COLOMBO: Sri Lanka has sought Pakistan’s help in its fight against drug trafficking and addiction, which was discussed in a meeting between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Monday.
“Drug trafficking and addiction is a grave evil that my country is confronted with. We wish to seek Pakistan’s assistance to eradicate this menace,” Rajapaksa told Qureshi.
Qureshi, who is on a two-day visit to the island nation — following his maiden trip to New Delhi — extended an invitation on behalf of President Arif Alvi for Rajapaksa to visit Pakistan. Data provided by Sri Lanka’s Dangerous Drugs Control Board (DDCB) shows that more than 250,000 of the country’s youth are addicted to drugs.
DDCB Chairman Ravindra Fernando said that nearly 50,000 youngsters are addicted to heroin alone, while nearly 2,500 undergo rehabilitation every year.
On Monday, Sri Lanka destroyed $108 million worth of cocaine, seized by authorities in the port of Colombo, which is increasingly becoming a transit hub favored by drug smugglers in Asia.
Authorities also destroyed 928 kg of the drug, the largest cocaine haul in Asia, which was found in a container on a Colombian ship bound for India in December 2016, part of the more than 1,700 kg of drugs seized over the past three years.
Rajapaksa also asked Pakistan to help Sri Lanka fight extremism, adding that instead of financial aid, efforts should be made to ensure enhanced growth in trade and investments on a mutually beneficial basis. The president expressed an interest in exporting the widely grown betel leaf, which is popularly known as “paan” in Pakistan and India.
Qureshi said that Pakistan was keen on strengthening bilateral relations with Sri Lanka, especially in the areas of economic development, trade, security and regional cooperation.
“We already have very close, friendly and warm relations with Sri Lanka. Pakistan hopes to further develop them, widening the scope of cooperation,” Qureshi said, adding that he is fortunate to be the “first foreign minister to have visited Colombo since the election of the new government.”
He added that the government was looking forward to working with Sri Lanka to conserve and develop Buddhist heritage sites found across Pakistan.
“We are eagerly waiting for your visit to Pakistan at your earliest,” he told Rajapaksa.
Qureshi was accompanied by Dr. Mohammad Faisal, director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Tanvir Ahmad, acting high commissioner in Colombo, at the meeting.
Earlier, he had briefed his Sri Lankan counterpart, Dinesh Gunawardena, on the human rights’ crisis in Indian-administered Kashmir, adding that the lockdown since Aug. 5 remained a “cause of serious concern” for the international community. During the meeting, the two ministers also discussed trade, investment and tourism.
Speaking to the media after the meeting, Qureshi described his meeting with the Sri Lankan foreign minister as “excellent” and extended an invitation to Gunawardena to visit Islamabad.
“There is a lot we can do to promote our mutual interest,” he said.
Following Rajapaksa’s victory, Pakistan Premier Imran Khan telephoned the president and invited him to visit Islamabad at the earliest opportunity.
Speaking to Arab News, N.M. Shaheid, Sri Lanka’s high commissioner based in Islamabad, said: “Pakistan has always honored Sri Lankan leadership devoid of color and party. President Maithripala Sirisena was invited as the chief guest in 2018 for Pakistan’s National Day celebrations. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is no stranger to Pakistan. He has received military training in Pakistan and many in top positions in the army are well acquainted with him. The Pakistan-Sri Lanka relationship will get to greater heights under the Rajapaksa regime.”