Let us not judge Pakistan, our all-weather friend by Sanjeewa Jayaweera

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The brutal murder of Priyantha Kumara (PK) by a mob in Sialkot, Pakistan, should be unreservedly condemned. This dastardly act was committed over blasphemy allegations against PK. It is outrageous that religious zealots have taken the law into their hands in this day and age.

I am very confident that a significant majority of Pakistani people are horrified and ashamed of this dreadful murder. However, the actions of a few hundred idiots should not define the people of Pakistan or our relationship with them. Some of the readers may have, over the years, read articles written by my late brother Rajeewa and by me of the special relationship between the two countries. The articles were based on our experience living in Pakistan for over four and half years, though half a century ago.

To coincide with the visit of Imran Khan, the Pakistan Prime Minister, to Sri Lanka a few months back, I wrote an article titled “Pakistan’s Love of Sri Lanka.” I highlighted several instances when Pakistan came to our assistance, whether it be on supply of urgently needed military equipment and ammunition to wage war against the LTTE, in support of our application for full membership of the International Cricket Council (ICC), enabling us to play test cricket, at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) or supply of urgently required rice. The list is much longer.

Therefore, I am appalled to have read media reports of certain high ranking politicians from the government and the opposition making unnecessary comments about Pakistan. For example, there was a request to recall all Sri Lankan nationals living in Pakistan if their safety could not be guaranteed, which I feel is absurd. There was also criticism of the Defence Minister of Pakistan based on a statement attributed to the Minister. Given our close relations with Pakistan, I believe any adverse comments are conveyed through diplomatic channels instead of through our media.

However, I was aghast to read an editorial in an English daily captioned ” Issue Travel Advisory on Panjab.” It called for the GOSL to issue a travel advisory about visiting the Panjab province based on this incident and the attack on the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricketers in 2009. The editorial stated that the travel advisory should be lifted only after the Pakistani government assures the safety and security of all Sri Lankans living in Pakistan and passes certain laws that ensure such safety. I understand that politicians will make irresponsible statements to score brownie points, but it is another matter when erudite editors go over the top.

We need to remember that Khuram Shaikh Zaman, I believe a Pakistani born British Citizen working for the Red Cross holidaying in Sri Lanka with his Russian girlfriend, was murdered in a hotel in Tangalle. I doubt that the Pakistan government issued a travel advisory against Pakistanis visiting Sri Lanka. Even the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has issued a statement requesting the Prime Minister of Pakistan to carry out a comprehensive investigation into the murder of PK and that they will be closely observing the legal proceeding. Religious leaders, too, have issued statements condemning the murder.

It is only correct that all right-thinking people worldwide should condemn this senseless act. However, my view is that as Lankans, we should not get on a high horse. We only need to cast our memory back to July 1983 when hundreds of innocent Tamil people were killed inside their houses, vehicles and some on the road. Many of them, too, were burnt. At that time, the President of the country and the state machinery went into virtual hibernation, and marauding gangs looted and murdered innocent Tamil people.

In contrast, Imran Khan has issued an immediate statement condemning the murder of PK and also that legal action will be taken against those who committed the murder. He is reported to have stated that this incident has brought shame on Pakistan. We have seen TV footage of several persons being arrested and taken to court. Also, a Pakistani man who tried valiantly to protect PK and save his life was praised for his heroic act and, in recognition, given a national award for his bravery by the government of Pakistan.

The Sri Lankan public and our politicians, in particular, should appreciate the efforts of Imran Khan for his outright condemnation of those responsible for this disgraceful incident and for ensuring that the state machinery moved immediately to arrest those responsible. This is a far cry from what took place in 1983 in our country. Then, many Sinhalese risked their own lives and properties to safeguard and protect the lives of their Tamil friends and neighbours. However, those acts of bravery were done in extreme secrecy, and none were praised and awarded national honours. Moreover, the state never apologized to the Tamil people who lost their lives or loved ones. I do not remember too many people calling for an investigation into what took place and to punish those who committed those crimes despite the extreme upheaval it caused.

I wish to assure the readers that my intention in comparing the two incidents is not to rationalize what happened to PK in Sialkot but to request our politicians, religious leaders, opinion-makers and the media not to judge the nation of Pakistan nor its people based on the actions of a few hundred idiots in Sialkot.

Our memories must not be short. So let us remember to acknowledge and thank the efforts of the Pakistani government in saving thousands of our soldiers encircled in Jaffna by the LTTE. I reproduce below a paragraph from an article written by my late brother captioned ” Sri Lanka forgetting old friends” published in the Sunday Island of September 22, 2019.

” The LTTE overran the Elephant Pass army base during their offensive code-named Operation Ceaseless Waves in May 2000. The lives of thousands of Sri Lankan troops based in Jaffna ran the risk of annihilation. The Sri Lanka Navy could not mount a full-scale evacuation. Indian assistance was sought but declined. The government decided to procure Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers System (MBRLS) for the army. President Parvez Musharraf of Pakistan was the first to respond by dispatching equipment in use with their military and undertook an emergency operation of airlifting the MBRLS from Karachi. Stocks in regular use in training exercises were considered less likely to malfunction. It was a rare occasion of a nation assisting another nation at the expense of its defences and national interests. The fall of Jaffna was averted, and thousands of troops in Jaffna were saved due to the timely arrival of MBRLS from Pakistan, followed by China and the Czech Republic. If not for this, thousands of mothers could have lost their sons, wives, their husbands, and children their fathers.”

It is the last sentence that should resonate with all those who have recently criticized the nation of Pakistan.

I spoke to a former military officer who served in the forces during the war against the LTTE. He recalled the numerous occasions when Pakistan rushed arms and ammunition to our country with gratitude and appreciation. He related how in 1986 when it was discovered that the LTTE possessed armaments that the Sri Lanka forces did not have and our request to both the USA and UK by President J R Jayawardene for similar weapons was turned down, it was the President of Pakistan who within 24 hours sent a planeload of similar armaments with no strings attached. He also said that the friendship extended to him by all Pakistanis because he was from Sri Lanka was unique on his official visits to Pakistan.

There are numerous other instances when Sri Lanka benefited from Pakistan’s generosity and willingness to help. Pakistan has undoubtedly been our all-weather friend. Therefore, it is my appeal that we do not judge Pakistan as a nation and its people due to the actions of a few hundred idiots. Let this incident be a reminder to all of us that religious extremism is unhealthy in any part of the world. Those who promote such extremism should be shunned by society, and legal action taken to ensure that they do not cause disharmony.

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Disclaimer: Let us not judge Pakistan, our all-weather friend by Sanjeewa Jayaweera - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view

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