Will help SL fight drug menace
SL Muslims should maintain harmonious relationship with majority community
Majority community should value contribution of Muslims towards peace, unity and economic prosperity of the country
Pakistan-Sri Lanka bilateral trade has estimated potential of over US$ 2 billion
Speaking to, Pakistani High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Maj. Gen. (Retd) Muhammad Saad Khattak spelled out the status of bilateral relations from his country’s perspective and shed light on the potential areas for further growth in trade and cooperation.
Q In what direction are Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations heading at the moment?
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 1948, the two countries have maintained a close, cordial and mutually supportive relationship. We have been helpful to each other during difficult times and always coordinate our positions on regional and international fora. Our relations are on a positive trajectory. Pakistan wishes to expand its economic, trade, defence and cultural relations with Sri Lanka.
Q What tangible steps have been taken in recent years to promote bilateral ties?
High-level visits are the hallmark of the relations between the two countries. The Pakistan Foreign Minister visited Sri Lanka last year to congratulate the newly-elected President of Sri Lanka and high-level visits from both sides are expected to take place after the COVID-19 situation improves.
Pakistan has launched a Pakistan-Sri Lanka Higher Education Cooperation Programme for Sri Lanka at cost of over US$ 18 million. Under this programme, 800 fully funded and 200 partially funded scholarships are being offered to Sri Lankan students at graduate and post-graduate level. Under this arrangement, Allama Iqbal Scholarships have already been launched. Fifty selected students are currently undergoing studies in Pakistan under this programme in the fields of engineering, basic and natural sciences and social and management sciences. This programme will greatly help in enhancing people-to-people contacts between the two countries.
The Pakistan Government is also giving Jinnah Scholarships to Sri Lankan students for the past 14 consecutive years where top scoring O/Level and A/Level Sri Lankan students will receive monetary handouts. So far, 2000 Sri Lankan students have benefitted from this scheme.
Pakistan, being in the neighbourhood of the epicenter of world’s opium and heroin production, has become both a transit and victim state and is facing ever-increasing spillover effects
Defence ties between Sri Lanka and Pakistan are time-tested and built on a strong foundation. This bond is further strengthened after 2009 when Pakistan provided its unflinching moral and material support to Sri Lanka in the war against the LTTE. This ever-growing defence relation is based on capacity building of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces through training and provision of modern-day military hardware. Pakistan provides over 600 training opportunities annually to the Sri Lankan armed forces on gratis basis in various training institutions of Pakistan. Both the country’s armed forces participate in bilateral as well multinational exercises.
A number of initiatives have been taken to improve bilateral trade between the two countries in recent years. Three editions of the Pakistani Single Country Exhibitions have been organized in Sri Lanka in 2016, 2017 and 2018, which translates into higher volumes of bilateral trade.
The Pakistan High Commission in Colombo also held the first virtual business forum in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Export Development Board (SLEDB) to enhance awareness regarding trade and investment opportunities under the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement between the two countries on September 18, 2020. More than 100 companies from both sides participated in the Webinar and the event was a great success. A series of sectors-specific webinars and business forums have been planned for the next six months with public and private stakeholders from both sides across sectors like construction materials, pharmaceuticals, textiles, information and communication technology and Buddhist tourism development in Pakistan. Steps are being taken to facilitate Buddhist tourism from Sri Lanka to Pakistan, so that people can experience our rich Buddhist heritage as well.
Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world where people belonging to different religions have lived in harmony for centuries
Q What does Pakistan think about Sri Lanka’s stand on the Indo-pacific strategy?
Sri Lanka’s geo-strategic position and consequent interests of great powers has ever increased its strategic importance. Interests of world powers working for divergent interest, besides enhancing Sri Lanka’s options have also made it increasingly complicated for the Island State. A typical non-aligned status is almost unworkable, and the leadership has to make choices in the best interests of its sovereignty and economic prosperity. Pakistan is fully confident the current Sri Lankan leadership is fully capable to make right choices in the long-term interests of its country and people.
Q Pakistan is an Islamic country. What is Pakistan’s advice for Sri Lanka in the de-radicalization process?
Radicalization is across the religious-ethnic divide, hence it should not be linked to Islam. There are radicals and extremist in every belief system across the world. Sri Lanka is no exception. So let’s not link radicalism to Islam only. Pakistan has suffered immensely due to the menace of extremism and terrorism. We have paid a huge price in human and monetary terms, to terrorism triggered by global injustices. Despite all that, Pakistan has been able to successfully defeat the scourge of terrorism from its soil. Similarly, Sri Lanka has successfully defeated Tamil terrorism. I think we can benefit a great deal by learning from each other’s experiences. We are ready to assist the Sri Lankan Government in its fight against every form of radicalization, extremism and terrorism.
Defence ties between Sri Lanka and Pakistan are time-tested and built on a strong foundation. This bond is further strengthened after 2009 when Pakistan provided its unflinching moral and material support to Sri Lanka in the war against the LTTE
Q What is Pakistan’s advice for Sri Lankan Muslims?
Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world where people belonging to different religions have lived in harmony for centuries. Muslim-Sinhalese relations have been very fraternal until recently when a few misguided from the Muslim community under sponsorship of global power manipulators brought a bad name to the entire Muslim community. My advice to Muslims in Sri Lanka would be to put their utmost in maintaining a harmonious relationship with the majority and strive for the unity, progress and development of the country. Similarly, I would advise the majority community to value the sensitivities and unwavering historical contribution of the Muslim community towards peace, unity and economic prosperity of the country. The recent cremation of COVID-19 deaths among Muslims against WHO protocol is negatively impinging on ethnic harmony in the country.
