 billion compared to $3,000bn provided by the US to its people.
Coming back to the bilateral relations, PM Khan said Pakistan having various heritage sites was home to ancient civilizations of Gandhara and Budhism and called for enhanced cooperation between the two countries in tourism. He also extended an invitation to his Sri Lankan counterpart to visit Pakistan.
Mr Khan, the first head of government to visit Sri Lanka after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office last year, said he had been visiting Sri Lanka and played cricket there, recalling how Sri Lankan cricket team revolutionised and became the world class team.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa told the media persons that they discussed regional and international issues of mutual interest, besides ways and means to strengthen bilateral ties.
He said during the meeting, the two sides agreed to enhance cooperation between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in diverse areas including trade, investment, science and technology, education and culture.
On the occasion, PM Khan and his Sri Lankan counterpart witnessed the signing of five memorandums of understanding (MOUs) for enhanced bilateral cooperation in the fields of investment, science and technology, and industrial technology.
According to Pakistan’s Foreign Office, the reconstitution of the Sri Lanka-Pakistan Parliamentary Friendship Association will also be announced during the visit to further promote parliamentary exchanges between the two countries.
A Sri Lankan foreign ministry statement said the visit would feature a business and investment forum, as well as a sports diplomacy initiative.
This is the fourth high-level engagement between Pakistan and Sri Lanka witnessed in last few months since the Sixth Foreign Secretary Level Bilateral Political Consultations in December 2020, followed by the 12th Session of Joint Economic Commission.
Meanwhile, Associated Press reported that Sri Lankan Muslims protested near the president’s office demanding that the government allow people who die of Covid-19 to be buried instead of cremated. They believe Mr Khan would take up the burial issue as well with the Sri Lankan leadership.
Earlier, PM Rajapaksa received Mr Khan on his arrival here at the Bandaranaike International Airport this afternoon.
Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2021