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What takes Mahinda to Pak?

Sources say the visit aims to signal that if India does not help Lanka, the latter may approach Pak, writes PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2006 18:52 IST

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's visit to Pakistan beginning on Friday, has an important message for India, political observers here say.

Informed sources told Hindustan Times that one of the main aims of Rajapaksa's visit was to send a message to India saying that if it did not help Sri Lanka militarily, the latter might approach Pakistan for help.

The power vacuum in Sri Lanka would be filled by Pakistan.

"Will India want it?" That's is a question Sri Lankans ask.

Sri Lanka's move is expected to set New Delhi wondering if it is doing the right thing by indefinitely postponing a decision on signing a Defence Cooperation Agreement with Sri Lanka, and not moving boldly on aiding the reconstruction and modernisation of the Palaly airport cum airbase in Jaffna.

The 80-member delegation accompanying President Rajapaksa has top representatives of the Defence, Finance and Trade Ministries.

The aim is to secure defence as well as economic cooperation.

The President himself is the defence minister. He is accompanied by Gothabaya Rajapaksa, the defence secretary.

Sri Lanka greatly values its defence relations with Pakistan.

The most widely cited reason for this is the militarily help which Pakistan gave when the LTTE was about to over run Jaffna in 2000.

The Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs), which the Pakistanis sold to Sri Lanka in that hour of dire need, are thought to have played an invaluable role in sending the Tigers packing to their bases in the Wanni.

Because India and the West could not sell arms to Sri Lanka for political or humanitarian reasons, Sri Lanka had no option but to look to Pakistan, China and the open international market for its military needs.

Pakistan has been selling small armaments to Sri Lanka for a long time, besides training its military officers.

Not much military aid is possible

However, defence experts feel that there is not very much that Pakistan can sell to Sri Lanka.

Pakistan itself is hard pressed for cash and material, especially with serious trouble brewing in Waziristan and the ever-present danger on the Kashmir front in the North East.

Sri Lanka, no doubt, has a shopping list, the details of which are still not known. But it remains to be seen what is actually offered or got from Pakistan.

Musharraf talks of limitations of military

Interestingly, Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf has indirectly cautioned the Sri Lankan leaders against too much reliance on military might to bring an end to the ethnic conflict in the island.

In an exclusive interview to Bandula Jayasekara, editor of the state owned Daily News on the eve of Rajapaksa's visit, Musharraf said that a country's armed forces could not be expected to solve political conflicts.

They could only help political leaderships "buy time" to settle conflicts, he said.

"They (the Sri Lankan Army) are a very disciplined army. But the military only buys time. The military does not give the ultimate solution," Musharraf submitted.

But even as he hinted that a solution to Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict lay in a political rather than military effort, Musharraf said that Pakistan stood by the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka.

"We are against separatism in Sri Lanka," he said.

The Pakistan President that it was the LTTE, which "started the cult of suicide bombings".

"I have always said that funding terrorism must be dried up globally and terrorism must be defeated," he declared.

On the peace process between Pakistan and India, Musharraf said: "The pace of improvement is not sufficient and it could move faster".