Sri Lanka Cancels Imran Khan’s Parliament Address to Avoid Risking its Relations With India: Report

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Sri Lanka has cancelled Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s planned speech in Parliament in an apparent bid to avoid clash with India. The Colombo government cannot risk its relations with India as it faces the Chinese debt-trap. India is also the main supplier of COVID-19 vaccines and has recently gifted 5 lakh doses of Covishield to Sri Lanka.

According to a report titled ‘Sri Lanka avoids clash with India by cancelling Khan’s Parliament speech’ by Dar Javed published in Colombo Gazette, the speech was cancelled to prevent souring of relations with India.

Sergeant-at-Arms of Parliament, Narendra Fernando said he has informed Parliament that the Pakistan Prime Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka will go ahead as scheduled, the Colombo Gazette website reported on last Wednesday.

However, the Foreign Ministry had informed Parliament officials that his proposed visit to the Parliament complex will not take place. Pakistan Prime Minister Khan will arrive in Sri Lanka on February 22 on a two-day official state visit.

Khan, who will be the first head of state to visit the country since the COVID-19 pandemic, is to hold talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena during the visit. It is said that the speech to Parliament had been included in Khan’s itinerary at the Pakistan government’s request. However, it was later cancelled and Sri Lankan media gave various reasons for the cancellation of Khan’s address, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported on Thursday.

The address was scheduled for February 24. According to Sri Lanka’s daily Express, Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage said that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena had requested for the cancellation of Khan’s address, citing COVID-19.

Dawn newspaper quoting Sri Lankan media reports 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 newspaper said.

It was expected that Khan would raise the Kashmir issue during his speech, which could have upset Delhi, it said. Tensions between India and Pakistan spiked after New Delhi abrogated provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir”s special status and bifurcated it into two Union Territories in 2019.

Pakistan has been trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue but India has asserted that the abrogation of Article 370 was its “internal matter”.

Another speculation doing the rounds is that the Sri Lankan government was concerned about Khan speaking about the rights of Muslims in Sri Lanka, who have faced abuses at the hands of Buddhist majority, rising anti-Muslim sentiments, and biased government actions.

The Sri Lankan government had made compulsory cremation rule for those dying from COVID-19, enraging the Muslim community in the country. The government, however, earlier this month exempted the Muslims from cremation and allowed them to bury their dead after a global outcry over the issue.

Khan had welcomed the Sri Lankan government’s decision. The Pakistan Prime Minister’s visit, scheduled a month after Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s three-day visit to Colombo, will coincide with the 46th UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva, where a new resolution on Sri Lanka is likely to be adopted. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had addressed Sri Lanka’s Parliament in 2015.

(With PTI inputs)



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