Pakistan-Sri Lanka Relations
Banquet in Honour of President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf
Colombo, Sri Lanka
July 31, 2002
Your Excellency President Pervez Musharraf,
Madam Begum Sehba Musharraf,
Hon. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe,
Distinguished Members of the Delegation from the Islamic
Republic of Pakistan,
Your Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great honour and privilege to welcome President Pervez Musharraf and Madam Begum Sehba Musharraf to Sri Lanka. I also bid a warm welcome to Hon. Abdul Razak Dawood - Minister for Commerce, Industries and Production; Hon. Nisar A Memon - Minister for Information & Media Development; Hon. Ms. Shahida Jamil - Minister for Environment, Local Government & Rural Development; Hon. Inam Ul Haq - Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, as well as the other distinguished members of the delegation of Pakistan.
Relations between our two peoples go back far in time. Our literature abounds in references to the ancient seats of learning and civilization in what is present day Pakistan. The great traditions of Gandhara and Taxila inspired Buddhist art, learning and civilization in Sri Lanka.
Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation State. Mohamed Ali Jinnah did all three. Hailed as the Quaid-I-Azam of Pakistan, and its first Governor General, it could be said that Mr. Jinnah virtually conjured Pakistan into Statehood by the force of his indomitable will.
The Quaid-I-Azam had a clear vision of the State he wanted Pakistan to be. Steeped as he was in the traditions and values of the West he was the quintessential modern man who could also most eminently pass the test of acceptability to the Muslim community, namely, commitment to his community's quest for a just, respectable and sovereign existence in the modern world in accordance with Islamic values. The political culture that he wished to promote in Pakistan was to be the synthesis of Islamic and democratic values. His deeply ingrained rational spirit was to emerge even when he espoused the creation of an Islamic State.
He said: 'We are members of the brotherhood of Islam in which all are equal in rights, dignity and self-respect. Consequently, we have a special and very deep sense of unity. But make no mistake. Pakistan is no theocracy or anything like it. Islam demands from us toleration of other creeds and we welcome, in closest association with us, all those who, of whatever creed, are themselves willing and ready to play their part as true and loyal citizens of Pakistan'.
Islam, like Buddhism, is a religion of peace, which calls for coexistence, tolerance and respect for the followers of other religions.
Last year, I sent the then Prime Minister on a special mission to Pakistan to call for the prevention of an impending outrage - the destruction of the Bamiyan statues. The objective of the mission was sadly not fulfilled but the Buddhists of Sri Lanka recall with special gratitude the support given to our plea by Your Excellency personally, and by Pakistan, an Islamic State.
Today, we are on the threshold of a landmark free trade agreement between our two countries, which will open a new chapter of potential cooperation for mutual benefit. Pakistan and Sri Lanka share similar perceptions on many major global issues. We work together in various international and regional fora in order to ensure that our shared interests and concerns are accommodated by the world community at a time when global political, economic, technological and security issues are being redefined.
As members of SAARC we are looking at critical issues of relevance to both our countries such as poverty alleviation, social development and intra-regional trade. As the next Chair of SAARC in 2003 we hope very much that Pakistan will play a major role in taking the process of South Asian cooperation forward.
Your Excellency, Pakistan has consistently supported Sri Lanka in the course of the last two decades on matters related to our ethnic conflict. We know that this support derives from Pakistan's genuine desire, based on decades of close, neighbourly relations, to see peace and prosperity return to our country. It is therefore my duty on this important occasion to share with you my personal optimism regarding developments that have taken place on this front.
The present Government has continued the process initiated by me to find a negotiated political solution to the ethnic problem that has enveloped our country in a climate of violence over the past decades. In February 2002, the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE entered into a Memorandum of Understanding, which provides for internationally verifiable commitments on both sides to ensure a violence free environment and create the climate of confidence, which is necessary for the pursuit of political negotiations. We in this country, and our friends all over the world, hope and pray that a process has begun whereby the legitimate political aspirations of all communities in Sri Lanka - Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others - who have lived together in our island home from time immemorial could be realised within a democratic framework in a united Sri Lanka. I am personally deeply committed to the success of this cause.
