President Maithripala Sirisena on Sunday embarked on a two day visit to Pakistan.This visit coincides with the Sixty-sixth Anniversary of the Sri Lanka-Pakistan Friendship Association, one of the oldest of such associations in the country.
During the height of Tamil terrorism in the country, beginning with the J.R. Jayewardene era, Pakistan was one of two countries that sold defence stores to the island with no questions asked. The other was China.
Their defence stores were of top quality and made available at a reasonable price. The main suppliers of such defence stores to the country were Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) and Pakistan Machine Tools Factory (Pvt.) Ltd., a Pakistani Government company.
The Pakistani defence stores suppliers were beneficiaries of US technology.
When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, the USA began pouring aid to Pakistan. Afghanistan borders Pakistan. The Afghanistan invasion took place during the cold war. And there were fears that with the invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s security was also at stake.
During that period, after Israel and Egypt, Pakistan was the third highest recipient of US aid.
USA is the world’s largest economy. And that aid also took the form of upgrading Pakistan’s arms industry. Pakistan having such an industry was not surprising because previously it had fought three wars against India, Sri Lanka’s giant and closest neighbour. That was during the period 1983. It made at least one war with India afterwards.
Meanwhile, at a time, when the rest of the world, over alleged human rights issues, coupled with India, both overtly and covertly helping the Tamil terrorists, there were only a few countries which were willing to provide defence stores to Sri Lanka at that time. One such country was Pakistan.
Therefore, Sri Lanka should not forget countries such as Pakistan and China which came to its aid at its darkest hour, when others shunned, virtually as a pariah state.
Some newspapers, during that time, unfairly reported that Sri Lanka was buying dud ammunition from Pakistan. The Case in point was the start of Eelam War III during the tenure of President Ranasinghe Premadasa. To recapitulate, Eelam War 1 was in July 1983 that led to the July ’83 disturbances and the events that followed thereafter.
Eelam War II was in October 1987 that took place after the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord of July 1987. It was an Accord, as one editorial rightfully said, was shoved down the old man’s (Jayewardene’s) throat.
Nevertheless, Eelam War II came into being after Jayewardene insisted upon Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi, that the Accord be observed to the letter. One of the conditions of the Accord was the disarming of Tamil terrorists. Virtually, all other Tamil terrorist organizations fell in line to this Agreement, with the exception of the LTTE.
The LTTE then began turning its guns on Sinhala civilians and Buddhist priests, especially in Trincomalee, which was like a powder keg at that time. Gandhi relented to Jayewardene’s insistence, and that was the start of Eelam War II.
Eelam War III began after Premadasa’s failed peace talks with the LTTE. This was in June 1990. By that time he had sent the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) who were responsible for disarming and warring with the LTTE at Jayewardene’s instance, packing.
The Navy, by tender, made some emergency purchases from POF to arm its gunboats, a gift made by the Chinese 19 years ago in 1971, to fight the LTTE in this seemingly unexpected war. One of the types of ammunition procured was 37 millimetre (MM) canon, bought from POF.
That ammunition was used by the Chinese gunboats to fire at LTTE boats. Due to intense firing, the guns, due to overheating, “exploded,” injuring the sailors. One Sunday newspaper reported that the “explosion” of those guns on the Chinese gunboats was due to POF selling inferior ammunition.
But an examination by a naval board of inquiry revealed that the guns exploded not due to inferior POF 37 MM ammunition, but it was because those guns which were 19 years old at that time were unfit to be used for such heavy duty firing.
The unkindest cut was that that newspaper, which was quick to jump at POF and Pakistan for allegedly supplying inferior 37 MM ammunition, chose to remain silent about what the Navy’s Board of Inquiry had to say why the guns had failed. Meanwhile, it’s also noteworthy, that Sirisena, after he was elected to office three months ago, chose Pakistan as the destination for his fourth overseas visit, after India, UK and China, considering the aforesaid events.
On the economic front, when President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was in power, she signed a free trade agreement (FTA) with Pakistan. Kumaratunga in fact was responsible for the two FTAs that Sri Lanka had signed thus far. The other being with India.
Sri Lanka runs a trade deficit with Pakistan. Currently its reserves are being depleted due to the defence of the rupee, coupled with Government of Sri Lanka’s foreign debt servicing commitments. Pakistan recently enjoyed the benefits of a US$ 3.5 billion facility from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Under the circumstances, it’s hoped that Sirisena, during his visit to Pakistan, would have had worked out a plan to enhance Sri Lanka’s exports to Pakistan by obtaining further trade concessions. Sri Lanka has been pushing for its lowly betel leaf to gain greater access to the Pakistani market. Let’s hope at least that matter has been resolved, to start with, others such as greater access to ceramic ware exports may follow, thereafter.