Imran Khan in the early days of his presidency

In a great humiliation for Pakistan’s Prime Minister ahead of his scheduled visit, Sri Lanka has scrapped the planned address by Imran Khan to its parliament.

Imran Khan, President of Pakistan

The move appears reasonable after it became known that Khan was set to use the platform to fan religious sentiments.

It was widely believed that Khan was going to raise the issue of religious “abuses” by the Buddhist majority in the island nation’s parliament which would have helped Khan to score a few political points in Pakistan, but the Sri Lankan government would have been highly embarrassed.

Khan has often been found playing the Muslim card at international platforms as an effective tool in the domestic politics of Pakistan.

With the Pakistani economy in shambles and the opposition parties becoming more proactive, Imran Khan must have intended to rake up issues of Muslim minorities in Sri Lanka to divert his people’s attention – a common practice.

And it had become clearer after N. M. Ameen, President of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, called Khan “a great Muslim” and appealed to him to speak on behalf of the Sri Lankan Muslims.

Getting a clue of possible backstabbing that would have caused discomfort for Sri Lanka, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa- led government acted swiftly and cancelled Khan’s address on flimsy ground.

Flag of Sri Lanka

There is another facet to the Colombo’s decision, however.

Sri Lanka could have unnecessarily spoilt relations with India, on whom it is highly dependent, if Imran Khan had raised the Kashmir issue.

The Colombo government cannot risk its relations with India when it is getting stuck in a Chinese debt-trap and with India being the saviour of the world at present for distributing COVID-19 vaccines.

India has already donated 500,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Sri Lanka.

And when the major countries and the United Nations have refused to entertain Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, Sri Lanka would have made a fool out of itself and attracted India’s ire for no reason.

There have been anti-Muslim sentiments in Sri Lanka, which led to protests by the Buddhist population over issues such as animal sacrifices in mosques.

Earlier, Buddhist organisation such as Bodu Bala Sena held rallies against Muslims though the protests remained non-violent.

So, there is strong communal dislike across the island nation meaning that Imran Khan’s now cancelled speech would have added fuel to the fire.

Imran Khan in the early days of his presidency

Imran Khan used the Muslim card during his visit to Afghanistan last year.

Even in 2012, he supported the Taliban saying the terror activities were a “holy war” that is justified by Islamic law.

He has used the United Nations General Assembly to rake up Muslim cause, which has often been perceived as interference in the internal matters of the other countries.

In October 2020, he urged the Muslim-majority countries to protest after French President Emmanuel Macron expressed concerns over the murder of a teacher by an Islamist radical.

He wrote to the leaders of Muslim-majority countries “to counter the growing Islamophobia in non-Muslim states.”

In a scenario when Imran Khan is overstepping his limits, giving him a platform like Parliament to speak at would be to dice with death.

Whatever Khan would say would have had serious ramifications for the Buddhist population of Sri Lanka as well as for the Rajapaksa government at international level. The way Imran Khan responded to the requests of Sri Lankan Muslim leader’s requests; it had become clear that he would rake up the minority abuse issue during his Parliament speech.

The Pakistani Prime Minister even openly passed remarks over the issue of burial of dead bodies in Sri Lanka, which is entirely under the jurisdiction of the Colombo government.

Rishad Bathiudeen, leader of the All-Ceylon Makkal Congress, had requested the Pakistan government intervene regarding the forced cremation policy of the Sri Lankan government for COVID-19 victims.

Imran Khan wanted to seize the opportunity to show the world through his speech that he is the messiah of the Muslim world.

This, however, was going to cost Sri Lanka since the focus of Khan’s target would be its own Buddhist population.

And, according to United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women report, religious freedom in Pakistan in Imran Khan’s regime continues to deteriorate.

While Imran Khan keeps raising the treatment meted out to Muslims in other countries, the commission came across several examples that showed minorities in his own country are portrayed and treated as second-class citizens.

Imran Khan is desperate to garner the support of the Muslim countries of the world, and consolidate Pakistan’s position as champion of the Muslim world after the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC), which represent 57 Muslim countries, rejected Pakistan’s proposal to take up the Kashmir issue.

The Buddhist population of Sri Lanka would have been left red-faced and flustered if Imran Khan, whose own country witnessed the destruction of Buddhist heritage sites in recent years, delivers a speech on minority abuses, in the nation’s Parliament.

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