New Delhi: A pointed message or a serious protocol slip-up?
Either way, Indian politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was made to sit next to the President of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, former diplomat Masood Khan, during the swearing-in ceremony of Pakistan’s new prime minister Imran Khan on Saturday, a news report said. This move by Islamabad is not going to sit well with New Delhi, negating speculation that a new government coming into office in Pakistan could result in a thaw in bilateral relations.
Sidhu was one of the handful of people invited by Pakistan’s Tehreek e Insaf party for Khan’s swearing-in ceremony as the former cricketer-turned-politician took oath as the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan. The others who were reportedly invited but did not seem to make it were Indian cricketers Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar and Bollywood star Aamir Khan.
At the event on Saturday, the Pakistan government, instead of seating Congress leader Sidhu with other foreign dignitaries, seated him next to Masood Khan in the hall of the Aiwan-e-Sadr, the official residence of the Pakistan President, according to an ANI report.
Earlier on Saturday, ahead of the oath ceremony, Sidhu was seen giving a hug to Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa. India considers the Pakistan army led by Bajwa as supportive of terrorist activities against India and that all policy vis-a-vis India to be controlled and drawn up by it.
The Indian foreign ministry has not yet commented on the incident. A person familiar with the development, however, said that it would be “impossible that this is a protocol slip-up, knowing how India and Pakistan are fully aware of their respective positions on Kashmir."
Before entering the Pakistan president’s official residence, Sidhu was quoted as saying: “People like Khan Sahab (Imran Khan) create history. With this invitation, they have honoured me. People who build relationships are respected, people who break them are disrespected and I am one of those who respect relationships. It’s a new dawn. This government has come to change this country’s perception, picture and destiny, with high hopes and expectations."
Sidhu, who is a minister in the Congress-led Punjab government, on Friday was quoted as saying that he saw himself as “a goodwill ambassador of India" at l Khan’s ceremony.
During a press conference on August 2, Sidhu had highlighted that the invitation extended to him was in his personal capacity, the ANI report said.
Pakistan went to the polls on 25 July and the PTI had emerged as the single largest party.
On Friday, Khan was elected as the new prime minister of Pakistan, defeating his rival Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate Shehbaz Sharif. While the 65-year-old cricketer-turned-politician bagged 176 seats, Sharif, the PML-N president and the brother of jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif managed to secure just 96 seats.
In a statement on 28 July, India’s foreign ministry said that New Delhi desired a “prosperous and progressive Pakistan at peace with its neighbours." The statement had also added that India welcomed the fact that the “people of Pakistan have reposed their faith in democracy through general elections," adding that New Delhi hoped the newly elected government would work constructively to build a safe, stable, secure and developed South Asia, free of terrorism and violence.
India’s comments followed remarks by Khan on 26 July in which he said he wanted to have good relations with India and work to resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue.
“We should sit across and resolve the issues instead of we blaming India for problems in Balochistan and they blaming us for problems in Kashmir. I can say that if you (India) will take one step forward, we will take two steps forward," Khan had said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken to Khan on the phone on 30 July during which the former shared his vision for peace in South Asia, the Indian foreign ministry said.