Sri Lanka has reportedly canceled a scheduled speech of the Pakistan PM Imran Khan in the country’s parliament, apparently to avoid hurting its relations with India, claimed a report.
Colombo feared that any reference to the controversial Kashmir issue by Khan would have spoiled its ties with New Delhi.
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Khan is visiting the island nation from February 22 to 24 on the invitation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
According to a report titled ‘Sri Lanka avoids clash with India by canceling Khan’s Parliament speech’ published by Colombo Gazette, “Sri Lanka could have unnecessarily spoilt relations with India, on whom it is highly dependent, if Imran Khan had raised the Kashmir issue.”
“The Colombo government cannot risk its relations with India when it is getting stuck in Chinese debt-trap and India being the savior for the world for distributing Covid-19 vaccines,” the report adds.
India has already donated 500,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Sri Lanka. The report contends that Sri Lanka would have made “a fool of itself” if it allowed Imran’s speech in the country’s parliament when the major countries and the United Nations have refused to entertain Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.
Sri Lanka is already witnessing a widespread anti-Muslim sentiment, and occasional confrontations happen between Muslims and the Buddhist population over various issues. Imran Khan’s speech would, therefore, have added fuel to the fire, the author writes in the report.
Another Sri Lankan newspaper had quoted Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage as having said that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena had requested for cancellation on the pretext of Covid-19.
However, the same newspaper cited unnamed sources as saying that there were elements within the Sri Lankan government, who did not want the speech to take place as they feared that doing so could further harm ties with India, which have already been strained after the cancellation of a deal over the East Container Terminal in Colombo port, Dawn reported.
It is believed that it was because of the Kashmir speech, which Khan was expected to make in the Sri Lankan parliament, that the cancellation may have taken place.
Meanwhile, Khan had welcomed the Sri Lankan government’s decision, allowing Muslims to bury their relatives who died of Covid-19. “We welcome Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s assurance given in Sri Lankan parliament today, allowing Muslims to bury those who died from Covid-19,” he had tweeted.
We welcome Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa's assurance given in Sri Lankan Parliament today allowing Muslims to bury those who died from COVID19.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) February 10, 2021
The Pakistan Prime Minister, in his maiden official visit this year outside the country, is being accompanied by a business delegation, mainly from the sectors of textile and apparel, pharmaceuticals, agro-food commodities among others.
He will be holding separate meetings with the Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and attending an investors’ conference.