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Pakistan ‘offers assistance’ to Sri Lankan Air Force

Pakistan military is eyeing a comeback in Sri Lanka following the return of Rajapaksa brothers to power, even as India and Sri Lanka plan to boost their maritime security and counter terrororism partnership, according to people aware of the matter.

Pakistan Air Force head, Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, met PM Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo last week ahead of the latter’s India visit and offered assistance for Sri Lankan Air Force, said the people.

They said Pak is hoping to offer technical training and professional expertise to Sri Lankan Air Force, a move that will be closely monitored by India, which hosted the Rajapaksa brothers within a span of two months. During his meeting with PM Narendra Modi here last Saturday, Mahinda Rajapaksa sought partnership to fight terrorism.

During his meeting with Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, the Sri Lankan PM reportedly acknowledged Pakistan’s unwavering support to Sri Lanka in its need of hour and also underscored the need for learning from each other’s experience, said one of the persons, who did not wish to be identified. Sri Lankan Air Force possesses Chinese-built inventory that enables cooperation between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his elder brother Mahinda maintained ties with Pakistan military in the past. As a young army officer in the early 1970s, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was sent to Pakistan for an officers’ training course at a time when Sri Lanka maintained strong relations with Pakistan. Later, during the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), when he was the defence secretary under his brother Mahinda’s presidency, Pakistan military supported the Sri Lankan army.

It may be recalled that during the 1971 unrest that led to the creation of Bangladesh, after India withdrew landing and overflight rights to Pakistan, Sri Lanka granted refuelling facilities to Pakistan International Airlines. In March-April 1971, as the Pakistan Army launched Operation Searchlight to crush the independence movement in East Pakistan, Pakistani civilian and military aircraft made 174 landings at Katunayake international airport.

During the last decade of civil war involving the LTTE, the Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) developed close links with Sri Lanka’s military including supply of defence equipment.

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