Pakistan seeks closer military ties with Sri Lanka

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called Tuesday for closer military cooperation with Sri Lanka on an official visit to the island.

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

Sri Lanka also sends its military officers for higher training to both 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.

In talks with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Nawaz also expressed a desire for more naval exchanges.

“There are vast opportunities for bilateral trade between Pakistan and Sri Lanka and the quantum of trade will be taken to $1 billion annually,” he said.

Speaking about the constant efforts of the two countries to improve bilateral relations, PM Nawaz said, “I reiterated Pakistan’s offer to set up cement and sugar plants in Sri Lanka on mutually agreed terms for the long-term benefit of the Sri Lankan economy.”

“Pakistan is ready to give Sri Lanka the most favoured nation (MFN) status in trade,” PM Nawaz added.

“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.

“The two countries have not only agreed to work together in the field of gems and jewelry, but also fields like education, defence, science and technology and health care,” he added.

“We now look forward to welcoming President Sirisena to Pakistan at an early date so that relations of mutual trust and confidence can be further enhanced,” PM Nawaz said as he invited Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena to Pakistan.

Appreciating PM Nawaz’s efforts in improving relations with Sri Lanka and other countries, Sirisena said “Political instability in Pakistan will end under the leadership of PM Nawaz.”

Earlier delegation level talks between Pakistan and Sri Lanka were underway at Colombo’s Presidential Palace. Leading their respective delegations, the two leaders discussed ways to enhance bilateral relations in diverse fields, Radio Pakistan reported.

The Pakistani delegation included Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan and Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi among several others.

The prime minister along with a delegation is on a trip to Sri Lanka from January 4 to 6.

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