Visiting Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari chats with President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday in the background as the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the two countries Prof. G.L. Pieris and Makhdoom Qureshi sign the MoU for the abolition of visa for holders of diplomatic and official passports.
This was among the four MoUs signed between the two countries to foster cooperation - Pic by President’s media
Two countries sign four MoUs, revive Joint Economic Commission
Propelling bilateral relations to a new high, Sri Lanka and Pakistan yesterday signed four new deals to foster key sectors in addition to reviving the crucial Joint Economic Commission.
The spate of activities was the highlight of the programme of the visiting Pakistan President Zardari.
The High Commission said a series of separate bilateral meetings in Colombo yesterday by President Zardari with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne and Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris at the delegation level and a one on one with the President of the host country followed by a banquet brought the two countries closer together than any time before in the past decades. The two leaders witnessed the signing of four MoUs pledging to abolish visas, facilitate Customs clearance, cooperate in Agriculture and promote Arts and Creative Studies.
They also agreed to work towards inking agreements enhancing trade and defence ties on the one hand and connectivity and cultural exchanges on the other.
Briefing journalists about the Sunday meetings in Colombo spokesperson to the President Farhatullah Babar said that the key highlight of the meetings was a decision to reinvigorate the Joint Economic Commission and task it to work out modalities for a new and unconventional phase of economic cooperation marked by barter trade, currency exchange and banking interchanges.
The agreement came about after the two sides agreed that the present level of 300 million dollars of mutual trade was far below their true potential and keeping in view the scope of their political and cultural cooperation.
Farhatullah Babar said that the President offered Pakistan’s help in setting up sugar and cement plants in Sri Lanka in return for import of Sri Lankan produce and manufactures in Pakistan as barter trade or in local currencies obviating the need for making payments in dollars thereby reducing pressure on their limited foreign exchange reserves.
Calling it as a “win-win situation for both” the President of Pakistan suggested that the Finance Ministers of the two countries should sit together immediately to work out the details — a proposal to which the Sri Lankan side agreed readily, he said.
The visa abolition agreement now allows holders of diplomatic and official passport to travel without visas — a step described by President Zardari as “critical for enhancing people to people contacts and improve connectivity”.
They also agreed to start direct weekly air flights between the two countries from early next year and gradually improve the frequency of air flights.
“The success of the new economic and trade cooperation paradigm requires that the two countries laid special stress on improving connectivity,” the President said during the interactions yesterday.
President Zardari also offered to open a branch of the National Bank of Pakistan in Colombo on reciprocal basis and urged the Sri Lankan leadership to give it a serious thought as a vehicle to improve the trade and commerce between the two counties.
During the meetings President Zardari also invited Sri Lankan Parliamentarians, Buddhist monks, traders, intellectuals and political leaders to visit Pakistan to cement the ties.
Pakistan has a rich Buddhist archaeological heritage which it has preserved and protected zealously, he said, adding “Our archaeological heritage offers unparalleled religious tourism to the people of Sri Lanka, indeed to the people of near and far East,” he said.
Pakistan will participate in the exhibition next year in Kandy in Sri Lanka of Gandhara civilisation by sending Gandhara artifacts and relics of the Buddhist civilisation for display at the exhibition.
Defence cooperation also figured in the talks with the two sides agreeing to continue it on a sustained basis but the emphasis was kept focused on enhancing economic and trade relations between the two countries.
Today the President will visit Sri Lankan Parliament besides addressing the Business Forum of Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
The President also congratulated the Sri Lankan leaders on defeating militancy and terrorism and said that Pakistan too was determined to fight and defeat the menace. For Pakistan the fight against militants is the fight for the preservation of its values and system and we have to defeat them, he said, adding, “There simply was no other alternative”. The absence of alternatives had made the mind of Pakistanis very clear and the nation was united in defeating the militants, he said. The President also called for cooperation in the fight against militancy and insurgencies.
The MoU on the abolition of visa was signed by the two foreign ministers while the other three were signed by the Ambassador Seema Ilahi Baloch on behalf of Pakistan with the respective heads of ministries of Sri Lankan Government.
During the delegation level talks the Sri Lankan President said that the people and government of Pakistan had extended solid support to the Sri Lankan people in their fight against militancy and insurgency adding that “Sri Lanka will never forget that support”. He said that Sri Lanka sincerely hoped that Pakistan to will soon defeat the militants and recover in near future from the after effects of militancy.