Rajapaksa seeks Pakistan’s help in drug problem

Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, right, shakes hands with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi during a meeting in Colombo on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2019

Rajapaksa seeks Pakistan’s help in drug problem

  • Efforts should be made for growth in trade, investments, Lankan president says

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka has sought Pakistan’s help in its fight against drug trafficking and addiction, which was discussed in a meeting between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Monday.

“Drug trafficking and addiction is a grave evil that my country is confronted with. We wish to seek Pakistan’s assistance to eradicate this menace,” Rajapaksa told Qureshi.

Qureshi, who is on a two-day visit to the island nation — following his maiden trip to New Delhi — extended an invitation on behalf of President Arif Alvi for Rajapaksa to visit Pakistan. Data provided by Sri Lanka’s Dangerous Drugs Control Board (DDCB) shows that more than 250,000 of the country’s youth are addicted to drugs.

DDCB Chairman Ravindra Fernando said that nearly 50,000 youngsters are addicted to heroin alone, while nearly 2,500 undergo rehabilitation every year.

On Monday, Sri Lanka destroyed $108 million worth of cocaine, seized by authorities in the port of Colombo, which is increasingly becoming a transit hub favored by drug smugglers in Asia.

Authorities also destroyed 928 kg of the drug, the largest cocaine haul in Asia, which was found in a container on a Colombian ship bound for India in December 2016, part of the more than 1,700 kg of drugs seized over the past three years.

Rajapaksa also asked Pakistan to help Sri Lanka fight extremism, adding that instead of financial aid, efforts should be made to ensure enhanced growth in trade and investments on a mutually beneficial basis.  The president expressed an interest in exporting the widely grown betel leaf, which is popularly known as “paan” in Pakistan and India.

Qureshi said that Pakistan was keen on strengthening bilateral relations with Sri Lanka, especially in the areas of economic development, trade, security and regional cooperation.

HIGHLIGHT

Data provided by Sri Lanka’s Dangerous Drugs Control Board (DDCB) shows that more than 250,000 of the country’s youth are addicted to drugs.

“We already have very close, friendly and warm relations with Sri Lanka. Pakistan hopes to further develop them, widening the scope of cooperation,” Qureshi said, adding that he is fortunate to be the “first foreign minister to have visited Colombo since the election of the new government.”

He added that the government was looking forward to working with Sri Lanka to conserve and develop Buddhist heritage sites found across Pakistan.

“We are eagerly waiting for your visit to Pakistan at your earliest,” he told Rajapaksa.

Qureshi was accompanied by Dr. Mohammad Faisal, director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Tanvir Ahmad, acting high commissioner in Colombo, at the meeting.

Earlier, he had briefed his Sri Lankan counterpart, Dinesh Gunawardena, on the human rights’ crisis in Indian-administered Kashmir, adding that the lockdown since Aug. 5 remained a “cause of serious concern” for the international community.  During the meeting, the two ministers also discussed trade, investment and tourism.

Speaking to the media after the meeting, Qureshi described his meeting with the Sri Lankan foreign minister as “excellent” and extended an invitation to Gunawardena to visit Islamabad.

“There is a lot we can do to promote our mutual interest,” he said.

Following Rajapaksa’s victory, Pakistan Premier Imran Khan telephoned the president and invited him to visit Islamabad at the earliest opportunity.

Speaking to Arab News, N.M. Shaheid, Sri Lanka’s high commissioner based in Islamabad, said: “Pakistan has always honored Sri Lankan leadership devoid of color and party. President Maithripala Sirisena was invited as the chief guest in 2018 for Pakistan’s National Day celebrations. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is no stranger to Pakistan. He has received military training in Pakistan and many in top positions in the army are well acquainted with him. The Pakistan-Sri Lanka relationship will get to greater heights under the Rajapaksa regime.”


New Indian law could force thousands of NGOs to shut down, activists claim

Updated 24 September 2020

New Indian law could force thousands of NGOs to shut down, activists claim

  • Thousands of small NGOs that are dependent on legal funds obtained internationally may be forced to shut down
  • Many small NGOs questioned the timing of the new legislation, as they have been heavily involved in providing relief to millions of people during the COVID-19 pandemic

NEW DELHI: A new law passed by India’s parliament on Wednesday imposes restrictions that will force thousands of NGOs to shut down, dealing a major blow to the country’s civil society, activists say.

The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) 2020, which regulates the use of foreign funds by individuals and organizations, is “for national and internal security” and to “ensure that foreign funds do not dominate the political and social discourse in India,” Nityanand Rai, junior home minister, told the upper house as it passed the regulation on Wednesday.

But Indian NGOs fear that the law will mean they are no longer able to operate.

“Thousands of small NGOs, which enable good work and are dependent on legal funds obtained internationally, will shut down — also endangering the livelihoods of those dependent on them for a vocation,” Poonam Muttreja, director of the Delhi-based Population Foundation of India, told Arab News.

As the new law does not allow NGOs to share funds with any partner, individual or organization, small groups — particularly those active at the grassroots level — may end up being unable to receive the donations on which they depend for survival, Muttreja warned.

“Donors can’t give small grants to local NGOs, so they give large grants to an intermediary organization with the desire to work with grassroot-level NGOs, (of which there are many) in India,” Muttrejia said.

On Thursday, Voluntary Action Network India (VANI) — an umbrella organization for Indian NGOs — held a press conference during which members questioned the timing of the new legislation, since many small NGOs have been heavily involved in providing relief to millions of people across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the worst possible time to hamper civil society,” the director of Ashoka University’s Center for Social Impact and Philanthropy, Ingrid Srinath, said during the conference. “Just when this country needs its entire civil society to work together with the private sector and the government to address the multiple problems that confront us — not only the health ones but the larger issues of where the economy is going and the many polarizations taking place on the ground.”

Srinath also pointed out that no wider consultation with NGOs had taken place before the law was passed.

According to Delhi-based civil society activist Richa Singh, the law is an attempt by the government to silence dissent in the country.

“The larger purpose is to further silence those civil societies that are critical of (the government). It is a political message to fall in line,” she told Arab News. “While foreign money in the form of investment is being welcomed and labor laws are weakened for it, aid money is selectively targeted.”

Amitabh Behar, the chief executive of Oxfam India, called it a “devastating blow” and also criticized the government’s double standards over the acceptance of foreign funds.

“Red carpet welcome for foreign investments for businesses but stifling and squeezing the nonprofit sector by creating new hurdles for foreign aid which could help lift people out of poverty, ill health and illiteracy,” he said in a Twitter post on Sunday, when the FCRA bill was introduced to the lower house.