Took Centre’s permission before visiting Pakistan: Sidhu

Chandigarh: Defending his decision to go to Pakistan to attend its Prime Minister Imran Khan’s swearing in ceremony, Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu on Tuesday said he went to the other side of the border after taking political clearance from the Central Government.

Addressing the media, Sidhu said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj personally called him to inform that he had been granted permission to visit the neighbouring country.

Sidhu has been facing flak for attending the swearing-in ceremony of Pakistan Prime Minister Khan on August 18. He further stirred a controversy by hugging Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and also for sitting next to Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir ‘president’ Masood Khan at the swearing in ceremony.

“I received invitation from Pakistan. I then sought permission from the Indian Government. Two days after Pakistan government approved my visa, Sushma Swaraj herself called me in the night and informed that I have been granted the permission,” Sidhu said.

Defending his position and his claim of being a “Goodwill ambassador”, he cited past instances when high level Indian political leaders visited Pakistan despite strained relationship between the two countries. Giving examples of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, Sidhu said the two leaders also went to Pakistan when the relations were rough on the borders.

Asserting that it was necessary to initiate peace talks to bring a positive change in the relationship between the two nations, he said, “Even in the past, efforts for peace was made. Late Vajpayee had taken ‘dosti bus’ to Lahore and invited (then Prime Minister of Pakistan) Pervez Musharraf to India. Prime Minister Modi also invited Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his oath-taking ceremony and even went to Lahore to attend the latter’s granddaughter’s wedding ceremony,” Sidhu added.

He reiterated that his visit to Islamabad was not a political, but a personal one.
Commenting on his hug with General Bajwa, the Congress leader said, “When he (General Bajwa) entered the venue, he saw me seated in the front row. He then greeted me warmly. He said that he was making efforts to open corridor to Kartarpur Sahib, which was followed by the hug which was spontaneous.”