Prime Minister Imran Khan’s planned address to the Sri Lankan parliament, during his upcoming visit to the island country, has been cancelled. Mr Khan is scheduled to travel to Colombo on a two-day trip from Feb 22. Besides his meetings with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and attending an investors’ conference, he was to address the Sri Lankan parliament on Feb 24.
It is said that the speech to parliament had been included in Mr Khan’s itinerary on Pakistan government’s request. However, it was later cancelled, according to Sri Lankan media. Media reports from Sri Lanka give different reasons for the cancellation of Mr Khan’s address.
Senior Sri Lankan officials have cited covid-19 constraints for the decision. Others claim that Colombo suspected that Mr Khan might raise the Kashmir issue in his speech, further annoying India which is already incensed by the cancellation of the Terminal contract. A spokesperson at the Pakistani High Commission in Colombo reportedly told media that the PM’s address was not confirmed but was only being discussed.
The cancellation is also being viewed in the context of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s assurance to Parliament that the burial of covid-19 victims would be allowed, amid a persisting campaign from Sri Lanka’s Muslim community, seeking burial rights. Mr Khan had welcomed Mr Rajapaksa’s statement in a tweet soon after. There is however still resistance to burials from important circles with the result that dead bodies of covid-19 victims continue to be cremated
Irrespective of whether the address was only being discussed or was dropped after initial agreement it has come as a diplomatic embarrassment. There was a need on the part of the Foreign Office to weigh the issue in the light of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy sensitivities before asking Colombo to arrange the address. It has simply brought embarrassment to the Pakistan that his Prime Minister has been stopped from addressing the Parliament.