Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday came out in support of Navjot Singh Sidhu, who said his visit to Islamabad was not "political" but on a "warm invitation from a friend".
Sidhu, who attended Khan's oath-taking on August 18, has been slammed by critics over his decision to visit Pakistan and hug its Army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Even Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh did not back his cabinet colleague on this issue.
Khan, who was the captain of the Pakistan cricket team when they lifted the World Cup in 1992, said those criticising the minister in the Congress-led Punjab government were doing a great disservice to peace in the subcontinent.
"I want to thank Sidhu for coming to Pakistan for my oath-taking. He was an ambassador of peace and was given amazing love and affection by people of Pakistan," Khan tweeted soon after Sidhu held a press conference in Chandigarh.
"Those in India who targeted him are doing a great disservice to peace in the subcontinent - without peace our people cannot progress," Khan said, adding that India must engage in dialogue and resolve conflicts, including the Kashmir issue.
At his press conference in Chandigarh, Sidhu, also a cricketer-turned-politician, said Khan was "a friend, who can work for healthy relations with its neighbouring nation. The one, who can play a role in bringing relief to the long standing tension between the two nations".
On his meeting with the Pakistan Army chief, Sidhu said, "I again want to make it clear that this meeting took place in Islamabad at a time when Gen Bajwa reached the venue of swearing-in ceremony."
"He met me with enthusiasm after seeing me sitting in the first row. Immediately, he told me that they were making efforts to open the corridor from India's Dera Baba Nanak to Kartarpur Sahib, which is about 3 to 3.5 km in Pakistan, to facilitate the pilgrims to pay obeisance on the occasion of 550th 'Prakash Diwas' of Guru Nanak Dev ji."
The Congress leader said crores of pilgrims have been waiting to pay obeisance at holy Kartarpur Sahib, the place where Guru Nanak Devi ji spent nearly 18 years of his life.
"Without a thought, this thing said by Gen Bajwa was an emotional moment for me and the result (the hug) was for everyone to see. After that brief meeting in the gathering, I had no meeting with Gen Bajwa," he said.
Sidhu also said if India and Pakistan can settle their differences through talks, become good neighbours and increase mutual exchanges in trade and other aspects, then it will be a great message for South Asia.