So much potential
Pakistan and Sri Lanka are tied up in an intricate web of linkages. With regional power India possessed by a hegemonic mindset, smaller countries in South Asia often tend to gravitate towards Pakistan as a counterweight. This explains the long history of mutual help and support between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In 1971, Pakistani air force planes flying to insurgency-ridden Bangladesh were allowed to refuel at Bandranaike Airport, ignoring India’s displeasure. Sri Lanka also spearheaded Pakistan’s re-entry into Commonwealth after the latter was barred from Commonwealth in November 2007 for imposition of emergency. During the Tamil Tigers’ insurgency, Pakistan supplied arms to the Sri Lankan army and cooperated with it in planning the anti-terrorist strategy.
Pakistan is a major source of arms supply to Sri Lankan army as India has been unwilling to provide the type of weapons and ammunition required by the country. These have ranged from mortar ammunition and grenades to Al Khalid main battle tanks. Equally important is the training provided to Sri Lankan army, navy and air force cadets. This has led to the formation of Quetta Alumni Association which hosted a reception for Gen Raheel Sharif when he visited Sri Lanka in June. Following the first export deal for its JF-17 multi-role fighter plane to Myanmar, Pakistan is expecting to sell it to Sri Lanka now. The multi-faceted relationship explains why top political and military leaders from both countries continue to meet irrespective of the change of government. When Nawaz Sharif landed in Colombo, he was given an enthusiastic welcome despite a new administration having taken over.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka have however failed to realise the full potential of their bilateral trade. The goal of taking it to $1b fixed by Sharif has eluded his predecessor. This is frustrating because Sri Lanka being the first country Pakistan signed an FTA with, the growth in trade between the two remains unimpressive. This is in stark contrast to Sri Lanka’s trade relations with countries such as India and China, where significant and fast-paced growth has occurred.