Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s visit to Pakistan has undoubtedly given a new dimension to bilateral relations between the two countries in view of the fact that they have agreed to enhance cooperation in disaster management, sports, shipping, socio-economic development, education and narcotics control. Bilateral trade between Pakistan and Sri Lanka has increased to the mark of about two billion dollars while this figure was at only $ 375 million during fiscal year 2011-2012.
Sri Lanka is the first country that signed a free trade agreement with Pakistan, which became effective in June 2005, under which more than 4,000 items can be imported. So, there has been a significant increase in the volume of trade between the two countries since the signing of this agreement. In this regard, the Joint Economic Commission between the two countries is working on modalities for a new and unconventional phase of economic cooperation marked by barter trade, currency exchanges and banking interchanges. Both countries are also enjoying cooperation in the fields of economy, defence, media collaboration and technical education.
Till the recent past, the relationship between the two countries predominantly focused on defence cooperation because of Sri Lanka’s war against the Tamil Tigers. It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that Pakistan actually helped the Sri Lankan security forces in ending the 30-year long insurgency by providing the much-needed arms and ammunition to fight against the militants. The Tamil Tigers were so enraged by this that they even tried to kill the Pakistani ambassador to Sri Lanka in 2006.
Sri Lanka has always stood by Pakistan like a true friend. For instance, when all the cricket playing nations of the world showed reluctance to send their teams to Pakistan on the pretext of terrorism, it was the Sri Lankan administration that showed solidarity with us and sent its team to Lahore. It was, however, most unfortunate that the terrorists were able to spoil the show by attacking it. Pakistan’s government and people appreciate that gesture and hold the Sri Lankans in very highest esteem.
In the recent visit of the Sri Lankan president, both countries have signed six Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs), including cooperation between the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and Atomic Energy Authority of Sri Lanka, cooperation against illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, cooperation agreement on exchange and collaboration between the National Defence University in Pakistan and Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies in Sri Lanka, collaboration in the field of sports, cooperation in the shipping business between the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC) and the Ceylon Shipping Corporation Ltd (CSCL), and cooperation in disaster management. The high point of the meeting between the president of Sri Lanka and the prime minister of Pakistan was the decision to cooperate in the nuclear sector. In the backdrop of the Sri Lankan pact with India in February this year to build its atomic energy infrastructure and the training of security personnel, the signing of the MoU on cooperation between the PAEC and Atomic Energy Authority of Sri Lanka has negated various concerns on the Pakistani side.
Earlier, both countries had MoUs in various important fields including in waiving visas for officials and diplomats in order to facilitate an increased level of interaction between the two countries. Likewise, both countries have an agreement for cultural cooperation, which expresses the commitment of both countries in the fields of arts, culture, creative studies, archaeology, education, information and media collaboration. Pakistan and Sri Lanka also have a MoU in the field of agriculture.
Pakistan is the second largest trading partner of Sri Lanka in South Asia. The signing of new MoUs will further enhance bilateral cooperation. Recently, Sri Lankan Airlines has expressed an interest in expanding its operations in multiple cities in Pakistan and has also invited Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to operate more flights to Sri Lanka. This will increase people to people contact between the two countries. The cultural heritage of both countries provides a sound basis for building and nurturing a multifaceted partnership to their mutual advantage. Their shared values and concerns about regional security justify the increased interaction of their economies and reinforcing of the institutional framework for cooperation.
Daily Times April 16, 2014
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessary reflective of IPRI policy.