Navjot Singh Sidhu, former star cricketer and leader of the Indian National Congress, defended his recent visit to Pakistan, saying the country is not a "no man's land".
"Pakistan is not a no man's land, thousands come and go," he said in a news conference on Tuesday, justifying his Pakistan visit that has sparked backlash from some segments across the border – particularly leadership of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP).
Sudhir Ojha, a prominent lawyer, also initiated legal proceedings against the cricket celebrity after he was seen hugging Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Not succumbing to pressures by the petitioner or peers, Sidhu said he would present a befitting reply.
Sidhu promises ‘strong reply’ to critics questioning him for hugging Gen Qamar
Sidhu, who is also a famous TV personality, said the hug was an 'emotional' response as the COAS had just informed him that Pakistan's government is making efforts to open a corridor to Kartarpur Sahib, Times of India reported.
According to Hindustan Times, allegations levelled against Sidhu were that he had ‘insulted’ families of Indian soldiers by embracing General Qamar at Prime Minister Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony, that too at a time when India mourned former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
In response to this criticism, Sidhu clarified that his seating arrangement was changed at the last minute and that he received prior approval from the Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj.
He further argued that Vajpayee had invited the 'Dosti Bus' to Lahore, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited Nawaz Sharif to his oath-taking ceremony, so his visit was in the same spirit.
Sidhu further added that he visited Pakistan not as a political agent but as a goodwill ambassador.
Elaborating on the premise of his visit, the Indian legend cricketer said, "Goodwill messages are important for prosperity, if they were a disservice to our national interest then the high commission should be shut, sweets should not be exchanged across both borders on Eid and bus tours organised from Lahore to Amritsar should also be barred."
In an emphatic speech he said that a peace process could change the nature of India-Pakistan relations.
"A peace process will stop malignant exchanges and secure the lives of our soldiers, " he said.
"There are many countries in the world where wars are not the norm and armies ensure protection, where leaders don’t combat, only soldiers confront adversaries. That is what my soul speaks," he expressed.
Sidhu's efforts have been lauded by PM Imran, who expressed his gratitude in a tweet.
Sidhu under fire in India for hugging Pakistan’s army chief
Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi also commended the cricket star's sportsmen spirit and good will gesture.
"Sidhu is a renowned player of India. And he has shown extraordinary courage," he said.
"He came on an invitation by Imran Khan. I believe we need to ponder over whatever he said before his departure. He openly said that the love he brought has been multiplied several times as he leaves," Qureshi added.