Vantage View On Khan’s Two-Day Visit to Sri Lanka

Read in your language:

Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been friendly states since they gained independence. India’s looming shadow over both has been a shared integrative feature. While both states have faced challenges in their relations with major powers, both have enjoyed close ties to China. Such commonalities will likely keep mutual ties strong, says an Asia-Pacific based expert on US-China relations and South Asia affairs.

According to a Pakistani defense expert and analyst, “Sri Lanka is a very important country. Unfortunately we have not been able to capitalize on the goodwill we have with the Lankans”.

He says:

  1. If Sri Lanka (SL) has defeated the Tamil insurgency with lots of blood and treasure, Pakistan was instrumental in its victory. Other than opening our training institutions to all branches of Lankan military, we supported them with material and arms and ammunition. I remember we even gave them our first line military equipment in 1999 and our units were without weapons for months and years.
  2. Unfortunately, it was SL Cricket team which was targeted by the terrorists, because the mastermind understood the warmth of our relations. Fortunately the Lankan stood with us and they were the first team to tour Pakistan leading to resumption of international cricket in Pakistan.
  3. It was India which supported the Tamil insurgency and Lankans know it. Our goodwill and enmity with India should provide our policy makers enough substance to cement bilateral ties with SL.
  4. China has invested heavily in SL as part of Belt and Road (BRI) and hence our bilateral ties fit neatly into the overall scheme of things.
  5. Indians have intervened in SL through Indian intel agency RAW and were able to install an India friendly government. A friendly and aligned country on the southern tip of India is a huge strategic asset. With Chinese weighing in, we should go all out to reach out to Lankans.

Khan’s two-day visit –despite some criticisms at home as the ongoing battle of wits for seat grabs by the opposition in the upcoming Senate elections has kept his government on the defensive –was statesmanship like, some observers say. Some think Khan should have been available to “do politic” at home as the Senate election (on March 3) is “crucial,” a critic said.

“He chose the horizon view instead of the treetop,” said a political analyst.

Example: The visit has reportedly opened a new vista in the two nations relationship. For Pakistan which has been struggling to add additional revenue streams to its economy, its micro military industrial sector has seen a boost close to the region, says a report.

To quote an Islamabad-based security analyst, “It’s important to see this visit as Pakistan revitalizing it’s political relationships in South Asia. Pakistan has substantial security relationship with Sri Lanka but it is important to leverage security partnership for increasing non-military cooperation there. With Biden administration revitalizing QUAD alliance, the strategic location of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean will be up for exploitation by regional and global actors”.

The two nations with heightened maritime activities in and around their shorelines and the wider Indian Ocean, are expected to bat and ball not just in the game of Cricket but beyond.

As Khan concluded his landmark visit to the island nation, its foreign ministry said “Pakistan has extended a $50m line of credit for defense purchases to Sri Lanka”, reported Aljazeera.

An agreement was also made to increase intelligence sharing and cooperation on other security issues, including anti-terrorism and anti-crime operations, the report added.

Khan, also popular in Sri Lanka due to his illustrious cricketing background, may have bowled a swinger with quite a good field placement and wicketkeeper. Lankans honored him with a 7-minute docu:

And this toon published by Sri Lanka daily:

Shared by a Pakistani defense official based in a major capital in the Middle East: “This cartoon appearing in #SriLanka daily today is a slap on the face of #GodiMedia anchors like @majorgauravarya desperate to undermine (the) visit of #PMIKinSriLanka.”

Adding them all up, the canvas of the visit and the landscape ahead are no “apples and oranges” or a Pollock’s abstract strokes with liquid household enamel paint, but an emerging portrait –of form and substance –sponsored lock, stock and barrel by the country’s military and the intelligentsia.

Politics? Duh. Geopolitics? A bouncer would do.

Irshad Salim, Islamabad