Punjab Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu arrives after attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kartarpur Corridor, at the India-Pakistan Wagah Post, about 35 km from Amritsar, Punjab, Nov. 29. (Press Trust of India)

Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu came in for wholesome praise from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and several other Pakistani leaders, Nov. 28, for his “persistent” efforts in pushing for the Kartarpur corridor project, writes Manash Pratim Bhuyan.

Sidhu’s “contribution” for the project was even prominently mentioned in a short film on the Kartarpur corridor, which was showed after the foundation laying ceremony of the project.

“Whatever I have seen since yesterday, I can tell you Sidhu, you will win elections here if you contest, particularly in Punjab,” Khan said jokingly, while hailing the former cricketer’s efforts to push for the Kartarpur corridor.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (r) shakes hands with cricketer-turned-Indian politician Navjot Singh Sidhu during ground breaking ceremony for Kartarpur corridor in Pakistan’s Kartarpur, Nov. 28. Khan attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the first visa-free border crossing with India, a corridor that will allow Sikh pilgrims to easily visit their shrines on each side of the border. (Press Trust of India)

Khan said only leaders with determination can improve strained ties between the two countries. “I hope we do not have to wait till Sidhu becomes Wazir-e-Azam (prime minister),” Khan said.

His comments drew loud applause from the audience.

Khan wondered why there was a hue and cry back home over the former Indian cricketer’s push for peace and brotherhood during his previous visit to the country around three months back.

“I heard there was a lot of criticism of Sidhu when he went back after my oath-taking ceremony. I don’t know why was he criticized. He was just talking about peace between two countries which are nuclear armed,” Khan said.

“It is foolish for anyone to think there can be war between two nuclear-armed countries as there is no winning for anyone. So, if there can be no war then what other way is there other than friendship?” he added.

Sidhu attended Khan’s swearing-in ceremony, and had hugged Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, drawing severe criticism in India.

Bajwa had talked about Pakistan’s plan on Kartarpur corridor project after the hug.

A view of the shrine of Sikh leader Guru Nanak Dev in Kartarpur, Pakistan, Nov. 28. (Press Trust of India)

In his address, Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Nurul Haq Qadri said, “a number of problems between the two countries can be resolved if we have more such hugs.”

A number of Sikh pilgrims from India also credited Sidhu for the corridor.

“Sidhu was the architect of the corridor project. We are indebted to him. His contribution must be hailed,” said Pooran Singh, a 65-year-old pilgrim from Amritsar, Punjab.

In his address, Sidhu was effusive in his praise for Khan.

“Khan’s name will be written in golden letters when the history of the Kartarpur corridor is written. The name of Imran Khan will be written on the first page and in the first line,” Sidhu said in his speech which was interspersed with Punjabi couplet.

“I was impressed by what Sidhu said. I didn’t know he knows so much about Sufi poetry,” said Khan.