In what appears to be a last-minute decision ahead of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s coming visit to Sri Lanka, Colombo has cancelled Khan’s address to its parliament scheduled for 24th February. The reason being, it could strain their ties with India, as reported by Sri Lankan newspaper.

The Pakistan Prime Minister is the first Head of Government to visit Sri Lanka after the pandemic hit the world last year, is expected to arrive on February 23.

While the step has sparked speculations in political and diplomatic circles in the capital, Sri Lanka’s senior government officials have cited “COVID-19 constraints” for the decision.

When contacted, a spokesperson at the Pakistani High Commission in Colombo told:

“The PM’s address in [Sri Lankan] Parliament was not confirmed in the first place, it was being discussed.”

Colombo’s revision of the visiting leader’s itinerary has raised questions for obvious reasons. It comes barely a week before Sri Lanka faces a likely contested resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, in which Pakistan is currently a member.

The cancellation is also being viewed in the context of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s assurance to Parliament on February 10 that burial of COVID-19 victims would be allowed, amid a persisting campaign from Sri Lanka’s Muslim community, seeking burial rights.

The decision is being criticized by Sri Lankans themselves.

“Our government embarrassed our own Prime Minister first. Now they are embarrassing the Prime Minister of another country visiting us, this is pathetic,”

said Rauf Hakeem, Opposition parliamentarian and Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.