What started of as a high-spirited and cordial visit by the ever jovial Navjot Singh Sidhu to Pakistan is fast becoming a PR quagmire for the man. Former Indian cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu visit to Pakistan – to attend Imran Khan’s oath taking ceremony – was the only major Indian representation at the event. And while Pakistan fawned at the Punjabi speaking Sidhu’s warm-hearted participation in the event and ardently delivered message of peace, the hawks back home had plenty to fault – marring the otherwise encouraging event.
His meeting with the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa – or more specifically his embrace of the Pakistani COAS – prompted nationalistic zealots in India to condemn what they viewed as his “disloyalty” for “fraternizing with the enemy”. While the calls for some sort of punitive measure have been raised, thankfully they are scattered and isolated.
Furthermore it is quite encouraging to see Mr Sidhu sticking to his guns when it comes to his message of peace and cooperation. He went on national TV in India to assure his country that Pakistan wants peace, and that such a situation is possible if both sides made sincere effort.
In Pakistan, his visit was met by equally receptive stances on cooperation. The COAS’s offer to open the Kartarpur-Sahib Corridor on the 550th birthday of Baba Nanak was a well-meaning gesture that should go some way to establish a sense of cordiality between the two states and communities.
His visit - although made in the capacity as a friend to Imran Khan and former fellow cricket player, as opposed to a government representative - has emerged, quite fortuitously, as an impromptu peace initiative. It certainly generated more goodwill than years of government sanctioned negotiations have.
While the backlash is India shows that mending Pakistan-India relations is not so straight forward – this is a good start.