ISLAMABAD: In September, just days before Pakistan was all set to host Sri Lankan cricket team, ending a long drought of international cricket in the country, a terror threat alert issued by the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Office put the tour in jeopardy.
The Sri Lankan Cricket authorities had decided to reassess the security situation after receiving warning from the PM Office that the visitors could be targeted by terrorists in Pakistan.
The development had sent alarm bells ringing in Pakistan, which made foolproof security arrangements for the Sri Lankan cricket team.
The visit eventually went ahead after it emerged that it was India, which used the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Office to issue ‘fake terror alert’ in order to sabotage the visit of Sri Lankan cricket team.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is considered close to India and even in 2016 he opted to side with New Delhi for boycotting the South Asian Association for Regional Countries (SAARC) to be hosted by Pakistan.
“He (Ranil Wickremesinghe) is so close to India that his attitude towards Pakistan remained cold shouldered,” said a Foreign Office official while requesting anonymity.
Against this backdrop, the just concluded elections in Sri Lanka were important — both for Pakistan as well as for India.
Given India’s influence over the current ruling party, New Delhi desperately wanted to see the victory of Sajith Premadasa, a candidate of Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) and Pakistan was hoping for the victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
But Sunday’s election saw the victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa defeating his rival Premadasa with a comfortable margin.
“Had Premadasa won the election, it would have been a disaster for Pakistan,” the official added. Premadasa was not only backed by India but also by Western players that wanted Sri Lanka to stay away from the Chinese camp.
Although Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick to congratulate Gotabaya Rajapaksa over his victory in Sri Lanka Presidential elections, in reality India would have been ‘mourning,’ the official remarked.
The reason is that Indian secret agency RAW, the US and some European countries were believed to have directly influenced the 2015 elections that resulted in the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa because of his pro-China policies. Therefore, India doesn’t have good relations with the Rajapaksa family.
“For Pakistan, the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa is certainly a positive development,” said another official, who closely follows Sri Lanka domestic politics.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the Sri Lanka’s all powerful defence secretary when his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was the country’s President between 2005 to 2015.
The Rajapaksa brothers were credited with defeating the 26-year long Tamil insurgency in 2009. The incoming Sri Lankan president as well as the then defence secretary worked closely with Pakistan, which played a key role in helping Colombo defeat the Tamil insurgency backed by India.
That was the reason Pakistan didn’t even wait for the official results to congratulate the new Sri Lankan president.
“The government and the leadership of Pakistan warmly felicitate the newly-elected president of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on his electoral victory as the 7th President of the country,” said a statement issued by the Foreign Office.
“Pakistan is confident that under his stewardship, Sri Lanka will continue its journey towards greater prosperity and peace,” the statement added.
Pakistan also appreciated the conduct of a free, fair and peaceful election by the Election Commission and the Government of Sri Lanka.
“The leadership of Pakistan looks forward to working with the new President and his team to further strengthen the already strong relationship between the two countries,” the Foreign Office added.
President Arif Alvi took to twitter and congratulate his incoming Sri Lankan counterpart for the election victory.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa took no time in responding to Alvi’s felicitation message by tweeting: “I thank Your Excellency @ArifAlvi and people of Pakistan for your warm wishes. I look forward to building closer ties and understanding between our two nations and the region and a whole.”
The prime minister twitted: “Congratulations to Gotabaya Rajapaksa on victory in Sri Lankan Presidential elections. Pakistan looks forward to working closely with him & with Sri Lanka, for further deepening & broadening our brotherly ties & close cooperation for peace, progress and prosperity of our people.”