Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Pakistan would strengthen the bilateral relations between the two countries. He held separate meetings with Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari on Saturday and discussed a whole gamut of issues for mutual cooperation. Mr Rajapaksa was accompanied by a large number of technocrats, ministers and senior officials in order to broaden the ties in various fields encompassing defence and trade. The visit was not only about exchange of greetings and photo ops but also yielded practical results; three MoUs on media cooperation, technical education and promotion of trade were signed.

At the Prime Minister Gilani’s meeting with President Rajapaksa it was decided to further foster defence ties as well as expand the volume of trade to $2 billion. Economic cooperation would include the fields of tourism, banking, shipping and agriculture. There is surely a lot that both the countries can gain from further strengthening the friendship. The goodwill generated owing to Pakistan’s support to Colombo in fighting the scourge of terrorism has offered an opportunity for us to lend the existing ties greater depth and scope. Pakistan not only sold military hardware needed by the Sri Lankan military in their war against the Tamil Tigers, but also provided training to army officials. There is also a tremendous amount of respect amongst the common Sri Lankans for the role played by Islamabad in bringing peace to the war-ravaged country. Sri Lanka’s cricket team for instance was the only team to visit Pakistan when other countries had refused to come on the pretext of bad law and order situation. The team was attacked, but the wonderful Sri Lankans and their country did not let the terrible incident impact friendly ties. At this point in time Sri Lanka is our second biggest trade partner in South Asia. The free trade agreement signed with it is also yielding positive results.

At a time when India is trying to isolate us in the South Asian region, there is all the more reason for us to place greater emphasis on ties with Colombo. A strong relationship would put a check on India’s hegemonic agenda, specifically the sense of superiority with which it deals with virtually all of its neighbours. A stable and militarily strong Sri Lanka is in Pakistan’s interest and vice versa. One hopes that commitments expressed by leaders of both the countries will materialise in the days to come.