DURING his visit to Sri Lanka, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi held very useful and productive talks with the newly elected leadership including President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. As the visit has come soon after the installation of new Sri Lankan government, it really shows how much importance Pakistan attaches to its ties with Colombo and how much it is content and happy over the election of Gotabaya to the top slot.
The election of Gotabaya has been seen as a very positive development in Pakistan because of his pro-Pakistan posture. He really sees Pakistan as a true friend of Sri Lanka which helped the country defeat the 26-year long Tamil insurgency in 2009. Pakistan was a key supporter of Sri Lanka in her battle against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels who were believed to be supported by India. Though Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also quick to congratulate Gotabaya over his victory but in reality India is in a state of mourning over his election as it desperately wanted to see the victory of Sajith Premadasa, a candidate of Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP). Anyway it is now up to the two countries to further strengthen and cement their relations in different realms for the benefit of the peoples of both the countries. In fact there is great scope of defence cooperation between the two countries for which military exercises, defence seminars and training of military personnel could be conducted on a regular basis. It was because of Indian diplomatic missive that Colombo had reportedly backed off from striking a deal with Pakistan for the purchase of JF-17 thunder fighter jets back in 2016. In our view, it is now the most appropriate time, our authorities can again sit with the Sri Lankan officials to make a positive headway on it. In addition, Pakistan can also help Sri Lanka to set up cement and sugar plants for the long term benefit of its economy. Similarly both the sides can explore the fields of gems and jewellery as well as closer collaboration in science and technology, education and health care. For this, both the countries really need to enhance people-to-people contacts at different levels including political, parliamentary and business levels. The people of Pakistan also look forward to the visit of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in order to write a new chapter in the bilateral relationship.