COLOMBO: Notwithstanding, visiting Pakistan Prime minister Imran Khan has got the opportunities to meet President, Prime Minister, opposition leaders and business community but was not given allowed to meet the Sri Lanka Muslim Community and on Tuesday, the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress said the government of the island nation had cited security reasons to reject a request by 15 Muslim parliamentarians to meet Khan during his visit.
Rauf Hakeem, former minister and leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, told Arab News a group of 15 Muslim MPs from different political parties sent a written request through the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo to meet the visiting prime minister, “but unfortunately the government has turned down our request citing security reasons.”
He was speaking during a protest held by the Muslim community near the Shangri La Hotel, where Premier Khan will be staying overnight in the Sri Lankan capital.
Muslims make up nearly 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million, which is predominantly Buddhist. The community’s representatives say they have been receiving complaints of discrimination from across the country, especially since Easter Sunday attacks 2019, when reportedly Daesh-inspired militants killed over 250 people in churches and hotels across the country in Easter Sunday attacks in 2019.
In recent years, Buddhist hard-liners, led by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or “Buddhist Power Force,” have stoked hostility against Muslims.
International affairs experts like Zafar Jaspal have warned against Pakistan looking at the Colombo trip as anything more than a bilateral visit or making it about the Muslim Unmah.
“Khan is there to represent Pakistan and not the Muslim Ummah. There is a majority of Sinhali people in Sri Lanka and being the Buddist they have problems with Muslims for quite some time now,” he said. “Pakistan has always supported Sinhali leadership in Sri Lanka. It is in our best interest that we should not enter into the internal conflict of Sri Lanka and try to remain within the framework of the bilateral issues.”
Former foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar concurred: “Pakistan and Sri Lanka have very historic and good relations. We played a very pivotal role in their victory against Tamil insurgency. Now we should not put our friends in trouble by indulging in any other issue than bilateral relations.”
One to one meeting
Prime Minister Imran Khan and President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday held a one-on-one meeting at Presidential Secretariat in Colombo as the two leaders affirmed cooperation at multilateral fora.
During the talks held in a warm and cordial atmosphere, Prime Minister Imran Khan underlined the exceptional quality of Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations marked by trust, understanding and mutual support.
The Prime Minister emphasized the importance of building robust economic partnership characterized by enhanced bilateral trade, investments, and commercial cooperation.
He also laid emphasis on deeper collaboration in diverse fields —particularly agriculture, tourism, science & technology, sports, education and culture. The importance of sharing experiences in poverty alleviation was stressed.
Imran Khan underlined that Pakistan and Sri Lanka had always stood by each other and re-affirmed Pakistan’s steadfast support to Sri Lanka in future.
The close cooperation between the two sides in the multilateral fora was re-affirmed.
While noting the close traditional and cultural ties between the two countries, Prime Minister Imran Khan highlighted that Pakistan had the potential of being a choice destination for religious tourism for Sri Lankan people. He particularly highlighted the rich Buddhist heritage of Pakistan.
In the regional context, Prime Minister Imran Khan shared his vision of peace, development, and connectivity.
Prime Minister Imran Khan also emphasized the importance of regional cooperation through the platform of SAARC and the opportunities for regional prosperity through CPEC, the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The Prime Minister extended a cordial invitation to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to visit Pakistan at the earliest convenience.
The two leaders discussed the significance of Pak-Sri Lankan relations with a history of friendship and cooperation in diverse fields.
Press conference Meanwhile, addressing a joint press conference with his Sri Lanka counterpart after holding one-on-one and delegation-level talks, Khan said his visit was “aimed at strengthening bilateral relationship, specially trade and economic ties through enhanced connectivity,” Pakistani news agency APP reported.
He said Sri Lanka could benefit from the $62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project of infrastructure and energy projects. He also stressed the need for enhanced cultural tourism between the two nations.
Khan and his Sri Lankan counterpart also witnessed the signing of five memorandums of understanding for bilateral cooperation in investment, science and technology, and industrial technology, APP reported.
“The two leaders held wide-ranging discussions with a focus on reinforcing a broad-based and enduring partnership between Pakistan and Sri Lanka to advance the shared objectives of peace, stability and economic prosperity in South Asia,” the PM’s office said, adding that “security and defense cooperation” were also discussed.
“The Prime Minister emphasized the importance of resolving disputes through dialogue and promoting the vision of peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia and beyond,” the statement added.