Colombo - Pakistan yesterday sealed a landmark deal to sell JF-17 Thunder fighter jets to Sri Lanka as the two countries signed eight agreements to boost cooperation in areas like trade promotion, science and technology, besides combating money laundering and terror financing.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Srisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe witnessed the signing of documents at a ceremony held here at the President’s Secretariat.

On the second day of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Colombo, Pakistan agreed to sell eight aircraft to Sri Lanka in the first successful deal to sell the jets which Pakistan has been trying to sell for some time.

JF-17 Thunder is already part of Pakistan Air Force and has been successfully used to strike terrorist hideouts in the northwestern tribal region.

Pakistan was a key supplier of arms and aircraft to Sri Lanka’s military in their battle against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels during the civil war that ended in May 2009.

Sri Lanka sends its military officers for higher training to Pakistan and its arch-rival India as well as to several other countries, including the United States and China.

The island’s closest neighbour India withheld arms and ammunition during the height of Colombo’s war with Tamil rebels, who have close cultural and religious links with the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Nawaz Sharif called for closer military cooperation with Sri Lanka. In talks with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Nawaz also expressed a desire for more naval exchanges.

“I conveyed our desire for more frequent port calls, participation in military exercises and defence seminars and training of military personnel,” Nawaz said in a statement following an official welcoming ceremony.

Nawaz said both sides expressed their satisfaction over the existing bilateral cooperation in the field of defence. “We have also signed a number of agreements and MoUs today, which would help promote cooperation between our two countries in the fields of trade promotion, culture, health, gem and jewellery, science & technology and combating money laundering and terror financing,” Nawaz said.

The two countries also agreed to reinvigorate efforts to achieve the goal of achieving $1 billion bilateral trade target at the earliest from the present $325 million.

“We have agreed to hold frequent summit-level meetings, promote parliamentary exchanges and enhance the process of consultations, cooperation and coordination between our respective institutions,” Nawaz said.

Highlighting that Sri Lanka enjoys exceptional position of being the first country with which Pakistan entered into a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Nawaz added: “We also discussed the issues related to the implementation of Free Trade Agreement.”

“The two countries have agreed on the inclusion of services and investment chapters in the bilateral FTA. This would enable our companies to form joint ventures for export to third countries,” he affirmed.

Nawaz said he reiterated Pakistan’s offer to set up cement and sugar plants in Sri Lanka on mutually agreed terms for the long-term benefit of Lankan economy.

Nawaz Sharif and his Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickremesinghe also launched the `Pakistan Single Country Exhibition 2016’ aimed at tapping the business potential of the two countries.

Wickremesinghe said Pakistan and Sri Lanka enjoyed strong political relationship, adding economic relationship needed to be strengthened.

He said Sri Lanka, for centuries, had been the heart of trade with routes up to Asia and Africa. He expressed his country’s interest to redefine trade links with Pakistan which, he said, was ready to open up new trade corridor up to Central Asia. Wickremesinghe lauded Prime Minister Nawaz for taking steps to strengthen the national economy for the wellbeing of people.

President Maithripala thanked Pakistan for helping Sri Lanka root out terrorism from its soil and added the Sri Lankan government and nation were thankful to Pakistan for this assistance.

In a lecture delivered on the special invitation of Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, Prime Minister Nawaz said his vision for South Asia was a dispute-free zone where all the nations would jointly fight their common enemies of illiteracy, poverty and malnutrition.

“The South Asia needs strategic stability. We should build convergences and need dialogue for the betterment of the region,” the prime minister said.

He said it was time for South Asian countries to focus their energies on better preparing themselves to handle the global challenges. He said `cooperation not confrontation’ was his government’s policy and he believed in promoting harmony with all South Asian countries. He mentioned that he took initiative in normalisation of relations with India and flew to New Delhi to attend the oath-taking ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Besides, he continued, at the UN General Assembly forum, he floated a four-point feasible agenda for the restoration of peaceful relations between Pakistan and India.

Nawaz recalled that he was also deeply touched by Modi’s decision to fly to Lahore last month on his way back from Afghanistan and in next few days, the foreign secretaries of two the countries would meet in Islamabad.

About Afghanistan, he said Pakistan believed that a peaceful Afghanistan was in its interest and termed terrorism a common enemy of both countries.

He said Pakistan had consistently been supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned dialogue process and was ready for continued support for resumption of peace dialogue between the Afghan government and Taliban.

He said his government was implementing the true spirit of democracy and had devised a comprehensive development programme of `Four Es’ – promoting education, eliminating extremism, overcoming energy shortage and strengthening economy. He emphasised that all strategies were being pursued with due fairness and transparency.

Nawaz said Pakistan was waging a comprehensive war against terrorism that included striking the sanctuaries and hideouts of terrorists in tribal areas.

He mentioned that through intelligence-based information, his government had struck a strong blow to the sleeper cells of militants and the operation was in final stage being carried out by the country’s valiant forces.

Nawaz said radicalisation and global terrorism could not be eliminated until its root cause was addressed.

He said Pakistan and Sri Lanka enjoyed special and deep-rooted relations based on several commonalities.

He said the people of Sri Lanka were close to the heart of people of Pakistan and appreciated the support extended by Sri Lanka to Pakistan at regional and international fora.

He highlighted the steps taken by his government including economic reforms that resulted in increase of GDP and tax revenues, and reduction in inflation and budget deficit.

He mentioned that leading international publication, fund managers and rating agencies including Bloomberg and Moody’s had given positive assessments about Pakistan’s economy.

Sharif highlighted the focus of his government on regional and international connectivity and mentioned the recently launched China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which included a multiple package of development projects worth 46 billion dollar.

He said Pakistan would soon turn into a strategic gateway of regional economy.

He mentioned that Pakistan was also promoting other regional energy and connectivity projects including the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, Central Asia-South Asia (CASA 1000), and the Torkham-Jalalabad Road in Afghanistan.

Nawaz Sharif reminded that Sri Lanka was the first country with which Pakistan entered into a free-trade agreement. He called for greater parliamentary exchanges between the two countries to learn from each other’s experiences.