Constraints of Friendship

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to Sri Lanka highlighted strategic constraints in the bilateral relationship.

By Syed Zain Abbas Rizvi | April 2021


The agony of the Sri Lankan civil war has not worn off from history as yet. The 26-year war decimated the foundations of the country and highlighted the separatist fragment of society. The wounds left to fester since have still not subsided, even after three decades. The clash of the Sinhalese and Tamils climaxed in 2009. The recent strike over the rights of the minorities was the forced cremation of the deceased in the line of Covid prevention adopted by the Sri Lankan government.

Sri Lanka, officially known as ‘The Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’, is a South Asian country forming a tear-drop below the Indian subcontinent. It is located at the south-western edge of the Bay of Bengal. The country was bloodied by an infamous civil war that started in 1983, claiming thousands of lives and consuming countless communities.

When President Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to power in 2019, the Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalist Party (SLPP) had been mongering extremism under the pretence of mob attacks while backing groups like BBS to promote hatred and prejudice. The World Health Organisation (WHO), along with Sri Lankan doctors, rejected the justification provided by President Gotabaya for adopting cremation as a safety measure to prevent water contamination due to rituals related to burial.

Despite the assurance of WHO, the Sri Lankan government not only refused to consider burial as an accepted method but even the country’s Supreme Court spared no time in shunning the petitions filed against the forced cremation law. The UN experts remarked: “We deplore the implementation of such public health decisions based on discrimination, aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism”.

The spokesperson of the Sri Lankan government, Keheliya Rambukwella, retorted: “We do things only on expert advice and cannot take ad hoc decisions”.


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