SRI Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena 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 at the mark of about 2 billion US dollars while this figure was at only 375 million during fiscal year 2011-12. Sri Lanka is the first country that had 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 signing of this agreement. In this regard, 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 field of economy, defence, media collaboration and technical education.
Till 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 Sri Lankan security forces in ending the 30 years long insurgency by providing the much needed arms and ammunition to fight against the militants. The Tamil Tigers were so enraged by it 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 send 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 Sri Lankan President, both countries have signed six ‘Memorandum of Understandings’ (MoUs) including cooperation between Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and Atomic Energy Authority of Sri Lanka, cooperation against illicit trafficking in narcotic dgrugs and psychotropic substances, cooperation agreement on exchange and collaboration between National Defence University of Pakistan and Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies of Sri Lanka, collaboration in the field of sports, cooperation in shipping business betweenPakistan National Shipping Corporation(PNSC) and the Ceylon Shipping Corporation Ltd (CSCL) and cooperation in disaster management.
The high point of meeting between the President of Sri Lanka and Prime Minister of Pakistan was the decision to cooperate in nuclear sector. In the backdrop of Sri Lankan pact with India, in February this year to build its atomic energy infrastructure and the training of security personnel, the signing of MoU on cooperation between Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and Atomic Energy Authority of Sri Lankahave negated various concerns at Pakistani side.
Earlier, both countries had MoUs in various important fields including in waiving off 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 commitment of both countries the fields of arts, culture, creative studies, archaeology,education, information and media collaboration. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have also MoU in the field of agriculture. Pakistan is the second largest trading partner of Sri Lanka in South Asia.
The signing of new MoUs would further enhance bilateral cooperation. Recently, the Sri Lankan Airlines has expressed an interest in expanding its operations in multiple cities in Pakistan and has also invited the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to operate more flights to Sri Lanka. This would 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 an increased interaction of their economies and reinforcing of the institutional framework for cooperation.
—The writer works at IPRI.