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From Pakistan with love

Hearts of our neighbours melted at our tsunami-related misfortune and they were prompted to answer our calls for help. Some of them were themselves affected by the killer tidal wave. Bangladesh, India and Pakistan played a lead role in post tsunami rehabilitation, arriving here on day one of the rehabilitation process.

The Pakistan High Commissioner for Sri Lanka Bashir Wali Mohmand saw it as the humanity of mankind coming to the forefront to beat the fury the sea unleashed.

The warm friendship between the two countries goes as far back as political independence. "Sri Lanka had always stood by Pakistan during its difficult moments and Pakistan the true friend that she is wanted to lend a helping hand to Sri Lanka in the latter's time of need," said High Commissioner Bashir Mohmand.

Speaking on the role of the Pakistani Army Tsunami Relief Operation Service (PATROS), the Press Attache of the Pakistan High Commission Z. A. Barlas said: "Hundred and seventy men who had come from the Engineering Regiment of Pakistan Army took part in various activities including constructing shelters, renovating schools, providing filtered water to the locals, clearing debris, attending to patients and road construction in Hambantota,"

Pakistani contingents established their camps at Siribopura a small hamlet in Hambantota district, "We were sent to Hambantota by the Government of Sri Lanka," he said.

As soon as the PATROS arrived in Sri Lanka the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo was flooded with questions by both the foreign and local media if they were going to select a village in the East or any other Muslim majority area, but as far as the Government of Pakistan was concerned all the inhabitants of this island nation were Sri Lankans and they could care less about the race or the religion of the people that they were going to help.

"We want to help Sri Lanka in distress and we do not discriminate between religions or communities, In Hambantota you get quite a large number of Muslims but our troopers could not distinguish between the Sinhalese and the Muslims. They all look alike, talk alike and eat alike, and think alike," he said.

The main task that was earmarked by the PATROS was the earthwork of Suriya Ara a strech of road about 40Km which connects Timbolketiya, a small hamlet in the district with its main town, Hambantota.

The most diffcult task they undertook was the cleaning of evaporation ponds of Lanka Salt. ltd, the country's biggest salt provider. Ponds were badly polluted and the water levels were high, highly concentrated residual brine was creating fumes that made the task even more arduous. Toiling in knee deep slush the Pakistani contingent manually cleared a poundage area of 240,000 sq. meters.

Maj. Abdul Khalil who had been with the PATROS, ever since the unit came to Sri Lanka was in all smiles when he shared his experience of working in the down South coastal town of Hambantota.

"It was really pathetic what had happened, we in Pakistan always considered Sri Lanka as a friendly nation. I was so moved when I heard about the misfortune and volunteered directly when there was a request for volunteers,"

"People here are very friendly and humble, they will greet you with a beautiful smile. It is always nice to see a smiling person and for a moment you forget your own troubles by seeing a genuine smile of a man."

To the major from PATROS it was sad to see what has happened to the people whom he consider as his friends now but he was also amazed at how they have recovered from the tragedy. "They have lost their family members and the sea had taken away their life time earnings, naturally they were dejected. But soon you find the very people starting to look at things with equanimity, their attitude was more like, 'what is the use of crying over spilt milk.' But again they have an optimistic attitude.

I firmly believe the people have the capabilities and the potential to stand on their own feet again."

The only negative point for Khalil was the food. "I miss my Pakistani dishes but I do enjoy rice and curry very much but the food is really very hot and God, how they eat chilies,"

"You do not feel quite foreign in Sri Lanka the smiling people here are offering their hands of brotherhood. Who cannot feel at home in such a homely and friendly atmosphere?".

Another interesting finding Maj. Khalil made was that Sri Lankans would want to enjoy their holiday to the fullest.

"You would find it difficult to contact any government official during a week day, even their mobile phones are switched off," he remarked laughingly.

"When I get back home, I certainly hope to come back to Sri Lanka with my family, of course that would be for a nice holiday by the sea.

During my stay I visited, Nuwara Eliya, and some other places of interest I hope to re-visit these places with leisure and enjoy myself in this tropical country that I have fallen in love with."

A big thank you goes to PATROS and Pakistan for being a friend in need and a friend indeed.

"You have the potential and your people are educated and talented I pray that your country will get up from the ashes and be a shining country in the region," Khalil said.

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