Visit to Pakistan not political, says Navjot Singh Sidhu

Age Correspondent With Agency Inputs

Sports, Cricket

Sidhu, cricketer-turned-politician, justified Pakistan visit for Imran's oath-taking, cited Vajpayee's visit to Lahore

Navjot Singh Sidhu was the only Indian cricketer to travel to Pakistan for Imran Khan's oath-taking ceremony which took place on August 18. (Photo: PTI / AFP)

New Delhi: Punjab Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu said today that his visit to Pakistan was not "political" but just on a "warm invitation from a friend", in a bid to clarify his decision to visit the neighbouring country and hug its Army chief.

Slammed by opposition and earning displeasure even from his own chief minister, the cricketer-turned-politician said he hugged the Pakistan Army chief in an "emotional" moment after General Qamar Javed Bajwa told him that they were making efforts to open the corridor from India's Dera Baba Nanak to Sikh shrine of Kartarpur Sahib.

"My brief visit to Pakistan has emerged a big talking point. In this regard, I would definitely like to clear certain things. The visit to Pakistan was not political in any way but just a warm invitation from a friend (Imran Khan).

That friend, who went through immense hard work and struggle in life. The one, who reached a position, which is respected and holds capability of changing fate of crores of people, he said in his opening statement during a press conference here.

On his meeting with Gen Bajwa, Sidhu said, "I again want to make it clear that this meeting took place in Islamabad at a time when Gen Bajwa reached the venue of swearing-in ceremony."

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"He met me with enthusiasm after seeing me sitting in the first row. Immediately, he told me that they were making efforts to open the corridor from India's Dera Baba Nanak to Kartarpur Sahib, which is about 3 to 3.5 km in Pakistan, to facilitate the pilgrims to pay obeisance on the occasion of 550th 'Prakash Diwas' of Guru Nanak Dev ji."

The Congress leader claimed that crores of pilgrims have always been waiting to pay obeisance at holy Kartarpur Sahib, the place where Guru Nanak Devi ji spent nearly 18 years of his life.

"Without a thought, this thing said by Gen Bajwa was an emotional moment for me and the result (the hug) was for everyone to see. After that brief meeting in the gathering, I had no meeting with Gen Bajwa," he said.

Sidhu said, he, however, is disappointed and hurt over the criticism over this sudden meeting and "emotional reaction".

Meanwhile, Sidhu also said if India and Pakistan can settle their differences through talks, become good neighbours and increase mutual exchanges in trade and other aspects, then it will be a great hope and message for South Asia.

While the likes of Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar, along with Sidhu, were also invited for Imran's swearing-in, Sidhu was the only Indian cricketer to travel to Pakistan for Imran's oath-taking ceremony which took place on August 18, Saturday.

While Imran was sworn-in Pakistan’s 22nd Prime Minister, the visit of Sidhu – to attend Imran’s oath-taking ceremony grabbed a lot of eyeballs across the globe.

Sidhu was welcomed by Imran’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), leader Faisal Javed Khan welcomed him upon his arrival in Islamabad.

Before entering the President House, Sidhu said: "People like Khan Sahab (Imran Khan) create history. With this invitation, they have honoured me. People who build relationships are respected, people who break them are disrespected and I am one of those who respect relationships. It's a new dawn. This government has come to change this country's perception, picture and destiny, with high hopes and expectations."

However, as Sidhu’s photos from Imran’s oath-taking ceremony were out, some of the Indian Twitter users lost their cool.

Sidhu was also among the special guests invited by Khan's team to attend the ceremony. Sidhu, alongside Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev were the three Indian cricketers that were invited for Imran’s oath-taking ceremony. However, it was only Sidhu who attended the ceremony.

Ahead of Imran’s swearing-in, Sidhu shared a hug with Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and also dished out some “shayari”, praising Imran.

Later, Sidhu was seen sitting next to the President of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) Masood Khan during Imran's oath-taking ceremony.