A Pakistan’s high-level delegation led by Prime Minister Imran Khan has concluded a two days official visit to Sri Lanka yesterday. The visit was a gamut of multifaceted engagements related to different fora of bilateral relations of the two countries. Both sides deliberated to further enhance bilateral relations in various areas, including trade, investment, science and technology, and culture. During joint press conference with his Sri Lanka counterpart Mr. Mahina Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Imran Khan urged that his visit is aimed at strengthening bilateral relationship especially trade and economic ties through coordinated engagement. He said that Sri Lanka could benefit from CPEC through enhanced connectivity up to the Central Asian states.
Pakistan and Sri-Lanka has historic relations over the decades, which was mainly based on bilateral defense cooperation, sports, and bilateral diplomatic cooperation at international forum. Both nations remained unable to transform these ties into broad based multidimensional relations encompassing geo-strategic and geo-economic interests of both countries. Although, both countries were already engaged through bilateral consultation groups at diplomatic front, but these low tire engagements cannot make any breakthrough in the relation.
During this high-level interaction, both sides identified several arenas of mutual interest ranging from economy, trade, investment, education, defence, tourism, aviation, and other sectors. Furthermore, both sides discussed to broaden the Pak-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement and enhanced parliamentary interactions between the two countries to boost bilateral cooperation. Both Countries promised to achieve the goal of $1 billion bilateral trade in coming years. Government of Pakistan extended various incentives to Sri Lanka as a goodwill gesture including 100 scholarships in the field of medicines (MBBS and BDS) for Sri Lankan students, establishment of Asian Civilization and Culture Centre at the University of Peradeniya, Kandy and 50 million dollars’ defense credit line facility for Sri Lankan Defence Sector.
Although, this high-level visit of Pakistani leadership to friendly country Sri Lanka is little delayed, however, it is a well thought and well architected initiative in line with Pakistan’s economic diplomacy vision. Earlier, Pakistan outreached to African states under its look Africa initiative. It is high time that Pakistan must establish its strong economic bonds with South East Asian Nations in coming days.
Since from its inception, Pakistan always faced security challenges due to Kashmir problem and after the Afghan war since 1979, it further went down in the mess of international conspiracies, due to which Pakistan could not rise in the economic field. Pakistan foreign relations mostly have been seen in context of geo-strategic prospects. First time, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) envisioned the huge prospects of Pakistan’s economic revival in the region and beyond. Prime Minister Imran Khan rightly invited the Sri Lanka to avail this huge opportunity in exploring its trade relations with Central Asian States. The Pakistani business community highly appreciated the visit of the Prime Minister to Sri Lanka and urged to make this opportunity a more productive engagement with Sri Lankan Government and businesses.
Pakistan government should work on similar lines to establish deep economic ties with other countries in the neighborhood. Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan and Iran is shrinking in its volume during recent years. Pakistan has extended extra financial benefit to Afghanistan through Afghan transit trade, however, Pakistan must work to achieve similar concessions from Afghanistan for its trade with CARs. On other hand, Pakistan had been hesitating to forge strong economic relations with Iran in the backdrop of US-Iran rivalry. Pakistan must promote its trade relations with Iran under economic diplomacy initiative.