Seminar examines crucial links between Pakistan and Lanka

Tuesday, 10 March 2015 00:56 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The High Commission of Pakistan, in collaboration with the Society of Civilizations Pakistan (SOC), organised an international seminar on Pakistan and Sri Lanka’s historical, economic, military and cultural links in Colombo yesterday. The leader of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress and Minister for Urban Development, Water Supply and Drainage, Rauff Hakeem was the Chief Guest at the occasion. Several prominent scholars from the two countries participated at the seminar and shared their in-depth analysis on the subject. The panellists included Ven. Prof Gallelle Sumanasiri Thero, Vice Chancellor, Buddhist and Pali University, Ven. Prof Vimalarante Thero, Head of the Department of Economics, University of Colombo, Dr. Saman Kelegama, Executive Director, Institute of Policy Studies, Colombo, Dr. Abdul Basit, Patron SOC, Mr. Sarfaraz Ahmad Khan Sipra the Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan and Dr. Muhammad Tahir Saleem, Life Member SOC. Papers were also read on behalf of Lt. Gen. (R) Ayaz Ahmad, Life Member SOC, Muhammad Aslam Khokhar, and Dr. Tanvir Anjum.               While speaking at the occasion, the High Commissioner of Pakistan in Sri Lanka, Maj. Gen. (R) Qasim Qureshi said that the diplomatic relationship between Sri Lanka and Pakistan was not based on any strategic compulsion but on an association of choice. The High Commissioner recalled that during the 1971 war between Pakistan and India, Pakistan had the special need to have flights between East Pakistan and West Pakistan, while other flights were forbidden over India. So, despite all the pressure the Indian Government put on Sri Lanka, they allowed the Pakistani aircraft to land at Colombo and go over to Dhaka. This is something Pakistan would never forget, he added. In his presidential addressed, Minister for Urban Development, Water Supply and Drainage, Rauff Hakeem said: “Sri Lankans have maintained their bilateral relations with Pakistan even by risking their lives.” Emphasising his affection and special relationship with Pakistan, he said that he had cut short his visit to Indonesia to ensure that he could attend this event on the invitation of the High Commission of Pakistan.     He said that the Pakistani Government had always extended friendly assurance and support to Sri Lanka. He acknowledged the invaluable contribution of the outgoing High Commissioner of Pakistan Maj. Gen. Qureshi to strengthening diplomatic ties and added that Qureshi was always forthcoming and supportive during the challenging times that Sri Lankans were facing in the last two years. While reading the paper on behalf of Lt. Gen. (R) Ayaz Ahmad, Major (R) Tariq Hayat Malik said that the military relationship between the two countries was developed on strategic and conceptual understanding and agreement as well as strong military cooperation. He added that the Government of Pakistan provided hardware as well as training to the Sri Lankan armed forces during the conflict with the LTTE, something which proved decisive in eliminating terrorism from Sri Lanka.     Director of the Institute of Policy Studies Sri Lanka, Dr. Saman Kelegama implored Sri Lanka to further diversify its exports to Pakistan in order to gain maximum benefit from the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries. Dr. Kelegama noted that even though Pakistan had allowed Sri Lanka to export 156 goods without any tariff, Sri Lanka exports only 35 goods out of tariff free goods. However, he noted that bilateral trade between the two countries had expanded over the last decade with the FTA signed in 2002, which came into effect from 2005. While recognising the significance of political and military relations, all the scholars underscored the need to further enhance cooperation between the two friendly countries in the economic, cultural, educational, tourism, public diplomacy and disaster management spheres. Two Memoranda of Understanding were also signed between the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka and the Preston University of Pakistan as well as the Society of Civilization, promoting educational research, cultural links and international conferences. The signing ceremony was witnessed by the Chief Guest, High Commissioner and other dignitaries. A large number of parliamentarians, members of the diplomatic corps, people from different walks of society, media organisations and officials of the High Commission of Pakistan attended the seminar.