Pakistan and Sri Lanka have nothing to quarrel about and so never have, with the two nations enjoying very cordial relations since 1948. With a general realignment of foreign relations by Pakistan with a pivot away from the countries of the Gulf in the direction of countries with which it might have something other than a transactional relationship, Sri Lanka is an obvious partner for the future. The signing of eight memorandums of understanding on the sidelines of the recent visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is, therefore, not a surprise and very welcome. The areas in which the latest agreements were signed are all ones where there is mutual benefit to be had — health, education, trade, science and technology, tourism, gems and jewellery — are all easy to facilitate and quickly implementable. The flow of goods and services between our two countries will doubtless proceed with all proper haste.
Diplomatic niceties aside, this is another logical step along a path that is becoming clearer by the month. Pakistan is in business, and wants to do business with those around it. In some instances, that is a fraught proposition, and we are a long way from getting the best from our trading potential from India, but the regional cogs are beginning to click into place. It is China that is determining the regional geopolitical meteorology and it is going to do so for generations to come. Pakistan has recognised that and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is going to be a game changer and not just for Pakistan. The CPEC is a change-agent beyond the signatory nations, and opens up a range of possibilities.
There is no direct linkage between the CPEC and the new agreements with Sri Lanka, but they do fit an evolving picture, and very well at that. The hope is to increase bilateral trade between the two countries to $1 billion, enhance defence cooperation and curb financial flows in the direction of terrorist organisations. All of this is eminently do-able, and a pivot in the direction of profit is infinitely more desirable than relationships based around dependency more than mutuality. We wish the new agreements well.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2016.