Q The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries has not yet been realized. It has been discussed for a long time. What are the steps being taken to iron out issues in the full implementation of it?
After the signing of Pakistan-Sri Lanka FTA in 2005, exports from Pakistan to Sri Lanka have seen a remarkable increase. Before the FTA, exports from Pakistan to Sri Lanka stood at less than US$ 100 million and have been steadily increasing over the years, and in 2019 it reached US$369 million. Pakistan has witnessed favourable terms of trade with Sri Lanka but is cognizant of the fact that mutual trade volume still remains much below potential and capacity.
In the Sri Lankan market, tariff restrictions are low for Pakistani exports but non-tariff barriers such as para tariffs, accumulation of Nation Building Tax (NBT), Value Added Tax (VAT), Ports and Airport Development Levy (PAL), Special Commodity Levy (SCL) and compliance issues (health, sanitary and safety standards) add cost to imported items. So, in a nutshell, non-tariff barriers have overshadowed the impacts of tariff rationalization under the Pakistan-Sri Lanka FTA, and in turn, have been the major impediment.
Sri Lanka’s geo-strategic position and consequent interests of great powers has ever increased its strategic importance. Interests of world powers working for divergent interest, besides enhancing Sri Lanka’s options have also made it increasingly complicated for the Island State
Q What are the potential areas for growth in bilateral trade?
Pakistan-Sri Lanka bilateral trade has the estimated potential of over US 2 billion. Some of the potential export products from Pakistan are cement, denim fabric, woven fabric of cotton yarn, medicaments and surgical instruments, paper and paper boards, articles of silk and synthetic textile, knitwear, fertilizers, towels, bed wear, cutlery, leather products, sports gears and footwear.
The top import products from Sri Lanka are vegetable products and betel leaves, coconut and copra, fiber boards, natural rubber and tea. Sri Lanka’s exports to Pakistan only have a share of 0.7% in Sri Lanka’s total exports. A range of new products have also penetrated into the Pakistan market after the implementation of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka FTA, and these new products include items like fresh pineapple, MDF boards, tamarind with seeds, edible oil, porcelain tableware and kitchenware, ceramic tiles, furniture, electrical switches and sockets, herbal cosmetic products, plastic articles, paints, glass paintings, leather products, frozen fish, prawns, lobsters, crabs, cut flowers and foliage and gems and Jewellery.
Q Pakistan sought to invest in Hambantota by putting up a cement plant and a sugar processing plant way back. Is there any follow up action now?
The Pakistani High Commission recognizes these high potential areas for investment for joint collaboration between Pakistani and Sri Lankan companies and is engaging with stakeholders on both sides to raise awareness regarding incentives and benefits of investing in these sectors in Sri Lanka.
Q How do you view Sri Lanka-Pakistan cultural relations?
Sri Lanka and Pakistan share a rich historical civilizational cultural heritage. The mutual love between the two people is the foundation of special relationship that is further cemented by the commonality of eternal values of universal peace and love for humanity, espoused both by Buddhism and Islam. Pakistan has geographically inherited the sites of ancient Buddhist Civilization where foot prints are present from north to south in the country.
Q We find media reports about narcotics being smuggled into Sri Lanka by racketeers through Pakistan. What is your view in this regard?
Pakistan, being in the neighbourhood of the epicenter of world’s opium and heroin production, has become both a transit and victim state and is facing ever-increasing spillover effects. Pakistan itself is recognized by the entire world as a poppy-free state but is a victim of opiates drug trafficking. Narcotic drugs enter Pakistan mainly through the long western porous border.
Despite persistent and commendable efforts of all stakeholders, illicit trafficking of opium and heroin remains a serious concern for Pakistan. Drugs constitute approximately US$435 billion of the world drug economy. Given the scale and size of the problem, our proximity to the world’s leading drug producing region, Pakistan is the frontline state combating narcotics as part of a global anti-drug drive.
The seriousness of the Pakistan Government in its anti-drug resolve is manifested through being the only country in the world to constitute a single-mandated organization i.e. the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) under the Ministry of Narcotics Control (MNC) which works closely with domestic counterparts and international partners. But there is a malicious propaganda of a few countries who want to undermine Pakistan’s efforts in its drive against world drug trade.
Q What can Pakistan do to help Sri Lanka fight drug trafficking?
As I said earlier, Pakistan being the frontline state in combating this drug menace, its leading agency has vast experience in the conduct of counter-narcotic strike operations. The Anti-Narcotics Force’s uniqueness in dealing with the interdiction of narcotics and carrying out demand reduction activities makes it an ideal choice for bilateral collaboration. ANF is also in coordination with SAARC drug prevention activities/seminars/workshops.
For long, ANF has been collaborating with its counterparts in Sri Lanka through exchanging intelligence and conducting coordinated/international-controlled delivery operations. ANF has a well organized and state-of-the-art training facilities available where friendly countries’ law enforcement personnel have been getting training.
Pakistan has been and will continue to help Sri Lanka in the capacity building of its law and anti-drug enforcement agencies through training, sharing of information and exchanging best practices in vogue at a global level. It also maintains and runs treatment and rehabilitation centres all across the country. I see a lot of scope in this particular field between both countries.
Pakistan has always been a time-tested friend which has not only stood with Sri Lanka through thick and thin, but has helped whenever it has been asked to.