ISLAMABAD: The Sri Lankan Parliament on Thursday has cancelled the planned address of Prime Minister Imran Khan during his upcoming visit to the island nation, reported Dawn.
This is being seen as a move by the Sri Lankan government to maintain ties with India.
It was being speculated that Khan would raise the Kashmir issue during his speech, which could have upset Delhi. Express newspaper ( from Sri Lanka) stated that giving an opportunity to the Pakistani prime minister could have been implied as giving Khan parity to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, so the planned speech was cancelled.
It is significant to mention that Imran Khan's speech at the Sri Lankan parliament had been included in PM's itinerary on the Pakistan government's request.
Imran Khan is scheduled to travel to Colombo on a two-day trip from February 22. He was to address the Sri Lankan parliament on February 24. He will also meet Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and attend an investors' conference, reported Dawn.
Imran's speech was added at the request of the Pakistan government. However, it was later cancelled, according to Sri Lankan media. Sri Lankan media have cited 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, reported Dawn.
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 the Buddhist majority, rising anti-Muslim sentiments, and biased government actions, reported Dawn.
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.