Pakistani Press Attaché in Sri Lanka Known for Deploying “Buddhist Diplomacy” Leaves Post
Pakistani diplomat Muhammad Daud Ehtisham has left his post of six years as press attaché at the Pakistan High Commission in Sri Lanka, having celebrated his service at a farewell event in Colombo on 20 September.
Ehtisham was known in diplomatic circles for his promotion of cultural ties between Pakistan and Sri Lanka based on their shared Buddhist heritage. His tenure, during which he liaised with the media about the two countries’ economic, trade, and investment ties, saw cultural exchange reach new highs, according to The New Indian Express.
Ehtisham is reportedly a keen collector of Buddhist art and artifacts, and as press attaché he organized exhibitions and visits by high-profile officials, scholars, and archaeologists from both countries. In a 2011 press release about a visit to Sri Lanka by Pakistan’s Department of Archaeology and Museums director-general Dr. Fazal Dad Kakar, Ehtisham highlighted Pakistan’s Buddhist heritage, which dates back to the 2nd century BCE. He noted that Buddhism was once the dominant religion in Pakistan, flourishing for more than a millennium from the 2nd century BCE to the 10th century CE.
Ehtisham is the latest diplomat from Pakistan to have engaged in “Buddhist diplomacy” to promote ties with Sri Lanka. In 2006, the Pakistan High Commission launched Sri Lankan professor emeritus J.B. Dissanayake’s Sinhala translation of Pakistani academic Ahmed Hassan Dani’s Gandhara Art in Pakistan (1992). The following year, the Pakistan High Commission had M.S. Hussain translate into Sinhala Ihsan H. Nadiem’s Buddhist Gandhara—History, Art and Architecture.
In 2010, at the request of former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa, former Pakistani president Asif Zardari sent the Buddhist relics of Gandhara for exhibition in Sri Lanka. In June 2011, to mark the 2600th anniversary of the Buddha's enlightenment, the goverment of Pakistan handed over two Buddhist relics from museums in Pakistan to officials from Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government organized a month-long exhibition of these relics before presenting them to the monks of Bodhigyana Kapuwa temple in the suburb of Kaduwela near Colombo.
In January 2016, Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif honored the holiest Buddhist shrine in Sri Lanka, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic at Kandy, during an official visit. In May of the same year, by invitation of the Pakistani government, a 43-member delegation of Sri Lankan ministers, monks, scholars, and journalists visited Pakistan to attend the first-ever Pakistani Vesak Festival at Taxila. Ehtisham helped to facilitate the festival.
As an enthusiastic advocate of Buddhist culture and arts, Ehtisham is evidence that Pakistan, despite its problems with Islamic fundamentalism, has plenty of tolerant and open-minded individuals who are often overlooked in English-language media.
Outgoing Pakistani diplomat helped promote Buddhist ties between Pakistan and Sri Lanka (The New Indian Express)
Nawaz Sharif to visit Lanka’s most sacred Buddhist shrine (The New Indian Express)
Sinhala translation of ‘Buddhist Gandhara - History, Art and Architecture’ (The Buddhist Channel)
Buddha’s relics handed over to Sri Lanka (Dawn)
Pakistan’s first-ever Vesak Festival concludes successfully (Daily FT)
Pakistan Hosts First Official Observation of Vesak Festival (Buddhistdoor Global)