Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Pakistan- Sri Lanka Relations


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : India-Sri Lanka relations in recent times

Pakistani PM is in Colombo on a two-day visit for ways and means to enhance trade and connectivity with Sri Lanka.

What is the news?

  • Pakistan PM’s visit has attracted a fair amount of controversy because of a cancelled invitation to address the Sri Lankan parliament.
  • India too granted permission for using its airspace for the Pakistani PM’s aircraft.

Try this question:

Q.The triangulation in the ties between Sri Lanka, China and Pakistan is an emerging threat in the Indian Ocean Region. Discuss.

Sri Lanka- Pakistan Relations

  • For Colombo, the visit holds much value. It comes at a fraught time for the government on the international stage.
  • Imminently, it is bracing to be hauled over the coals at the UN Human Rights Commission for withdrawing from resolution 30/1 of September 2015, under which it committed to carrying out war crime investigations.
  • To make matters worse, the Islamic world is appalled by Sri Lanka’s tight rules for the cremation and not burials of Muslims who have died of COVID-19.
  • The rule created a storm in Sri Lanka, with community leaders convinced that this is nothing but an extension of the state’s persecution of Muslims.

Why Pakistan?

(1) Trade ties

  • Pakistan is Sri Lanka’s second-largest trading partner in South Asia after India.
  • Sri Lanka and Pakistan have a free trade agreement dating back to 2005.
  • Pakistan’s top exports to Sri Lanka are textiles and cement.
  • Sri Lanka’s top exports to Pakistan are tea, rubber and readymade garments.

(2) Cultural ties

  • In addition to trade cooperation, Pakistan invokes cricket and Buddhism, topics that most Sri Lankans share a deep connection with.
  • Over the last decade, Pakistan has also been projecting its ancient Buddhist sites to promote cultural ties with Sri Lanka.

(3) Defence ties

Defence ties are a strong pillar of Sri Lanka- Pakistan bilateral relationship.

  • During the 1971 war, Pakistan Air Force jets refuelled in Sri Lanka.
  • India pulled back the peacekeeping forces in 1990, it provided no active defence support to the Sri Lankan military.
  • Sri Lanka turned to Pakistan for arms, ammunition as well as training for its fighter pilots.
  • Gotabaya, who was defence secretary at the time, visited Pakistan in 2008 to make a request for emergency assistance with military supplies.
  • Earlier this month, Sri Lanka participated in Pakistan’s multi-nation naval exercise Aman.

India’s observations and concerns

  • As Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour with strong, all-encompassing ties, even if these are sometimes problematic, India has not perceived Pakistan as a serious rival in Sri Lanka so far.
  • Sporadically, the Indian security establishment has voiced concerns about Pakistan’s role in the radicalization of people, especially in Eastern Sri Lanka.
  • Funds have poured in for new mosques from some West Asian countries, and the effect that this could have in India.

Emerging threats from the ‘Triad’

  • There is now a new wariness about triangulation in the ties between Sri Lanka, China and Pakistan in defence co-operation, though it has not been publicly expressed.
  • In 2016, India put pressure on Sri Lanka to drop a plan to buy the Chinese JF-17 Thunder aircraft made in Pakistan and co-produced by the Chinese Chengdu Aircraft Corporation.
  • The most recent threat was from excluding India from the Colombo Terminal Project.

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