ISLAMABAD: In his first tweet on a foreign policy matter, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday invited India for a dialogue on all conflicts with an offer to improve trade for normalising Pakistan-India relations which have for long been strained.

The prime minister also came up with a statement in defence of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, his old friend, who is being criticised in India for embracing Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and sitting next to Azad Jammu and Kashmir President Masood Khan at the recent oath-taking ceremony of Mr Khan in Islamabad.

Mr Khan, who became Pakistan’s first prime minister to use the social media platform to conduct diplomacy, tweeted: “To move forward Pakistan and India must [engage in] dialogue and resolve their conflicts including Kashmir: The best way to alleviate poverty and uplift the people of the subcontinent is to resolve our differences through dialogue and start trading.”

Tweets in defence of former Indian cricketer Sidhu, calls him ‘ambassador of peace’

Since its victory in the July 25 general election, the PTI has been highlighting the need for better relations with India for regional peace and prosperity. Mr Khan in his victory speech and later in his telephonic conversation with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even before assuming the PM office, called for better ties between the neighbouring countries.

In his conversation with Mr Modi, the prime minister said that disputes should be resolved through dialogue. “Wars and bloodshed instead of resolving disputes lead to tragedies,” he stated.

Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, too, in his maiden press conference after assuming office had listed improvement in relations with India as one of his priorities. The foreign minister was so excited about working for better ties with India that he created a mini-controversy by announcing that Mr Modi in his felicitation message for PM Khan had given a “message of willingness to begin on the path of dialogue and negotiations”. He praised Mr Modi’s “signal” as a very positive message.

However, Indian officials, in background interviews, contested Mr Qureshi’s claim. Later, Pakistan’s Foreign Office, too, had to issue a clarification stating that Mr Qureshi had not stated “the Indian Prime Minister had made an offer of a dialogue”.

The prime minister also came in support of the embattled Sidhu through another tweet on Tuesday. Mr Sidhu has been facing bitter criticism at home for sitting next to AJK President Masood Khan and hugging Gen Bajwa at the PM’s oath-taking ceremony in Islamabad.

Mr Khan described Mr Sidhu as “ambassador of peace” and warned that those criticising him were doing a disservice to peace between the two countries.

“I want to thank Sidhu for coming to Pakistan for my oath-taking. He was an ambassador of peace & was given amazing love & affection by the people of Pakistan. Those in India who targeted him are doing a great disservice to peace in the subcontinent — without peace our people cannot progress,” he tweeted.

In India, Mr Sidhu has dismissed the criticism saying his critics should not look at his Pakistan’s trip through political lens.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2018