'Sense will prevail': PM Imran woos Sri Lankan businessmen, hopes for better relations with all neighbours
Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Wednesday that the only way forward for the subcontinent is to resolve existing issues through dialogue.
"Immediately when I came into power, I approached our neighbour India and explained to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the way forward for the subcontinent is to resolve our differences through dialogue.
"I didn't succeed but I am optimistic that eventually sense will prevail. The only way the subcontinent can tackle poverty is by improving trade relations. Let us live like civilised neighbours as the Europeans live."
The prime minister expressed the views while addressing the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference in Colombo, aimed at promoting trade and investment between the two countries.
"Germany and France have fought multiple times, but today it is unthinkable for them to have a conflict because they are so interlinked due to trade. Similarly, my dream for the subcontinent is that we resolve our differences," he said, adding that the Kashmir issue was the only conflict in the region.
"All we want is for the Kashmir dispute to be resolved according to the United Nations Security Council resolutions and this can only be achieved through dialogue."
The prime minister said that a conflict between two nations only breeds more conflict. "We need to resolve our differences through dialogue and not through conflict. Imagine the potential for trade within the subcontinent," he said, adding that the only thing stopping the region from realising this potential was the inability to resolve differences through dialogue.
He expressed the hope that Pakistan could also play its part in reducing rising tensions between the United States and China. "We would much rather be a country that brings other nations and humanity together," he said.
PM Imran began his address by stating that poverty alleviation was his motivation behind entering politics. "Twenty five years ago, I entered politics because I felt that the best way to reduce poverty in our country was to setup a welfare state," adding that he realised that the Sri Lankan leadership was also motivated by poverty alleviation.
He said that during his meeting with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the two discussed how to bring down the rising cost of food items. Earlier today, the premier called on the Sri Lankan president for a one-on-one meeting at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo.
"He told me how he went to China and visited various farms where the gap between the wholesale and the retail [market] had been reduced."
In Pakistan, a huge gap exists between these two, he said, adding that he was going to take the Sri Lankan president's input on board.
"The other way we can reduce poverty is through investment and promoting profitability in business. We have completely changed our policies in Pakistan," he said, adding that in the past, government policies had impeded foreign investment.
Stating that the country's ranking on the Ease of Doing Business index had improved, PM Imran said that the whole idea was to generate wealth to uplift the underprivileged. "This is what China did."
The prime minister also touched on the relations between the two countries, saying that Pakistan could learn the most from Sri Lanka in terms of tourism.
"You have a much more advanced tourism industry compared to us. Pakistan has enormous potential for tourism but that potential has been limited to local tourism so far, not foreign tourism."
At the end of his address, PM Imran once again urged the Sri Lankan business community to participate in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. "It gives you the opportunity of connecting from Gwadar right up to Uzbekistan and the central Asian states.
"This is the connectivity that Pakistan offers [...] we have these special economic zones which give incentives to businesses to set up industries there. So I invite Sri Lankan businesses, businessmen and investment, you can come over to Pakistan."
'Focus is economic diplomacy'
Addressing the conference, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the two countries have to look at how to improve bilateral relations.
"When Imran Khan took reins of the government, our economic indicators were pointing in the wrong direction. [But] in two-and-a-half years we have achieved, to a large extent, economic stability," he said, adding that the focus had now shifted towards growth.
Pakistan has moved up a number of places in the Ease of Doing Business ranking and the government is also facilitating investment, he said. "Our focus has shifted from geo-politics to geo-economics," he said.
He added that the aim was to make Pakistan a hub of economic activity, while focusing on development and connectivity. Addressing the participants of the conference, he said that the Foreign Office was committed to assisting and facilitating Sri Lankan businessmen.
"Our focus is economic diplomacy. You are welcome to come to Pakistan, you will see how hospitable it will be," he concluded.
Dawood appeals to business community
Commerce Adviser Abdul Razak Dawood said that the aim of the conference was to bring the business communities of the two countries together to explore new ideas and opportunities for increasing trade and investment.
"Fellow business people, under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, we have come here not to fear the future but to shape it," he said.
The adviser maintained that while there is trade between the two countries, it is not "good enough" and doesn't match the relationship between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
He said that Pakistan has made a dramatic economic turnaround and is witnessing industrial growth. "So take advantage of this," he said in an appeal to the Sri Lankan business community.
"We stand at a moment where our capacity to change the economic relationship is unmatched [...]. We must not accept the current level of economic relations and must imagine future relations," he said.
PM Imran meets Sri Lankan president
According to a joint communique issued on the prime minister's visit, the premier and his Sri Lankan counterpart discussed a variety of issues including ways to strengthen bilateral cooperation through frequent meetings, high-level dialogue and consultation.
Both sides stressed on the need for "collective efforts" to defeat the "unprecedented challenges" posed by Covid-19.
The two countries also reiterated their commitment to the principles and objectives of Saarc charter and "stressed the need of Saarc member countris to build on convergences, for greater good of the people in the region".
Earlier today, PM Imran called on the Sri Lankan president at the President House in Colombo. According to the Prime Minister's Office, the one-on-one meeting between the two leaders was followed by delegation-level talks.
"The premier underlined the exceptional quality of Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations marked by trust, understanding and mutual support. The prime minister emphasised the importance of building a robust economic partnership characterised by enhanced bilateral trade, investments, and commercial cooperation," the statement said.
The prime minister also laid emphasis on deeper collaboration in diverse fields — particularly agriculture, tourism, science and technology, sports, education and culture. The importance of sharing experiences in poverty alleviation was also stressed.
The prime minister underlined that Pakistan and Sri Lanka had always stood by each other. He re-affirmed Pakistan’s steadfast support to Sri Lanka in the future. The close cooperation between the two sides in the multilateral fora was re-affirmed, the statement said.
While noting the close traditional and cultural ties between the two countries, PM Imran highlighted that Pakistan has the potential of being a choice destination for religious tourism for Sri Lankan people. He particularly highlighted the rich Buddhist heritage of Pakistan.
"In the regional context, the premier shared his vision of peace, development, and connectivity. He also emphasized the importance of regional cooperation through the platform of SAARC and the opportunities for regional prosperity through CPEC, the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative," the statement said.
PM Imran extended a cordial invitation to President Rajapaksa to visit Pakistan at the earliest convenience, the statement concluded.
In a tweet later in the day, the prime minister said he had an "excellent" meeting with the Sri Lankan president in which the two discussed poverty alleviation, especially in rural areas.
The two leaders also talked about enabling farmers to get more produce and using technology to eliminate middlemen.
"We also discussed other dimensions of our extensive ties to strengthen political & trade ties for our mutual benefit," the premier stated.
Later, Prime Minister Imran inaugurated the High Performance Sports Complex in Sri Lanka and met cricketers of the host country. According to the joint communique, Pakistan will provide Rs52 million for promotion of sports in Sri Lanka, "including through training and equipment".
Additional input by Naveed Siddiqui.