We in Sri Lanka have closely observed the turbulent unfolding of events in Pakistan's neighbourhood since September 11 of last year. While all of us in South Asia have had to bear a share of the burden of coping with the aftermath of September 11, Pakistan has been called upon to play a leading role in the global coalition against terror under Your Excellency's courageous guidance. I myself bear the scars of senseless terrorist violence and recognize the courage and personal sacrifice that is required to combat terrorism. Many nations have applauded your stand. As a country that has suffered much from terrorism and sectarianism in the past, we hope very much that the burdens you have borne, and still carry, will soon be lifted.
On the 12th of January this year, you made a historic address to your nation wherein you spelt out your vision for fashioning a liberal, moderate, progressive and dynamic Islamic State in Pakistan. Those were the very same ideals that inspired Quaid-I-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah. The concrete measures towards that end that you have initiated will greatly help to reveal the humanitarian face of the great religion of which there are so many thousands of followers in Sri Lanka, and dispel the misperceptions about Islam that have grown in some quarters.
This, for me, is an appropriate occasion, the visit to our country of the Head of an Islamic State, to pay a tribute to our own Muslim community. They constitute almost eight percent of our population. They have lived amongst us in peace for many centuries. They have made an enormous contribution to the quality of our national life - in all the professions, in academia, in sport and in the world of commerce where, in particular, the Muslim community has excelled. Wealthy members of the community have been noted philanthropists. They have given generously to many worthy causes. In the political arena, Muslim legislators, from the days well before independence and right up to present times, have wielded great influence in moulding national policies and the making of important national decisions. Every legislative assembly and Parliament of Ceylon and Sri Lanka has had Muslim members drawn from all our political parties, often representing predominantly Sinhalese or Tamil constituencies. Every Government, before and after independence, has had Muslim Ministers, often holding key portfolios.
The Muslims of Sri Lanka live and work in villages, towns and cities throughout the length and breadth of the island, as they have the unquestioned right to do. It is the bounden duty of the Government of Sri Lanka - and it is my special constitutional obligation as the Executive Head of State - to ensure that our Muslim citizens, as indeed all our citizens, are permitted to live wherever in Sri Lanka they choose freely to live, to pursue their preferred vocations and earn their livelihoods without let or hindrance, without harassment or coercion, without fear or embarrassment. This assurance I give wholeheartedly to our Muslim brothers and sisters.
Your Excellency President Musharraf, Madam Musharraf, Honourable Ministers and distinguished delegates from Pakistan, it is rarely that such a happy state of relations has existed for so long between two countries as between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The message sent by the Quaid-I-Azam to Ceylon in 1948 on the occasion of our independence could be rewritten today.
(quote) "We in Pakistan will watch your progress with the most friendly and sympathetic interest as some of the problems confronting your island are similar to ours ….. Pakistan has the warmest goodwill towards Ceylon. I am sanguine that the good feelings which exist between our two peoples will be further strengthened as the years roll by and our common interest, and mutual and reciprocal handling of them, will bring us into still closer friendship….." (unquote)
Your Excellency, all your predecessors, and now you yourself, who have stood at the helm of Government in Pakistan over the 54 years of our existence as sovereign nations have vividly displayed in ample measure that "warmest goodwill" that the Quaid-I-Azam so eloquently conveyed to us in 1948. This friendship is further strengthened by the personal understanding and goodwill that have developed between our leaders at the highest political levels. I recall with pleasure the warm and generous hospitality extended to me and my delegation during our visit to Pakistan in 1999. We have had many discussions together during the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu. It is therefore a matter of great personal satisfaction to me, as well as to the Government and people of Sri Lanka, that your visit has become a reality today.
Long may the friendship between the peoples of Pakistan and Sri Lanka endure and flourish.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
may I invite you to join me in a toast to the good health and well being of His Excellency President Musharraf and Madam Begum Musharraf, as well as to the strengthening of the excellent relations that exist between the Governments and the peoples of Sri Lanka and Pakistan.