Pakistan, Sri Lanka for ‘comprehensive engagement’

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Pakistan and Sri Lanka on Sunday agreed on expanding their relationship from beyond political and defence paradigm to an “overall comprehensive engagement” including trade, joint investments and cooperation in new areas.President Zardari in a one-on-one meeting with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapakse at the Presidential Secretariat overlooking the Indian Ocean, held extensive talks on bilateral, regional and global issues.During the exclusive meeting that lasted for one hour, the two presidents agreed on taking the existing level of Pak-Sri Lankan relationship to “new heights”, encompassing a multi-sectoral engagement in addition to defence, that had been a major sector of collaboration between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the past.

President Zardari said Pakistan greatly valued its close relationship with Sri Lanka and said both countries always stood by each other in turbulent times and shared commonality of views on regional security.He said Pakistan was happy to note that the Sri Lankan government had been able to defeat terrorism, and stressed the need for continued intensive cooperation to counter this menace.Defence Minister Ch. Ahmad Mukhtar later told APP that the talks were “positive” with both the leaders upbeat to chart a new course in their relations.He said Sri Lanka welcomed Pakistan’s US 200 million dollar buyers credit facility and offered it to make the payment either on barter or in local currency, to ease pressure on their foreign exchange reserves.He said Pakistan always supported the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka and assured that despite its own economic difficulties, Pakistan would continue to contribute towards the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka.The Defence Minister said that despite external pressures, Sri Lanka was keen to enhance relations with Pakistan and agreed to the different proposals presented by Pakistan.

President Zardari noted significant increase in volume of trade between the two countries in the last four years after the signing of the Free Trade Agreement but stressed that both sides needed to continue striving, jointly, to further expand their commercial ties.President Zardari also offered to open a branch of the National Bank of Pakistan in Colombo on reciprocal basis.President Zardari emphasized the need to reactivate the Joint Economic Commission (JEC) to facilitate bilateral economic cooperation and monitor its progress.A meeting of the JEC was long overdue, with the last being held way back in 2007 and the President called for holding another round in Colombo.Briefing journalists, Spokesperson to the President Farhatullah Babar said that the high water mark of the meetings was a decision to reinvigorate the Joint Economic Commission and task it to work out modalities for a new and unconventional phase of economic cooperation marked by barter trade, currency exchange and banking interchanges.Calling it as a “win-win situation for both”, President Zardari  suggested that the Finance Ministers of the two countries should sit together immediately to work out the details – a proposal to which the Sri Lankan side agreed readily,he said.The President also appreciated Sri Lanka’s timely assistance to Pakistan in the wake of the recent catastrophic floods in the country.

During the talks the two countries identified cooperation in cement, sugar,dairy production, chemical plants, textiles, tourism and pharmaceutical as potential areas of mutually beneficial collaborative projects.The two leaders said they would continue to closely coordinate positions on regional and international forums.During the meetings President Zardari also invited Sri Lankan Parliamentarians, Buddhist monks, traders, intellectuals and political leaders to visit Pakistan to cement the ties.He said Pakistan has a rich and preserved Buddhist archaeological heritage which it has protected zealously and added,” Our archaeological heritage offers unparalleled religious tourism to the people of Sri Lanka, indeed to the people of near and far East.”Pakistan will participate in the exhibition next year in Kandy in Sri Lanka of Gandhara civilization by sending Gandhara artifacts and relics of the Buddhist civilization for display at the exhibition.The exclusive meeting between President Zardari and Rajapakse was followed by the delegation level talks after the two presidents witnessed the signing of three agreements and a Memorandum of Understanding on waiving off visas for officials and diplomats, cooperation on customs, agriculture development and cultural exchange.Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and High Commissioner of Pakistan to Sri Lanka Seema Ilahi Baloch signed the respective agreements from the Pakistani side.

Earlier, President Zardari arrived at the Presidential Palace in a motorcade led by outriders of military police and horse-mounted guards. The Sri Lankan President received President Zardari at the historic building decorated with flags of Pakistan and Sri Lanka.Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told APP that the two presidents discussed waiving off the requirements for official and diplomatic visas with Sri Lanka and restore the flights of national air career to Colombo.He said the ending of visa conditions and the restoration of suspended Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights to and from Colombo from March 2011, showed the two countries’ goodwill to increase connectivity for their mutual benefit.He mentioned that currently only the Sri Lankan Airways was operating three flights a week from Karachi, adding that the restoration of PIA flights would enhance people-to-people and business contacts.Qureshi said Pakistan and Sri Lanka intended to reinvigorate the Joint Economic Commission and increase political consultations.“We want the architecture of enhanced relationship between Pakistan and Sri Lanka to be more strong,” he said.

Regarding defence cooperation, Qureshi said the two sides are also discussing more sales of equipment.He said Sri Lanka evinced interest in purchase of Pakistani al-Khalid Main Battle Tanks, light weapons and ammunition, and the Sino-Pak joint venture product JF-17 Thunder aircraft.He said the China-Sri Lanka relations were also gaining strength and this would be good for the benefit of the three countries.Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar said the two countries have a long history of defence cooperation and with extensive training and joint exercises. He said it was set to further strengthen with the President’s visit. He said he would hold another round of talks on Monday to discuss defence sales and other matters.He recalled the abortive attack on the Sri Lankan Cricket team in Lahore and said the Lankan government extended full support to Pakistan, for which Pakistan conveyed its gratitude. He said the Sri Lankan government during the talks said similarly it would continue to extend support to Pakistan in all areasof cooperation – App