Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan today came out in support of Navjot Singh Sidhu who is embroiled in a controversy after attending his oath-taking ceremony, saying those who are criticising the Punjab minister are doing a great disservice to peace in the subcontinent.
Sidhu had attended the event in Pakistan on August 18. He was slammed by the Opposition and earned displeasure even from his own chief minister Amarinder Singh over his decision to visit Pakistan and hug its Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
The former cricketer today held a press conference in Chandigarh to defend his decision.
"I want to thank Sidhu for coming to Pakistan for my oath taking. He was an ambassador of peace and was given amazing love and affection by people of Pakistan," Khan tweeted soon after Sidhu's press confrence.
"Those in India who targeted him are doing a great disservice to peace in the subcontinent - without peace our people cannot progress," Khan said.
To move forward, Khan said Pakistan and India must engage in dialogue and resolve their conflicts, including the Kashmir issue.
"The best way to alleviate poverty and uplift the people of the subcontinent is to resolve our differences through dialogue and start trading," he said.
Meanwhile, Cricketer-turned-minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, attacked by critics for his visit to Pakistan for Imran Khan's oath ceremony and a controversial hug shared with the Pakistani army chief, hit back today with a detailed rebuttal. He also responded to criticism over being seated in the front row, next to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir "president" Masood Khan, during the swearing-in ceremony on Saturday.
"My seat was changed at the last minute. I was told just 5 minutes before ceremony that I was to be seated on front row. I sat wherever they made me sit," Navjot Singh Sidhu said.
Asserting that his visit was "not about politics" but a warm invite from an old friend, the Punjab minister pointed out that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had travelled on the bus to Lahore and Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled trip to Lahore in 2015, on his way back from an official visit to Afghanistan.
During that surprise stopver, he said, PM Modi had hugged then prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
"No one is questioning PM Modi," Navjot Singh Sidhu said.
On criticism from his own boss, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, he said: "I was criticised by the Captain, by top Congress leaders. It is not necessary that if the Captain has spoken against me, I should too."
You can't, he added pointedly, try to please everybody. "He who tried to, pleases nobody."
Navjot Singh Sidhu also defended the embrace he shared with Pakistani army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, saying it was an "emotional" response.
"The Pak Army chief said they were making efforts to open a corridor from India's Dera Baba Nanak to the historic Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib. What followed was an emotional moment," said the loquacious cricketer-turned-politician.
Amarinder Singh, who has not shared the best of ties with his minister, had earlier ticked off Mr Sidhu publicly, saying "I think it was wrong for him (Navjot Singh) to have shown the affection he did for the Pakistan Army chief, I am not in its favour... The fact is that the man (Mr Sidhu) should understand that our soldiers are being killed everyday. My own regiment lost one major and two jawans a few months ago," the Chief Minister had said.
Mr Sidhu was the only Indian to attend the oath-taking ceremony at the Aiwan-e-Sadr (the President House) in Islamabad, on the invitation of Imran Khan, his contemporary and friend from their cricket days.
His defence has not silenced criticism from the ruling BJP, which targeted him and Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
"He tried to implicate India in some way. He tried to say India is not the one who talks peace and prosperity. Who gives him the license to say all that but Rahul Gandhi," railed BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra.
"What are you doing, Rahul Gandhi? Have you opened a Pakistan desk in India," said Sambit Patra.