Former Indian cricketer and Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu was the cynosure of all eyes at the oath-taking ceremony of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday, especially when he embraced and spoke to Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Sources told The Indian Express that Sidhu, who is also a minister in the Congress government in Punjab, was allocated a numbered seat towards the rear along with other guests, which he had occupied before he was approached by a protocol officer and escorted to a front-row seat. He was then seated next to Masood Khan, the president of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), a person whose identity the Indian politician was not aware of until informed by an official of the Indian High Commission.
Dressed in a royal blue bandhgala and pink turban, Sidhu was seen engaging in a conversation with General Bajwa, and sharing a gentle embrace. Sources said the army chief asked Sidhu if the two sides could start an overland Sikh pilgrimage route between the two Punjabs.
In his media conference after the ceremony, Sidhu said the army chief told him of plans to open the route to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan for Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in 2019. He also mentioned the desire to open the route to Nankana Sahab — one of the many Sikh pilgrimage sites in Pakistani province of Punjab.
In his chat with Sidhu, General Bajwa, sources said, also expressed his desire for peace with India besides discussing his love of cricket.
“Gen Bajwa Sahab hugged me and said ‘We want peace’. So, let’s swim in a blue ocean and shun red ocean. It’s my dream,” Sidhu told the media.
Sidhu, who had walked across the border at Wagah yesterday, had told the reporters there that he had come with “a message of love” to Pakistan as a goodwill ambassador of India. “I have come here not as a politician but as a friend. I have come here to take part in the happiness of my friend (Imran),” he had said.