LAHORE, Jan 24 A former chief of the Pakistan Air Force on Sunday created huge media furore in India, though the reason was rather innocuous and unrelated to the recent intensification of tensions between the two countries over cricket and terrorism.
The photograph of a smartly turned out Air Chief Marshal (retired) Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed in his full air force uniform was one of the most prominent images in an advertisement issued by the Indian government through major media and news outlets.
According to the Indian news agency, PTI, the advertisement issued by the (Indian) “government's Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) for the ministry on the occasion of National Girl Child Day had inexplicably included the photograph of the former Pakistani air chief, along with such national heroes as Kapil Dev, Virender Sehwag and (musician) Amjad Ali Khan”.
News website, television news programmes and talk shows in India were outraged. Headlines on television screens were asking if India lacked its own heroes to instil the message in the advertisement.
Other news outlets were using phrases like red-faced, goof-up, mix-up and blunder to describe the incident. But Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed, who served as the chief of air staff between 2006 and 2009, was amused when Dawn talked to him about his image appearing in the Indian government advertisement.
“I do not know what has happened there. Today being Sunday, I was playing a golf match and did not have the time to catch up with news,” he said.
But he was willing to give the benefit of the doubt to those responsible for the mistake.
“It is a clerical and innocent mistake on the part of somebody in the Indian government. It does not mean anything special,” he said.
“Maybe I have got on to the nerves of someone there. Maybe the fact that the Pakistan Air Force went on high alert in 2008 (against India) is still present in the back of somebody's mind there,” he added.
“But we should not try to see and read too much into it. At the end of the day it is just an innocent mistake.”
He, however, said “What matters to me more is that I am seen as a hero in my own country. It is the recognition by the people of Pakistan that really counts (for me).”
In India, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) termed the inclusion of his photo in the ad a “blunder” and demanded that the government take “appropriate action” against those behind it, India Abroad News Service (IANS) reported.
“It is not a minor mistake. This is a major mistake. The government should take appropriate action,” senior BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is quoted by the news agency as saying.
“This is a very serious thing, if our government officials and politicians do not know who our top military officers are... Imagine what will happen if our government advertisement carries the photo of the Pakistan prime minister in place of our prime minister,” he added.
But the ruling Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the media was creating “unnecessary hype” on the issue. Krishna Tirath, whose ministry had issued the advertisement, took a similar line.
“Message is more important than the image,” she is reported by the Times of India newspaper's online edition as saying. She accused the media of kicking up a controversy over the issue.
“You (media) are creating an unnecessary issue,” Tirath said. “The photograph is only symbolic. The message for the girl child is more important. She should be protected,” she added.
But (Indian) Prime Minister's Office apologised for the advertisement and ordered an internal inquiry.