TamilWeek Apr 2, 2006
President Mahinda Rajapaksa being greeted by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shaukat
Aziz on his arrival in Islamabad on a state visit. The President’s wife Shiranthi is also
in the picture. [DailyMirror]
On President’s visit and our relations with Pakistan

By K. Godage

President Rajapaksa is on a visit to Pakistan. Anton Balasingham, it
has been reported, has gone into convulsions on hearing the news. It
is of some interest to reflect on the possible reason for his having
gone berserk. One of the strategies of the LTTE has been to isolate
this country, they did succeed at one time because of our own
foolishness. It would be recalled that President Jayewardene
confessed at the time of the signing of the Indo Lanka Accord that “We
did not have a friend in the world”. Though the late Minister
Kadirgamar made a valiant effort we were unable to harness
meaningful international support, despite the terrorism of the LTTE. to
debilitate them.

Though there were a variety of reasons for this including political
reasons, it needs to be conceded that the LTTE’s strategy which
included the disparaging and discrediting of the country as a part of its
effort to isolate Sri Lanka did succeed in some measure.

Only two countries stood by us at the worst of times, they were China
and Pakistan.

This visit to a friendly neighbour who has helped this country to
overcome many a crisis in recent years is therefore most significant,
this is why the LTTE seems to be upset. A visit from a President of this
country to Pakistan has been long overdue. Diplomatic relations
between Sri Lanka and Pakistan established in 1948 could best be
described as having been irritant free; the two countries have
maintained close and mutually supporting relations but the full
potential of the relationship has not been realized. Cordial political
relations have been extended on paper to many spheres of
cooperation including economic, cultural and most importantly
Defence.

It is only in the area of defence cooperation that the relationship has
been really meaningful. Without fear of contradiction I could boldly
state that Sri Lanka today remains an undivided country thanks to the
support the country received particularly in 2000 when the Tamil Tiger
rebels were poised to take Jaffna and declare UDI, Pakistan gave us
the means to beat back the enemy. Suffice it to state here that Sri
Lanka is indeed grateful for the support it has received to maintain
military preparedness. We may perhaps have been a divided country
had it not been for Pakistan.

As stated earlier Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations have been irritant free.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka signed a Protocol on bilateral cooperation on
6th June 1996.

In terms of the Protocol the two countries were to meet annually for
consultations on cooperation but most unfortunately for reasons
unknown, no regular meetings were held and the first session at
Foreign Secretary level was held only in October 2004 in Colombo. It
appears to me that the political will has been absent on both sides but
the situation now appears to be changing in our mutual interest.

I am indeed pleased that our President is able to keep a long overdue
appointment and visit Pakistan to underscore the importance we place
on the relationship with Pakistan. The excellent bilateral relations
between our two countries and the friendship between the peoples
provide a good foundation for further strengthening and expanding
mutually beneficial relations particularly in the sphere of economic and
business activity.

At the political level it has been long agreed that our countries should
make every effort to further develop our relations and multi-faceted
cooperation for the common benefit of the two countries based on the
tradition of friendly relations which have always existed between the
two countries posing no threat to any third country. It has also been
agreed that Pakistan and Sri Lanka will work together to further
enhance cooperation in the field of defence, and in particular
cooperation in the training of military and Police personnel.

Towards further strengthening bilateral cooperation our two countries
entered into five Agreements, including the all important Free Trade
Agreement. Free trade and comprehensive economic cooperation can
only serve to strengthen our relations and would also auger well for
SAARC and regional security.

I do hope that the visit of our President would lead to the
establishment of a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement
with Pakistan.

President Pervez Musharaff visited Sri Lanka at the end of July 2002.
It was on that occasion that the two countries signed a framework
agreement for a Free Trade Agreement which, as stated earlier, has
now been realized; Our able Consul General in Karachi Manel De Siva
has indeed done much work to give content to the Agreement. In 2005
Prime Minister Shaukat Azeez visited Sri Lanka in his capacity as Chair
of SAARC; he held a series of meetings on bilateral issues with
government leaders.

The visit reaffirmed the desire of our two countries to strengthen
cooperation and to further develop our relations. Whilst the focus of
the bilateral meetings was on economic cooperation, the leaders
sought to promote closer people to people relations including the
promotion of tourism.

Our political relations with Pakistan also extends to cooperation as
members of SAARC and in multilateral fora. We have always been in
step and Pakistan has always supported us in difficult times when we
were pilloried at the UN Commission on Human Rights particularly in
the period between 1983 and 1987

I need now to flag an important act of understanding on the part of
Pakistan. It was once said in reference to our relationship with India
that we must swim as close as possible to the big fish to avoid being
swallowed.

Former President Kumaratunge once stated “India is our immediate
neighbour, with whom we have been inextricably by ties the origins of
which have long been lost in the mist of time. We have with India the
broadest and deepest interaction that we as a nation could have with
another state.

India therefore possesses the capacity, given her vastly disparate
strength and influence, to help or hinder to a great extent. In a word
the India factor is crucial to the existence of our nation.” Pakistan has
always been mindful of this and has never caused us any
embarrassment and shown great understanding in relating to Sri
Lanka.

Before I conclude I wish to refer to the fact that though our two
countries have paid much lip service to the closeness of our relations
there is very little to show for it other than in the area of defence
cooperation or might I say of military assistance. Though we
established relations in 1948 a Protocol relating to bilateral
cooperation was only signed in 1996 and then again no meetings
have been held till October of last year. Though we are neighbours
and a few hours of flying time apart we have had only a few visits from
either side.

The political will to give greater content to the relationship and make it
more meaningful seems to be absent. What could be the reason or
reasons for this? On the side of Sri Lanka is it that successive
governments have been concerned as to how India would view a
closer relationship with Pakistan?

What may be the reason on the Pakistan side? It is only now that our
two countries are thinking in terms of closer economic cooperation but
even here the foundation stone for Free Trade Agreement, not an all
encompassing Economic Cooperation Agreement, was laid in July
2002 when President Mushareff visited Sri Lanka, but it has only now
been signed and we anxiously await it becoming a reality. Closer
economic cooperation will surely entrench our relationship and would
pose no threat to any other country.

We need to ask ourselves the question as to what needs to be done
to create the necessary political will and the interest to take this
relationship forward and make it more meaningful. It is through the
integration of our economies to the furthest possible extent that this
relationship can become more meaningful and it is Pakistan that
should take the initiative in this regard for its economy is far stronger
than that of Sri Lanka. A particular area for closer cooperation would
be in Textiles—Pakistani Mills could be established in Sri Lanka to
feed the garment industry thus giving the principal industry in the
country the ability to compete in the world market by qualifying for
concessions available for ‘double transformation’.

The Press releases after high level visits have referred to closer
people to people relations and the promotion of tourism from our
countries but today visiting Pakistan has become a nightmare
experience, as I have myself encountered, because of the poor air
links on the Pakistan side; if Pakistan is serious about a closer
relationship she should permit Sri Lanka Airlines to fly not only to
Karachi but also to Islamabad and Lahore --- India has given us five
locations to fly to in that country.

Let us hope that our relations with India would not inhibit Pakistan
forging the closest of relations with Sri Lanka.
[DailyMirror]

[The Writer is a former Ambassador]