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Newly Elected Pro Pakistan Sri Lankan President: Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is on a 2-day visit to Colombo, in a bid to strengthen ties with the newly elected President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and extend an official invitation to visit Islamabad.

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Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is on a two-day visit to Colombo. He arrived in the Sri Lankan capital on Sunday, and on Monday, he called upon the newly elected leadership of the country, to convey Prime Minister Imran Khan’s congratulatory message on the electoral victory.

The Foreign Minister was received by Ambassador P. Selvaraj, Additional Secretary Bilateral Affairs (East), of the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry.

 

FM in Sri Lanka

The Foreign Minister began his diplomatic engagements in Colombo, on Monday, with a meeting with his recently appointed Sri Lankan counterpart, Dinesh Gunawardena. The two discussed the entire gamut of bilateral relations and matters related to the ongoing regional and international issues.

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Addressing the press after his meeting, Shah Mehmood Qureshi said, “I have had an excellent meeting with the Foreign Minister. I am fortunate to be the first Foreign Minister to have visited Colombo since the new government has been elected”.

The Foreign Minister continued, “Pakistan and Sri Lanka have enjoyed cordial and friendly relations for a long time. We have discussed in our meeting the way forward.” He said that he has invited the Foreign Minister to visit Pakistan, and will soon be meeting the President and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.

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He added, “There is a lot we can do to promote our mutual interests.” The Foreign Minister observed that Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been supporting one another in economic terms, and in maintaining regional peace and stability.

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The Foreign Minister later called upon the Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the two dignitaries discussed bilateral relations and the ongoing regional situation.

Dr. Mohammad Faisal, the official spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in this regard, “FM calls on the President of Sri Lanka. Bilateral issues, trade, investment and people to people contacts discussed. FM handed over a letter from President [of Pakistan] to President of Sri Lanka and invited him to visit Pakistan at his earliest convenience.”

The Foreign Minister Qureshi is also expected to call upon the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa later in the day, as stated in a press release issued by the Foreign Office. Hailing the relations between Colombo and Islamabad, the Foreign Office said, “Pakistan and Sri Lanka enjoy close, cordial ties based on mutual trust and understanding.”

Read More: Is India threatening Sri Lankan players from playing in Pakistan?

It added, “The bilateral relationship is broad-based and multifaceted, covering diverse fields including political, trade, commercial, defense, people-to-people contacts, and cultural exchanges. High-level visits are a regular feature of Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations.”

Gotabaya: Pro Pakistan?

Diplomatic sources, circulating in the media, reveal that the main agenda behind Foreign Minister Qureshi’s two-day visit to Colombo is to extend a formal invitation to the Sri Lanka President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa to visit Islamabad.

Gotabaya formerly served as the Sri Lanka Defence Secretary, and he is considered to have close ties with Pakistan as like many other Sri Lankan army officers, he was trained in Pakistan. He attended the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), and even took some courses at the School of Infantry and Tactics, Quetta.

During his tenure as the Defence Secretary, Gotabaya masterminded the end of the longstanding Tamil militancy, and Pakistan remained a powerful supporter of Colombo’s mission to end the 26-year long Tamil insurgency.

Analysts and opinion-makers observe that Gotabaya’s electoral victory is a good omen for Pakistan and a setback for New Delhi. India and its western allies were backing Gotabaya’s political rival, Sajith Premadasa, as New Delhi is anxious over Gotabaya’s close ties with Pakistan and his pro-China stance.

Gotabaya’s family has taken complete control of Sri Lanka, and his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa has assumed the Prime Ministerial office of Sri Lanka. Earlier, Mahinda was the President of Sri Lanka from 2005 to 2015, and in 2015, he accused Indian intelligence agency RAW and certain western countries of orchestrating his defeat in the presidential election.

New Delhi is now attempting to straighten its ties with the Rajapaksa family, and last week, Gotabaya visited New Delhi and had a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Speaking to an Indian newspaper, Gotabaya said that the major apprehension New Delhi had was his close relations with China and Pakistan.

 

Gotabaya said that New Delhi should not “worry about his relationship with Beijing and Islamabad.”

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Diplomatic channels reveal that the Narendra Modi-led Indian government is likely to undertake certain developmental projects in Sri Lanka to gain the trust of the new president, however, given the massive trust deficit between New Delhi and the Rajapaksa family, analysts argue that these bridges will take a long time to mend.

 

Meanwhile, Pakistan regards Gotabaya’s electoral victory as a positive development since the previous Sri Lankan government was more inclined to support New Delhi.