Imran Khan arrives in Sri Lanka on his maiden visit

Pakistan PM Imran Khan arrives in Sri Lanka on his maiden visit

Khan is the first head of state to visit Sri Lanka since the Covid-19 pandemic

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan inspects the Guard of Honor during his welcome ceremony at the airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka. Credit: Reuters Photo

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived here on Tuesday on his maiden visit to the island nation during which he will hold wide-ranging talks with top Sri Lankan leadership on various issues such as trade, defence and technology.

Khan, who is the first head of state to visit Sri Lanka since the Covid-19 pandemic, will hold meetings with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa.

He will also lead delegation-level talks, covering all areas of cooperation between the two countries, including trade, investment, health, education, agriculture, science and technology, in addition to defence and culture tourism.

Khan will also participate in a joint ‘Trade and Investment Conference’ aimed at promoting trade and investment between the two countries. A number of agreements to enhance bilateral cooperation will be signed during the visit.

This is Khan's first visit to Sri Lanka after assuming the office in 2018. His last visit to Sri Lanka was in 1986 when he was the captain of Pakistan cricket team during the acrimonious Test series where he accused the local umpires of bias.

This is the first visit by a Pakistan prime minister to Sri Lanka since Nawaz Sharif visited the country in 2016.

Ahead of his visit, the Sri Lankan government last week cancelled Khan's planned speech to Parliament, citing the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is said that the speech to Parliament had been included in Khan’s itinerary at the Pakistan government's request. The address was scheduled for February 24.

Dawn newspaper quoting Sri Lankan media reports said 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.

Khan’s visit also coincides the current controversy over the forced cremations of the island’s minority Muslim community members who die due to the Covid-19. The government continues its policy of forced cremations despite objections from rights groups.

Khan congratulated Sri Lanka earlier this month when Prime Minister Mahinda made a comment in parliament that burials would be allowed for Muslim victims of Covid-19. However, the decision is yet to be implemented.

International rights group Amnesty International in an open letter to Khan had urged him to take up the issue of forced cremations with Sri Lankan leaders during his visit.

"We urge you to raise this issue of forced cremations at the highest levels possible during your visit to Sri Lanka, in solidarity with a minority community who has been stripped of any means of recourse. We urge you to call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to stop forced cremations and to bring to an end discrimination faced by the Muslim community in Sri Lanka,” the letter said. 

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