Pakistan faced deep diplomatic embarrassment when the government of Sri Lanka canceled (February 17) the much-publicized speech by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in the Sri Lankan Parliament. It was originally scheduled for February 24.
This is seen as a major setback for the Pakistani establishment, as Imrans’ visit, which began on February 20, was seen in Pakistan as an important step towards befriending Sri Lanka. It is also assessed by diplomatic circles that this was a triumph for Indian policymakers because the proposed visit to Sri Lanka, specifically the speech by Parliament, was largely at China’s request.
Now Pakistan will have to recover with immense difficulty from the shock it suffered during the last minute cancellation. Meanwhile, knowledgeable sources also say the parliament speech was sabotaged to prevent Imran Khan from picking up the Kashmir issue on foreign soil, thus trying to create a wedge between the warm ties between Indo-Sri Lanka. . It also left China with a red face as China carefully monitored the upcoming visit for geopolitical reasons.
The cancellation has now been officially confirmed by Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gunawardena. Although the Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament believes the speech was canceled due to precautionary measures related to Covid-19, this explanation seems weak and far from convincing.
In the meantime, credible reports from Colombo indicate that there is no possibility for Sri Lanka to sign defense agreements with Pakistan during Imran Khan’s visit. The Admiral of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Prof. Jayanth Colombage, revealed that a number of agreements on economic cooperation, culture and other issues are under consideration, but nothing on defense.
However, there are reasons for strong defense cooperation between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. From 2000 to 2009, military cooperation between Pakistan and Sri Lanka was exceptionally strong. During operations against the LTTE in its final phase in 2009, Sri Lanka sought out multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRLs) which Pakistan had willingly obligated. It is also relevant to point out that the LTTE attempted to assassinate the Pakistani high commissioner in Colombo, Bashir Wali Mohmand, in 2009 while assisting the efforts of Sri Lankan forces to exterminate the LTTE.
As part of a development linked to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit, leaders of the Sri Lankan Muslim community are preparing to meet with visiting Prime Minister Pak to hand over their list of grievances involving Imran Khan they described as a great Muslim ruler. It is likely that the section of Muslims in Sri Lanka would highlight the human rights violations against the 9% of the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka and the allegations of social discrimination.
Reacting to the cancellation of the Parliament speech, Rauf Hakeem, opposition MP and leader of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress said (February 17) that the Sri Lankan government had embarrassed the prime minister of a foreign country. Muslims in Sri Lanka are also believed to be stirred by the controversy over the government’s decision to only allow cremation and not the burial of all COVID victims. For his part, Imran Khan should give a patient hearing to aggrieved Muslims. It might, just in case, be interesting for observers from Pakistan and Sri Lanka to see how Imrans’s next visit to Colombo goes.
While the cancellation of Parliament’s speech by Imran Khan puts the brakes on Pakistan and its prime minister, it is also seen as a loss of face amid a series of issues Pakistan is already grappling with. However, a more serious issue facing Pakistan at this point is the assessment by experts that Pakistan is unlikely to leave the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) gray list until June of this year, despite its efforts to gain the support of member countries. before the FATF plenary meeting scheduled for Paris from February 21 to 26.
This is yet another critical setback for Pakistan. It also means that Pakistan has not done enough to improve its track record on terrorist financing despite repeated warnings from the FATF. On top of that, the latest report on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s denial of an address to the Sri Lankan Parliament exposes Pakistanis lacking maturity or seen as an incorrigible nation, however harsh it may sound.
Pakistan does not seem to be learning a lesson and on the contrary, it continues to rejoice at India’s denigration and most of these reactions emanating from a deep sense of insecurity in India.
Let us dwell on a few illustrations to prove our point. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Qamar Ahmad Bajwa addressed Air War College Institution (AWCI) cadets at the 34th Karachi Air Warfare Course hosted by of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), warned (Feb. 17) that Pakistan was ready to give an appropriate response to any mishap by its adversary. The tenor and syntax were aggressive and echoed his similar speech earlier this month, still at a PAF feature. In both cases, the army chief insinuated his warning to India.
It was indeed unprovoked and avoidable and but the content deprives any chance of alleviating a sense of hostility in letter and spirit.
Head of the army aside, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, while addressing participants at the Ninth International Maritime Conference in Karachi on February 15, accused India of resorting to what he called for belligerent and aggressive policies increasing the chances of conflict in the Indian Ocean. Going beyond all limits of decency, Foreign Minister Qureshi also accused India of being driven by “extreme Hindutva ideology”.
Once again, such remarks coming from a high minister against a sovereign country were totally unwarranted. It is clearly evident that such protests are the result of a great sense of insecurity felt by Pakistan. This appears to have intensified in the wake of the build-up of weapons perceived by India, as assessed by the Al-Jazeera press house. He further analyzes that, as part of the quadrilateral security dialogue group, Pakistan fears security concerns.
Although well-known commentator and security analyst Zahid Hussain believes India’s military readiness is against China, Pakistan feels threatened by India. Pakistan recently hosted a naval exercise with the participation of the United States, United Kingdom and Russia.
Beneath such a level of massive apprehension in the face of perceived Indian threats, Pakistan must first tone down its rhetoric, address its national concerns, subdue the various terrorist groups raised in Pakistan and straighten its foreign policy folds in order not to do faced with embarrassment as in Sri Lanka. It would then bode well to exaggerate India’s concerns.
(The writer is a retired IPS agent, security analyst and former national security adviser to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Opinions are personal)
(Disclaimer: The opinions of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. WION or ZMCL also do not endorse the views of the writer.)
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