Sri Lankan Foreign and Education Ministers will visit Islamabad next month

Sri Lankan Foreign and Education Ministers will visit Islamabad next month

In an exclusive interview with Political Uprise, Admiral Ravindra Chandrasiri Wijegunaratne, the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in Pakistan, revealed the upcoming visit of Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry and Education Minister Susil Premajayantha to Islamabad next month.

The purpose of the visit is to strengthen the already robust ties between the two countries as Sri Lanka heads toward its presidential election in October this year, aiming to forge closer relations with Pakistan.

When asked about Sri Lanka’s economic situation, Admiral Wijegunaratne acknowledged that while the country had managed to emerge from an economic default, challenges persist in addressing economic crunches.

He highlighted that the key to overcoming the default was availing of grace periods and deferred payments on loans, providing breathing space for economic recovery. However, he emphasized the need to analyze the root causes of the economic crisis, identifying the abrupt shift to organic agriculture, the subsequent failure of the agriculture sector, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism industry as major contributing factors. 

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Admiral Wijegunaratne expressed optimism about the potential of Gwadar and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to transform regional trade dynamics. He underscored the strategic importance of Gwadar as a gateway to Central Asian economies, highlighting the cost-saving benefits of land and sea trade routes facilitated by CPEC. Moreover, he emphasized the potential for Gwadar to serve as a transshipment hub, attracting megaships and boosting job creation and revenue generation through enhanced connectivity with Central Asian countries. 

”If Gwadar and CPEC are fully operational and in full swing, no one can catch Pakistan; it can also open opportunities for cheaper gas, and this gas can also help power plants produce electricity, which can decrease Pakistan’s spending bills. We are waiting to hear when Gwadar will start receiving containers. Colombo is also a transshipment hub; most of the containers coming to Sri Lanka are not heading to us, but we get revenue and jobs. Similarly, Gwadar is a deep port that can handle massive ships that can only anchor in deep waters”. He said.

Sri Lankan Foreign and Education Ministers will visit Islamabad next month

‘Overseas Pakistanis are real assets; they can help the country boost its economic recovery. Pakistan is producing doctors for the world; there are 2.7 million Pakistani expats living in Saudi Arabia alone, while 6 million are doing white-collar jobs in different countries. They do have a lot of money; provide them assurance, and they will help their country, of course.’ He said.

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‘Sri Lanka was the first country to sign a free trade agreement with Pakistan in 2004. Almost 20 years have passed since the agreement, but 200 million dollars of trade are at the present stage. We can have a trade of 1 billion dollars either way. Pakistan is rich in religious tourism; Buddha tourism has started and needs more to flourish. We are dependent on tourism, and Pakistan needs to do a lot in this sector, which can ease economic revival.’ The high commissioner said.

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‘Unfortunately, connectivity between both countries is not that good, as direct flights are only for Lahore and Karachi, while transit flights are time-consuming and expensive too,’ he added.

Reflecting on the deep-rooted ties between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Admiral Wijegunaratne praised Pakistan’s role as a Muslim superpower and emphasized the significance of mutual cooperation in various sectors, including trade, education, and defense. 

Sri Lanka spends almost 6% of its GDP on education. Many Sri Lankan students are keen to enroll in Pakistani universities for higher education, while Pakistan is providing 480 fully paid scholarships to Lankan students, he said.

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He commended the historical military collaboration between the two countries, recalling Pakistan’s support during Sri Lanka’s conflict with the Tamil Tigers and the shared commitment to strengthening defense relations through joint exercises and training programs. 

We are regular attendees of AMAN, a series of multilateral naval exercises hosted by the Pakistan Navy. Recently, Pakistan helped us develop a military academy, said the former Naval Chief of Sri Lanka.

Pakistan and Sri Lankan defense relations are excellent. Sri Lanka’s current army chief, Lieutenant General Vikum Liyanage, was trained at the Officers Training School in Mangla, Pakistan, in the 19th course. Said Nishan e Imtiaz, Admiral Ravindra C. Wijegunaratne.

Highlighting the existing trade agreements and educational collaborations between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Admiral Wijegunaratne stressed the need for further enhancing connectivity and promoting cultural exchanges to harness the full potential of the bilateral relationship. 

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Pointing to the rich religious and historical tourism offerings in both countries, he called for concerted efforts to boost tourism and educational exchanges to benefit from the synergies between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. In conclusion, Admiral Wijegunaratne reiterated the enduring friendship between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, characterized by mutual support and cooperation across various domains. He reaffirmed the shared commitment to nurturing bilateral ties and fostering greater collaboration for the mutual benefit of both nations.

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