Congress leader and Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on Sunday said that he has received a message from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan expressing his desire for peace between the two countries, PTI reported. Sidhu reiterated his belief that bilateral ties have improved after his return from Islamabad where he attended Khan’s oath-taking ceremony last month.

Sidhu’s visit was criticised by opposition parties in Punjab after he was seen hugging Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh also questioned the incident, saying Sidhu should not have hugged the commander because the Pakistan Army was killing Indian soldiers everyday at the border. A case of sedition was also filed against Sidhu.

At an event organised by the Youth Congress in Ajmer on Sunday, Sidhu said his visit resulted in a “message of peace” and he has reason to believe Pakistan is committed to maintaining peaceful ties with India.

“My hope has strengthened after my personal friend became the prime minister of Pakistan after a struggle of years,” said the former cricketer. “I can say with full confidence that relations between both the nations would be enhanced.”

Sidhu said the Kargil War took place after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 1999 visit, while the Pathankot attack in 2016 happened after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s return. In January 2016, seven security personnel were killed after militants attacked the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot.

“But when I returned from Pakistan and some ‘nok-jhonk’ [bickering] took place, the message from my friend [Imran Khan] came that ‘we want peace... you take one step and we will take two’,” said Sidhu.

The minister said athletes and artists help break barriers and bring people closer. “Nothing except negativity was gained by blood-shedding,” he said. “Sportsmen or cricketers, be it Wasim Akram, Sachin Tendulkar or Virat Kohli, or artists like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan...they associate with people and I, too, went to Pakistan with this hope only.”