The Prime Minister of Pakistan wants to send a message to India by visiting Sri Lanka that his country is no longer alone in the region and will play an important role as a regional power in the future.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s two-day visit to Sri Lanka ends on Wednesday, February 24. The visit is seen as important for both regional and global politics. This is Imran Khan’s second visit to a neighbouring country since taking over as Prime Minister.
First Afghanistan and now Sri Lanka. The Pakistani prime minister is working to improve the country’s reputation on many fronts, as well as to move South Asia’s second nuclear power in regional and international politics towards political stability and economic development.
Sri Lanka was also involved in these military exercises. The conduct of these exercises by Pakistan in collaboration with the regional and international navies was in fact a message to India that Pakistan is no longer isolated at the regional level. Along with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh also took part in the exercises, thus helping to end India’s long-standing agenda of exposing Pakistan alone at the regional level. A few days after the exercises, the Prime Minister has arrived in Sri Lanka as a sign of goodwill.
It seems like Sri Lanka wants to recognize Pakistan as a partner and the Colombo government is trying to establish closer bilateral relations with Islamabad.
PM Imran’s visit to Sri Lanka, however, took a controversial turn even before it began when news of the cancellation of the proposed address by the Prime Minister of Pakistan surfaced in the Sri Lankan Parliament. Imran Khan decided to continue his visit instead of giving too much air to the issue and tried to prove that the relations between Pakistan and Sri Lanka are close and friendly. The visit of the Head of Government of Pakistan to Colombo is also of paramount importance.
New Delhi was also blamed for cancelling the plan to address the Prime Minister in the Sri Lankan parliament as India continues to show its full strength in the region, for which it keeps showing its ‘muscles’. It put pressure on the Colombo government to cancel Imran Khan’s address to the parliament. India has already sabotaged the SAARC conference in Pakistan.
Similar views are being expressed by various analysts that the cancellation of the Pakistani Prime Minister’s address to the Sri Lankan Parliament was due to New Delhi’s fears that Imran Khan might raise the long-running Kashmir dispute. Sri Lanka was also concerned that the Pakistani Prime Minister could address the rights of the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka in his address. In view of all these concerns, the Sri Lankan government announced the cancellation of Imran Khan’s address to the parliament but cited the restrictions and regulations of COVID-19 as the reason.
It is to be noted that there has been a major controversy in Sri Lanka over the last rites of Muslims after the death of Muslims due to COVID-19. The Sri Lankan government had strictly banned the burial of the dead under the Muslim faith and made it mandatory to burn the bodies of those who had succumbed to COVID-19.
The Muslim community, which makes up 11 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population, was outraged, calling it an extension of the state’s policy of persecuting Muslims and targeting them because of their faith.
Earlier, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Rajapakse gave permission for Muslims who die of COVID-19 to be buried following an outcry over the government’s decision to cremate all those who died of coronavirus. On this, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote in a tweet praising him, “We welcome Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s assurance given in Sri Lankan Parliament today allowing Muslims to bury those who died from COVID19.”