Sri Lanka seems to have taken steps to avoid a clash with India by cancelling a scheduled speech in Parliament by visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Sri Lanka could have unnecessarily spoilt relations with India, on whom it is highly dependent, if Imran Khan had raised the Kashmir issue. The Colombo government cannot risk its relations with India when it is getting stuck in Chinese debt-trap and India being the saviour for the world for distributing Covid-19 vaccines. India has already donated 500,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZenica vaccine to Sri Lanka. And when the major countries and the United Nations have refused to entertain Pakistan on Kashmir issue, Sri Lanka would have made a fool out of itself and attracted India’s ire for no reason.
There have been anti-Muslim sentiments in Sri Lanka, which led to protests by Buddhist population over issues such as animal sacrifices in mosques. Earlier, Buddhist organisation such as Bodu Bala Sena held rallies against Muslims though the protests remained non-violent. So, there is strong communal disliking in the island nation. Imran Khan speech would have added fuel to the fire.
Imran Khan had used the Muslim card during his visit to Afghanistan last year. Even in 2012, he had supported Taliban saying the terror activities were “holy war” that is justified by Islamic law. He has used the United Nations General Assembly to rake up Muslim cause, which has often been perceived as interference in the internal matters of the other countries. In October 2020, he urged the Muslim-majority countries to protest after French President Emmanuel Macron expressed concerns over murder of a teacher by an Islamist radical. He wrote to the leaders of Muslim-majority countries “to counter the growing Islamophobia in non-Muslim states.
In a scenario when Imran Khan is overstepping his limits, giving him a platform like Parliament to speak would be like to dice with death. Whatever Khan would speak and radical remarks he makes would have serious ramification for the Buddhist population of Sri Lanka as well as for the Rajapaksa government at international level. The way Imran Khan responded to the requests of Sri Lankan Muslim leader’s requests; it had become clear that he would rake up minority abuse issue during Parliament speech.
The Pakistan Prime Minister had even openly passed remarks over the issue of burial of dead bodies in Sri Lanka, which is entirely under the jurisdiction of the Colombo government. Rishad Bathiudeen, leader of the All-Ceylon Makkal Congress, had requested Pakistan government to intervene regarding the forced cremation policy of the Sri Lankan government for COVID-19 victims. Imran Khan wanted seize the opportunity to show the world through his speech that he is the messiah of Muslim world. This however was going to cost Sri Lanka huge since the focus of Khan’s target would be its Buddhist population besides Kashmir.
According to United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women report, religious freedom in Pakistan in Imran Khan’s regime continues to deteriorate. While Imran Khan keeps raising the treatment meted out to Muslims in other countries, the commission came across several examples that showed minorities in the country are portrayed as second-class citizens. Imran Khan is desperate to garner support of Muslim countries and consolidate its position as champion of Muslim world after the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC), which represent 57 Muslim countries, rejected Pakistan’s proposal to take up Kashmir issue. Buddhist population of Sri Lanka red-faced and flustered if Imran Khan, whose own country saw destruction of Buddhist heritage sites recently, delivers a speech on minority abuses, that too, in Parliament.
Dar Javed from Lolab Kupwara (North Kashmir) is a student of craft management and entrepreneurship. He is doing his research on peace initiatives in Kashmir. He writes on polity, governance, culture and art.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Colombo Gazette’s point-of-view