Colombo: Pakistan has offered Sri Lanka a $ 15 million credit line, 100 new scholarships to medical schools in Pakistan, and assistance in dealing with challenges related to security and COVID-19, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told The Correspondent in an exclusive interview. The federal minister is accompanying Prime Minister Imran Khan on his maiden two-day visit to Sri Lanka, where the two countries have been engaged in talks to further economic and cultural relations.
The Foreign Minister said that Pakistan and Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations have always been strong, owing to Pakistan’s assisstance to Sri Lanka in the fight against terrorism. He said that the meetings between the premiers of the country, as well as delegation-level talks with Sri Lanka, have been succesful. In the talks, the two countries decided to strengthen their ties through the promotion of bilateral trade, business connectivity, investments, educational exchange, human resource development, and tourism. He added that the two countries are looking to strengthen their coordination with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
The full transcript of the conversation is provided below.
The Correspondent: How do you see the outcome of this historic visit?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: Our bilateral relations with Sri Lanka have remained very good. They admit that when they were facing hardships, when terrorism in Sri Lanka was at its peak, then one country stood right by them – Pakistan. They successfully defeated terrorism, and they share this credit with Pakistan, for it would not have been possible without our support. Now we have had continuous engagements with them, including political consultation. I came here in December 2019, when this government came into power. Our interaction with them has been steadily growing. At international fora, like the UN and Human Rights Council, our coordination is excellent.
Even now when they have expressed some wishes, Pakistan has assured them of our support. Now that we are focusing on economic security, with a shift from geo-politics to geo-economics, we can strengthen our economic base alongside Sri Lanka’s.
Our bilateral trade is limited. In my view, the first free trade agreement (FTA) we signed was with Sri Lanka. Despite that our bilateral trade is not as much as it should be. So on this trip, we have discussed this and will exchange views tomorrow as well. The Business Council will also meet. We need to figure out how to increase our business connectivity and trade, how to promote investments, and tourism.
Their experience is immense, and about 62% of their population is Buddhist. Our Gandahara civilization is the heart of Buddhist civilization. So a lot of attraction towards Pakistan can be generated in Sri Lanka. So there is potential in religious tourism.
Additionally, the weather here is consistent all year round, while we have immense diversity in seasons. They have the sea, we have magnificent mountains. They are deprived of mountains, snowfall. So our Northern areas are very attractive. So this is another way we can promote tourism.
Then cooperation on the defence level. We have offered a credit line worth $ 15 million to Sri Lanka, with which their requirements and procurements would be met. There is potential for training, capacity building, intelligence-sharing, and counter-terrorism. Because terrorism is a threat that is still present. Our cooperation has existed here, and we want to further improve it.
Alongside this, we have human resource development. In education, their literacy rate is very good. However, in medical education, Pakistan can help them a lot. We have decided to offer them an additional 100 scholarships in the top medical universities of Pakistan.
I will have another sitting with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister where we will discuss how we can make SAARC more active in the region, and how we can improve our coordination within SAARC.
We have also decided to open a cultural center at their oldest, historical university in Kandi. We also helping them in the field of sports.
In dealing with the challenges of COVID-19, we intend to retain cooperation with them, by providing them with things developed in Pakistan.
Our interaction is multi-faceted. I believe that the one-on-one meeting between the Prime Ministers, as well as our delegation-level talks, have been very beneficial.