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Navjot Singh Sidhu Hugs Pak Army Chief, Seated Next to PoK 'President' at Imran Khan's Swearing-In

File photo of Navjot Singh Sidhu.

File photo of Navjot Singh Sidhu.

Wearing a blue suit and a pink turban, Navjot Singh Sidhu was among the special guests present at Khan's oath taking ceremony at the Aiwan-e-Sadr (the President House) in Islamabad.

New Delhi: The seating arrangement at the swearing-in ceremony of former Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan has sparked a controversy with former Indian batsman-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu given the chair next to ‘president’ of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Wearing a blue suit and a pink turban, Sidhu was among the special guests present at Khan's oath taking ceremony at the Aiwan-e-Sadr (the President House) in Islamabad.

The ceremony, which was scheduled to begin at 9:30am, started 40-minute late. It commenced with the national anthem, followed by recitation of verses from the Holy Quran. Clad in a traditional greyish black sherwani, a tearful Khan was seen little nervous as he stumbled over some of the Urdu words of the oath administered to him.

Pictures of the ceremony beamed live showed Sidhu, a minister in the Congress government in Punjab, sitting next to PoK ‘president’ Masood Khan.

Earlier, Sidhu and Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa were spotted hugging each other at the President House prior to the oath-taking ceremony, news agency ANI reported.

“He is a responsible person and a minister. Only he can explain, but yes he could have avoided this,” Ghulam Ahmed Mir, J&K Congress Chief, said.

Talking to the state-run PTV, Sidhu used his usual poetic expression to praise Khan. "A new morning is here in Pakistan with a new government which can change the destiny of the country," said Sidhu, a minister in the Congress government in Punjab. He hoped that Khan's victory will be good for the Pakistan-India peace process.

The ties between the two countries had strained after the terror attacks by Pakistan-based groups in 2016 and India's surgical strikes inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The sentencing of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav to death by a military court in April last year further deteriorated bilateral ties.

Sidhu arrived in Lahore on Friday via the Wagah border. He travelled from Lahore to Islamabad to attend the ceremony. Welcoming the "change" in Pakistan's democracy with the election of Khan as prime minister, Sidhu on his arrival in Pakistan said Khan should come forward in peace initiative between the two neighbours. He said he has brought "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, adding sportsmen and artistes help bringing the people of two sides closer.

"Hindustan jeevay, Pakistan jeevay," he chanted while reading a verse.

Talking about the qualities of Khan, the former cricketer said: "I have seen Khan converting his weaknesses into his strength. I wish Imran becomes a symbol of prosperity (for his country)."

Replying to a query on the gift he has brought for the former Pakistan Test captain, Sidhu said: "I have brought a Kashmiri shawl for Khan sahib."

Former Indian cricketers Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev whom Khan had invited on his swearing-in had declined the invitation citing personal engagements.

first published:August 18, 2018, 13:28 IST