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One loyal friend is worth ten thousand

by Mobisher Rabbani

The people of Sri Lanka have great appreciation for Pakistan and its people which I personally experienced during my stay in Sri Lanka.
(February 04, Islamabad, Sri Lanka Guardian) Charles De Gaulle once said 'Nations do not have friends, they have only interests’. Two nations that prove this theory wrong are Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Although they are not neighbours and are separated by geographically larger India which has a coastline of 7,517 kilometers yet they are the closest of friends and true allies.

The foundation of their relationship goes back to 1948 when father of nation of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister Hon. D.S. Senanayaka met and laid forth the vision for the deepest and closest friendship between both their nation states based on mutual respect.

During and before the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 Sri Lanka provided the Pakistani airforce refueling capability and permission to use their airspace for over flights to East Pakistan which was the beginning of their defense cooperation.

When Sri Lanka faced stiff resistance in crushing the foreign backed and funded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the world was unwilling to supply it with the kind of weapons it was looking for. Pakistan extended immense valuable support to Sri Lanka in its very difficult phase of national history. Pakistan assisted Sri Lanka in supplying High-Tech military equipment, training and defense advisors.

Shortly after the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka, Pakistan congratulated Sri Lanka and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Hussein A. Bhaila of Sri Lanka said "The government and the people of Sri Lanka have considered Pakistan as a true friend of Sri Lanka, which has always stood by it in times of need..."

Pakistan is the second largest trading partner of Sri Lanka in South Asia. Sri Lanka was the first country to sign a Free Trade Agreement with Pakistan, which became operational from June 12, 2005. 4,000 items can be imported to Pakistan from Sri Lanka. Bilateral trade between the two countries was US$400 million in early 2010, and is expected to increase to US$2 billion by 2012. In November 2010, President Asif Ali Zardari mulled a 250 million dollar export credit line that Pakistan would extend to Sri Lanka. Trade between the two countries reached $500 million by the end of 2010.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka enjoy convergence of views on almost all matters of regional and international significance. The two countries had been closely cooperating in multilateral forums, including South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). It is nevertheless discouraging that SAARC had not been able to move beyond a certain point although Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been playing a very active role in making SAARC an effective and result-oriented organization.

MOUs have been signed between Sri Lanka and Pakistan to co-operate on tourism and archeology which is expected to open a new window of opportunity for both countries. 70% of the Sri Lankan population is Buddhist and Pakistan needs to develop better tourism infrastructure for them to come experience more than fifty Buddhist archaeological sites in Pakistan. A request I conveyed to the Pakistan High Commissioner in Sri Lanka and the Pakistan tourism board on behalf of Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona and the numerous Sri Lankans I interacted with during my trip there.

The sports history of Pakistan and Sri Lanka goes back to April 1949 when the Pakistan national cricket team visited Sri Lanka to play two first-class matches with their hosts. Till date large number of Pakistani cricket fans support the Sri Lanka team and vice versa. Proof of which I saw when I encountered a rickshaw driver in Sri Lanka wearing a Pakistan cricket team jersey and cap. Also during the 2009 T20 cricket world cup finals when both teams played each other yet both the country’s fans watched the game together united by the love of cricket.

Both countries came forward to help and defended each other when difficult times confronted them. When the convoy carrying the Pakistani High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Bashir Wali Mohamed on August 14, 2006 was attacked by the LTTE. The High Commissioner escaped unhurt, but seven people (including four Army commandoes) were killed and a further seventeen injured in the blast. Pakistan as a token of appreciation and friendship supports the families of the Sri Lankan army commandoes and civilians who were killed and injured in the terrorist attack.

Similarly after a terrorist assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus on March 4, 2009 in Lahore. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who cut short a visit to Nepal to return home, condemned the "cowardly terrorist attack”, dispatched his Foreign minister to Pakistan who stated the attack would not affect ties between the island nation. Meher Mohammad Khalil the bus driver who saved the lives of the Sri Lankan cricket players was given a heroes welcome when he visited Sri Lanka.

When Pakistan faced its worst floods in its history in 2010, Sri Lanka sent dry rations of rice, sugar, lentils and tea worth over Rs.3 million. Even overseas Sri Lankans living in the Gulf state of UAE sent relief aid. Pakistan also recently sent a consignment of aid of blankets and tents for the flood victims in Sri Lanka even though it was still suffering of the aftereffects of floods in its own country. My organizations The Rabbani foundation and Overseas Pakistanis & Sri Lankans Society (OPSS) are both currently running projects to come to the aid of our brothers and sisters affected by the floods in Sri Lanka.

Upon invitation from the Social Policy & Research Center, University of Colombo I visited Sri Lankan in July 2008 at the Pre SAARC Conference where regional issues where highlighted to be voted in the upcoming 12th SAARC summit to be held in Sri Lanka. I also met with Sri Lankan parliamentarians, field level military officers, the Foreign Secretary, the Defense Secretary, and the High Commissioner of Pakistan in Sri Lanka. I was also bestowed upon the honor as a Sri Lankan Boy Scout during my trip.

Both countries need to foster a strong mutual relationship with China to maintain strong economic and military development. The need of the hour is that all three countries come together to form a new association so that they all can benefit from each others expertise with this new friendship block in Asia.

The people of Sri Lanka have great appreciation for Pakistan and its people which I personally experienced during my stay in Sri Lanka. For the love and friendship I received from the Sri Lankan people I was inspired to write my book and have this quote from it “If Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia is obligatory for every Muslim then visiting Sri lanka should be obligatory for every Pakistani” I would like to congratulate our Sri Lankans brothers and sister on their 63rd Independence of Sri Lanka on behalf of all Pakistanis.

Mobisher Rabbani is a defense analyst, humanitarian, writer and President of Overseas Pakistanis & Sri Lankans Society (OPSS) which works to enhance People to People contacts between Non Resident Pakistanis & Sri Lankans.

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