25 November 2017 05:40 AM

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P.K. BALACHANDRAN | 20 OCTOBER, 2017

Sri Lanka Loosens Apron Strings With India, Supports Pakistan As Host for Saarc

P.K. BALACHANDRAN


COLOMBO: Sri Lanka has extended its support to Pakistan for hosting the 20th SAARC summit in Islamabad, that could impact on immediate relations with India. More so as it indicates a subtle shift in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy which had tended to be tied to the apron strings of India.

Sri Lanka’s extension of support was made public by the visiting Pakistan Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua at a function here after her meeting with the Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on October 17.

Janjua told the media that Sirisena had assured her of his country’s support for holding the summit in Pakistan. But neither Sri Lanka nor Pakistan mentioned the issue in their respective official communiqués on the meeting between the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries.

The Pakistani communiqué said that Janjua raised the issue of the atrocities being committed in Kashmir by the Indian Security Forces, and that she called for a solution of the Kashmir issue on the basis of UN resolutions. But there was no mention of the Sri Lankan response to this.

The Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry’s statement made no mention of the Kashmir question, perhaps taking into consideration neighboring India’s sensitivity.

Sri Lanka had opted out of the 19 th SAARC summit, which was to have been held in Pakistan, on the specious ground that security could not be assured there. But the real reason was pressure from India not to attend.

Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan had also opted out - Bhutan because it is within India’s sphere of influence and Bangladesh and Afghanistan because of their spat with Pakistan on the export of terrorism.

Sri Lanka has been subtly shifting from India on various economic matters. A detailed plan for the execution of several Joint Ventures submitted by India is yet to be executed though Sri Lanka had agreed to the plan as well as the time-table for its implementation.

The Sri Lankan government has virtually shelved an earlier plan to have Indian companies complete the Colombo port’s East Container Terminal. A recent report in Sunday Times said while the Indian railways are claiming that a deal to send passenger coaches to India has been finalized, the Sri Lankan railways has not even called for tenders.

The deal to run the Mattala airport as a Indo-Lankan Joint Venture has also hit a snag as there is a controversy over the division of stakes and the time period of the Indian involvement.

The visit of the Pakistan Foreign Secretary to Sri Lanka came a day after Pakistan scored an important victory in the UN by securing a seat at the UN Human Rights Council. Janjua thanked Sri Lanka for its support and vote to secure such a victory, the state-owned Daily News said.

Another crucial win for Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations came with Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) deciding that the national team will play in Lahore on October 26. This will be their first visit to Pakistan by the national team after being subject to a terrorist attack in 2009.

“We are delighted that the Sri Lankan team is visiting Lahore. Pakistanis will cheer the Sri Lankans as much as their own team. There are no security issues to be worried about”, Janjua said.

“The events this week thus mark a closer relationship between the two countries and a win for Pakistani diplomacy,” Daily News said.

The paper also noted the significance of the fact that Janjua had chosen Sri Lanka for her first foreign visit after taking over as Foreign Secretary.

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