Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday underlined his desire to resolve conflicts with India –including Kashmir — through dialogue and trade, and came out in support of Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu by terming his visit across the border “a goodwill gesture”.
The Pakistan premier wrote on Twitter: “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.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Saturday sent a letter to his newly elected Pakistani counterpart, conveying New Delhi’s commitment to build good neighbourly relations and pursue constructive and meaningful engagement.
Khan also said that those targeting Sidhu — like Khan, also a former cricketer — were doing a “grt disservice to peace in the subcontinent – without peace our (people) cannot progress (sic)”.
Congress leader Sidhu, who attended Khan’s inauguration on Saturday, has been under fire from Opposition parties after he embraced Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa during the ceremony. Khan said in his tweet: “I want to thank Sidhu for coming to Pakistan for my oath taking. He was an ambassador of peace & was given amazing love & affection by ppl of Pakistan (sic)”.
Khan’s comments come a day after his foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said at a press conference that “a continued, uninterrupted dialogue, which is the path of wisdom”.
Sidhu himself has said that his embracing Bajwa was a gesture made in an “emotional moment” and that his trip was not politically motivated. “Pakistan army chief said they were making efforts to open corridor to Kartarpur Sahib, what followed was an emotional moment,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
The Congress leader also questioned what he called the “double standards” of his critics, noting that BJP stalwarts like former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have made efforts for peace in the past by travelling across the border.
Meanwhile, top Pakistani sportsmen have called upon Khan to pursue “sports diplomacy” with India and Afghanistan in an effort to reset fractured ties. They have also offered to play a role in this regard, if asked by the Khan government.
Former international cricketers Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan and squash legend Jahangir Khan, along with popular Pashto pop singer Rahim Shah, said in a recent group radio interview. “This is the age of sports, not of war and conflict.”
Afridi, who has captained the Pakistani team, said: “Sidhu has said what we have been saying since long — that cricket has the potential to bring Pakistan and India closer.”