Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s planned address to the Sri Lankan Parliament, during his upcoming visit to the island country, has been cancelled.
Khan is scheduled to travel to Colombo on a two-day trip from February 22, the Dawn reported on Thursday.
Besides his meetings with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and attending an investors’ conference, he was to address the Sri Lankan Parliament on February 24.
It is said that the speech to Parliament had been included in Khan’s itinerary on Pakistan government’s request. However, it was later cancelled, according to Sri Lankan media. Media reports from Sri Lanka give different reasons for the cancellation of Khan’s address.
Sri Lanka’s daily Express quoted Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage as having said that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena had requested for cancellation on the pretext of Covid-19.
However, the same newspaper cited unnamed sources as saying that there were elements within the Sri Lankan government, who did not want the speech to take place as they feared that doing so could further harm ties with India, which have already been strained after the cancellation of a deal over the East Container Terminal in Colombo port.
It was expected that Khan would raise the Kashmir issue during his speech, which could have upset Delhi. Similarly, giving opportunity to the Pakistani Prime Minister, a media report said, could have been implied as giving Khan parity to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But, another speculation doing the rounds is that the Sri Lankan government was concerned about Khan speaking about the rights of Muslims in Sri Lanka, who have faced abuses at the hands of Buddhist majority, rising anti-Muslim sentiments, and biased government actions.
The Sri Lankan government had, moreover, made its compulsory cremation rule for those dying from Covid-19 applicable to Muslims in the country. The government, however, earlier this month exempted the Muslims from cremation and allowed them to bury their dead after a global outcry over the issue.
Khan had welcomed the Sri Lankan government’s decision. “We welcome Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s assurance given in Sri Lankan Parliament today, allowing Muslims to bury those who died from Covid-19,” he had tweeted.
Foreign Office Spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri could not be reached for comments.