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Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Strong Pakistani Connection Could Endanger India-Sri-Lanka Ties

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Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on 19 November was sworn in as the Sri Lankan president a day after he was declared victorious in the closely fought election in the South Asian island nation. Rajapaksa was born to a prominent political family from the south of Sri Lanka.

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Gotabaya Rajapaksa served as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development from 2005 to 2015 under the administration of his elder brother former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, leading the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers, ending the Sri Lankan Civil War.

Rajapaksa defeated Sajith Premadasa in a hotly contested election, marking the return of the powerful Rajapaksa dynasty known for its pro-China tilt. According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, China and Sri Lanka are strategic cooperative partners with sincere mutual ties and everlasting friendship.”

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As a young army officer in the early 1970s, Rajapaksa was sent to Pakistan for an officers’ training course at a time when Sri Lanka maintained strong relations with Pakistan. Pakistan in a hope to improve relations with Sri Lanka congratulated Gotabaya on his victory.

Sri Lanka and Pakistan have a history of good diplomatic relations during Bangladesh’s War of Independence. It may be recalled that during the 1971 unrest that led to the creation of Bangladesh, when India restrained landing and overflight rights to Pakistan, Sri Lanka provided refuelling facilities to Pakistan International Airlines.

In March-April 1971, as the Pakistan Army launched Operation Searchlight to crush the independence movement in East Pakistan, Pakistani civilian and military aircraft made 174 landings at Katunayake international airport.

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During the last decade of civil war in Sri Lanka involving the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) developed relations with Sri Lanka’s military including supply of arms and ammunitions.

Pakistan Air Force pilots allegedly participated in airstrikes against LTTE bases in August 2008. Pakistan also deputed some of its army officers to Colombo to guide the Sri Lankan security forces in their operations.

The ISI had for years been trying to create a base in Sri Lanka and one of its officers was once even targeted by the LTTE in Colombo. The ISI also tried to recruit youngsters for terrorist organisations following tensions between Sinhala majority and Muslims in Sri Lanka.

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Outgoing PM Ranil Wickremasinghe was an ardent supporter of India and approved Indian stance on Kashmir. A Pakistan Foreign Office official told Pakistani English daily Express Tribune that “He (Ranil Wickremesinghe) is so close to India that his attitude towards Pakistan remained cold. Had (Sajith) Premadasa won the election, it would have been a disaster for Pakistan.

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