- Those targeting him in India doing great disservice to peace: Imran Khan
- Navjot Singh Sidhu defended his visit to Pak and Pak army chief hug
- Mr Sidhu asserted that his visit was "not about politics"
Shortly after Navjot Singh Sidhu parried criticism of his visit to Islamabad for the swearing in of fellow cricket veteran-turned-politician Imran Khan as Pakistan's new prime minister, a message of thanks and support came from across the border.
Wading into the political row in India, Imran Khan posted tweets describing Mr Sidhu as an "ambassador or peace" and commented: "Those in India who targeted him are doing a great disservice to peace in the subcontinent."
While defending his friend, Imran Khan also seized the chance to push dialogue and trade between the two countries. Just after his election victory, PM Modi had written to him expressing India's commitment to "meaningful and constructive engagement".
To move forward Pakistan and India must dialogue and resolve their conflicts incl Kashmir: The best way to alleviate poverty and uplift the people of the subcontinent is to resolve our differences through dialogue and start trading https://t.co/V2UkXp0WwS- Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) August 21, 2018
Mr Sidhu, a minister in Congress-ruled Punjab, has been targeted not just by the BJP but also a few Congress colleagues for attending Imran Khan's oath ceremony, where he had front row seats next to a Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) leader and where he hugged the country's army chief.
It is unlikely that Imran Khan's gesture will silence criticism, especially from the ruling BJP, which accused Mr Sidhu of "trying to say that India doesn't want peace and prosperity."
Mr Sidhu had asserted that his visit was "not about politics" but about the invitation of an old friend.
He referred to peace gestures by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee - his bus trip to Lahore - and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who made an unscheduled trip to Lahore in 2015 on the prime minister Nawaz Sharif's birthday.
"No one is questioning PM Modi's patriotism," Mr Sidhu remarked.
"For peace and prosperity, such goodwill messages are necessary," the minister added.
Mr Sidhu also said his act of hugging Pakistani army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa 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," he said.
On his boss, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, going public with disapproval of the PDA when "soldiers were dying everyday at the border", Mr Sidhu said: "It is not necessary that just because the Captain has spoken against me, I should too."
Sneering at Mr Sidhu's defence, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra targeted his party leader Rahul Gandhi: "We want an explanation not from Navjot Sidhu but Rahul Gandhi. What is happening, Rahul Gandhi? Are you opening a Pakistan desk?"
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