SRI LANKA has in a welcome move reversed its order that mandated all those dying of Covid-19 be cremated. The government had issued this controversial order last year based on fears expressed by some people that burying Covid-19 victims could contaminate groundwater and spread the infection. The Muslims in Sri Lanka, who constitute nearly 10pc of the population, had protested this order and said that they should be allowed to bury their dead as per Islamic rites but the government had turned a deaf ear to these demands. The Muslims had correctly pointed out there was no scientific basis for the fears that led to the ban on burial, and no other country in the world had enforced such a policy.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, it has now been reported, spoke to the Sri Lankan president and prime minister on the matter during his recent visit and urged them to respect the sentiments of the Muslims. It was primarily due to the prime minister’s persuasion that the Sri Lankan government decided to lift the ban and allow Muslims to fulfil their religious requirements. The news has made international headlines. Mr Khan deserves praise for taking this initiative and resolving an issue that was deeply troubling for Muslims in another country. What must have helped the Sri Lankan government reverse its order was the fact that the prime minister had a successful tour of the country and was able to generate significant goodwill. It is also safe to assume that Sri Lanka would be happy to have Pakistan on its side on various issues and especially those that figure in international forums. Both Islamabad and Colombo deserve credit for resolving the matter amicably and making it a win-win for all. It is foreign policy wins like these that add gravitas to governance and improve relations between countries. The prime minister has done well and the Muslims of Sri Lanka are better off and relieved due to his initiative.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2021

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