• Imran proposes establishing trade links as exist among EU members
• MoUs signed for cooperation in tourism, education
• Both sides highlight need for realising $1bn bilateral trade potential
COLOMBO: Pakistan has offered a $50 million new credit line to Sri Lanka for cooperation in the field of defence and security.
The announcement was made by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who concluded his two-day official visit to the island nation, said a joint communique issued by the foreign ministries of the two countries from Colombo and Islamabad on Wednesday.
The two sides called for stronger partnership in matters related to security, terrorism, organised crime and drug and narcotics trafficking as well as intelligence-sharing, according to the joint communique. They also noted that the elevation of staff-level talks to defence dialogue had provided an opportunity to expand security sector relations.
To strengthen sports diplomacy, Pakistan would provide Rs52 million for promotion of sports in Sri Lanka, according to the communique. Prime Minister Khan at an interactive session with the sports community of Sri Lanka announced the commissioning of the Imran Khan High Performance Sports Centre in Colombo.
Pakistan also announced plans to establish Asian Civilisation and Culture Centre at the University of Peradeniya at the Sri Lankan resort of Kandy.
The visit afforded a timely opportunity to both sides to build upon their regular consultations in the areas identified during the recently held foreign secretary-level bilateral political consultations, joint economic commission session, and the commerce secretary-level talks, the joint communique said.
Pakistan also announced 100 scholarships in the field of medicines (MBBS and BDS) as part of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Higher Education Cooperation programme.
During the visit, the prime minister held delegation-level meetings with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa. PM Khan reiterated Pakistan’s support for the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka in line with the vision of a peaceful neighbourhood. The two sides reviewed the extensive engagement in promoting cultural linkages, human resource development and capacity building in diverse areas besides educational and technological cooperation.
The memorandums of understanding (MoUs) signed during the visit include i) MoU on cooperation in tourism, ii) MoU between the Boards of Investment, iii) MoU between Sri Lanka’s Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) and Karachi University’s International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences, iv) Intent of cooperation between ITI and Comsats University Islamabad and v) MoU between University of Colombo and Lahore School of Economics.
$1bn trade target
At the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference held in Colombo, the two countries highlighted the importance of realising the goal of achieving $1 billion bilateral trade target and also agreed to work towards broadening and deepening of Pakistan-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
Also, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa jointly acknowledged the reconstitution of the Sri Lanka-Pakistan Parliamentary Friendship Association.
Both sides stressed the need to convene the charter-based bodies and agreed to take forward the Saarc process for strengthening regional cooperation. The two sides reaffirmed their joint commitment to regional peace, security and stability as Prime Minister Khan underscored the need for peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes, particularly Kashmir issue, through constructive dialogue in accordance with international legitimacy.
Reiterating the commitment of the new government to boost bilateral relations, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa thanked the government and people of Pakistan for the constant support extended to safeguard the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
Earlier, Prime Minister Khan and Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a one-on-one meeting affirmed cooperation at multilateral fora.
During the talks held at Presidential Secretariat, Mr Khan emphasised the importance of building robust economic partnership characterised by enhanced bilateral trade, investments, and deeper cooperation in the fields of agriculture, tourism, science and technology, sports, education and culture.
The two leaders also shared experiences in poverty alleviation and use of technology to control food inflation.
Referring to the rich Buddhist heritage of Pakistan, Mr Khan highlighted that the country had huge potential of being a choice destination for religious tourism for the people of Sri Lanka. Mr Khan also extended invitation to the Sri Lankan president to visit Pakistan at the earliest convenience.
While inviting the Sri Lankan businessmen to invest in Pakistan by exploring the opportunities being offered in the form of ease-of-doing business, Prime Minister Khan told Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference that trade connectivity among the countries was vital for poverty alleviation.
He proposed establishing trade links, as existed among the European Union members, which he said could prove beneficial for the prosperity of the sub-continent. He said Pakistan and Sri Lanka could explore the idea of generating wealth through joint business activities and diverting the wealth to alleviate poverty.
The two prime ministers led their business delegations at the conference held in a bid to explore avenues of collaboration in different sectors.
Mr Khan expressed intent for Pakistan to learn from Sri Lanka’s advanced tourism industry. Pakistan had several undiscovered sites of religious tourism including the Gandhara civilization and trails of Buddhism, he said, adding that a recently discovered 40-foot-long Sleeping Buddha could be of special interest for Sri Lankan tourists. He said joining the Belt and Road Initiative could open up new avenues for Sri Lanka with an opportunity to connect from Gwadar up to Central Asian states.
Mr Khan said he had offered Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues, particularly the Kashmir dispute, but Pakistan did not get a positive response.
For a sustainable prosperity, he said, the South Asian region with 1.3 billion people needed to resolve its mutual conflicts through dialogue.
Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2021