Breaking new ground in trade and commerce co-operation between Sri Lanka and Pakistan
State Banquet hosted by the President of Pakistan
Aiwan-e-Sadr, Islamabad, Pakistan
February 8, 2005
Your Excellency General Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan,
Your Excellency Shaukat Aziz, Prime Minister of Pakistan,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Permit me to first express my most sincere gratitude for your warm words of welcome and the kind sentiments expressed by Your Excellency about Sri Lanka, her people and myself. Let me also convey my appreciation, as well as that of my delegation, for the excellent arrangements made for our visit to your lovely country, and for the gracious and warm hospitality extended to us.
In Pakistan, Excellency, Sri Lanka has always found a most sincere and close friend. A friend who has stood by Sri Lanka in its most difficult of times – in instances which are too innumerable to list. Most recently, Pakistan rushed to our support after the devastation caused by the tsunami tidal waves. Assistance from Pakistan still continues to flow into areas affected by the tragedy. The people of Sri Lanka and I, Excellency, are most grateful to you, your Government and your people for the generous support extended to us at our darkest hour. Sri Lanka now faces the challenging task of reconstruction. As we strive to recover and rebuild, your goodwill and solidarity will mean much to us in Sri Lanka.
Excellency, the further we go back in history, the nearer we come to our common civilisational roots. Our region of South Asia is one of the world’s most distinctive. It has a common heritage that dates far back to the dawn of civilisation – to the cities of Mohenjodaro and Harappa in the Indus Valley, which influenced a cultural belt that extended from the Mediterranean to the Ganges. The civilizations that flourished in our region have left their lasting imprints on the world. Our cities blossomed and our ancient peoples practised the art of good living and citizenship long before the celebrated civilisations elsewhere.
The great traditions of Gandhara and Taxila have had a profound influence on Buddhist art and learning in Sri Lanka.
It is therefore natural that Pakistan and Sri Lanka value each other’s friendship, support and understanding even in modern times, and relations between our two countries continue to flourish.
In 2002, during Your Excellency’s visit to Sri Lanka, we signed a Framework Agreement on Free Trade between our two countries. Tomorrow, we will be signing a Protocol, and will exchange letters to set in motion the operationalisation of this landmark instrument. We will thus break new ground, in trade and economic cooperation between our two countries. Given our close ties and historical affinities, I found our bilateral economic performance thus far, to be a surprising under-achievement.
The message I wish to give the business delegation accompanying me and your business leaders, is a simple one: that it is now their turn to draw inspiration from the traders in ancient times who, with foresight and with a spirit of adventure indulged in foreign trade and competed with foreign markets and complemented the requirements of local markets. They must now take trade and commerce between Sri Lanka and Pakistan to new levels of cooperation.
Excellency, your Prime Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka in November last year was one that helped our close bilateral ties grow even further. Following Prime Minister Aziz’s visit, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been able to work towards formalizing a number of areas of co-operation. We will soon witness the signing of five Agreements in the areas of agriculture, technical assistance to Pakistan for the development of the gems and jewellery industry, exemption of visa fees for students of both countries, credit facilities and on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters. Cooperation in such a range of fields, establishing multi-dimensional links, would serve to forge people-to-people contacts between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Such ties would undoubtedly help further widen and deepen relations between our countries.
While we strengthen bilateral relations, it is important to also be mindful of the need to work towards the development of our region as a whole. South Asia is not only one of the least economically integrated but also one of the least developed and politically, dangerously volatile. We need to overcome challenges of poverty, income inequality, unemployment, economic and social deprivation, high mortality, low literacy rates and a range of other problems that hinder our development.
Excellency, turning to the SAARC Summit which was postponed, I wish to say that it is not the first Summit that had to be postponed. However, despite such interruptions SAARC has made progress. These incidents should not therefore deter us. We should together re-double our efforts to move the SAARC process forward and focus on realising the collective SAARC goals we set for the 21st century. We applaud Pakistan for the significant progress made by SAARC under your leadership and we are confident that you would continue to smoothly steer our association in this crucial period.
In the global context, we have worked together in various international fora to promote shared interests and address common concerns. I hope that such constructive cooperation on matters of global interest will continue in the years to come.
Excellency, we are deeply impressed by the achievements Pakistan has made under your able leadership. During Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s visit to Sri Lanka last year, he briefed me on the wide-ranging reforms your country has undertaken especially in the economic and social sectors. We watch with interest your creative pursuit of “enlightened moderation” encapsulated in your call at the 58th Session of the United Nations General Assembly “to build harmony, promote moderation, oppose extremism, and ensure justice”. We commend your advocacy of internal reform and renewal and the promotion of understanding and cooperation among the international community for socio-economic development.
Being no stranger to terrorism, we in Sri Lanka are aware of the challenges faced by Pakistan due to extremism and terrorism. The aftershocks of September 11th are still felt in the region and Pakistan has been called to play a significant role in combating this menace. The leadership you give to your people in these troubled times is indeed remarkable. We appreciate the stand taken by you to guide Pakistan towards a modern State.
In Sri Lanka, my Government is steadfast in its commitment to continue and pursue a comprehensive negotiated political solution to the ethnic issue that has affected Sri Lanka for over two decades. We strive to ensure that the legitimate aspirations of all communities in Sri Lanka are safeguarded within a democratic and united Sri Lanka.
Excellency, for nearly six decades, successive Governments of Pakistan, and the people of your Nation have always extended the warmest goodwill towards Sri Lanka. It is my fervent hope that friendship between our two countries will continue to grow and withstand the trials and tribulations of time.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to conclude by expressing my best wishes,
- for the good health and well-being of His Excellency President General Musharraf and Madam Begum Musharraf,
- for the enduring friendship between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and
- for peace and prosperity of the people of Pakistan.
“May peace be upon you”
“Assalamu - alai Kum”