India and Pakistan have had tempestuous relations since their birth as independent states. There have been wars, skirmishes, bad-natured exchanges, and prolonged diplomatic standoffs.

Ahead of their clash this weekend at the Cricket World Cup, this simmering neighbourly conflict has spilled over into the world of social media and TV advertising.

A Pakistani channel has produced a tongue-in-cheek advert poking fun at the Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, who was shot down in February during the first publicly acknowledged dogfight between the two countries in 48 years.

During his time in Pakistani captivity Varthaman was interrogated while drinking a cup of tea. The official government video shows him politely refusing to answer questions, with the words: “I’m sorry, major, I’m not supposed to tell you this.” He praises the beverage as “fantastic”.

In the ad, an actor wearing a blue Indian cricket top and sporting Varthaman’s distinctive gun-slinger moustache recreates the scene. The spoof pilot is invited to go. As he walks off, he is told to leave the cup behind. The hashtag #LetsBringTheCupHome flashes across the screen.

Ajay Banerjee

Jazz TV advt on #CWC19 takes the Indo-Pak air duel to new level. It uses the air duel over Nowshera and Wing Co Abhinandan Varthaman’s issue as a prop. @IAF_MCC @thetribunechd @SpokespersonMoD @DefenceMinIndia

June 11, 2019

Many Indians have taken a dim view of the spoof, describing it on Twitter variously as mocking, cheap, abominable, degrading and racist. “Every country should respect another’s soldier and his bravery,” Geetansh Thandela wrote, denouncing the ad as shameless.

Indian newspapers and websites have reported extensively on the row. Some Indian cricket fans have responded with teacup memes. Not everyone has been indignant, though. The Indian tennis player Sania Mirza suggested both sides should get a little perspective on what is, after all, a sporting event.

She tweeted: “Cringeworthy ads on both sides of the border seriously guys, you don’t need to ‘hype up’ or market the match anymore specially with rubbish! it has ENOUGH attention already! It’s only cricket for God sake, and if you think it’s anymore than that then get a grip or get a life!!”

Pakistan will play India at Old Trafford on Sunday in the hugely anticipated match. Thousands of rival supporters are expected to pack the ground in Manchester, and hundreds of millions more will be glued to the game on TV on the subcontinent.

In real life, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, released Varthaman as a gesture of goodwill. The wing commander was handed back at the border crossing at Wagah in the Punjab region. He has since become a national hero, with his moustache style reportedly copied by enthusiastic admirers.

The incident began after more than 40 Indian paramilitaries were killed in a suicide bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, retaliated by sending jets to bomb a militant training centre more than 50 miles inside Pakistani territory.

Pakistani jets then struck Indian territory near Kashmir’s ceasefire line. Both countries claim they shot down an opposing jet in the dogfight. Varthaman’s plane crash-landed in Pakistani-held territory.

Kashmir, a Himalayan region that both countries claim in full but rule in part, has been the trigger for three India-Pakistan wars since 1947. The countries regularly trade mortar fire over the heavily guarded line of control.


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