As we remember the first anniversary of the day when the Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman pursued Pakistan Air Force F-16 with his MiG-21 Bison, it would be apposite to remember the ludicrous temerity of the Pakistani Establishment installing a mannequin of the Indian air warrior, who, apart from his heroics also became known for his gunslinger moustache.
The Pakistan Air Force Museum in Karachi a few months back put up a mannequin of the Indian Air Force Wing Commander (Wg Cdr) Abhinandan Varthaman on display. If Madame Tussauds were to consider opening a wax museum in Pakistan then it could do it in alliance with the Pakistani Military (and call it Military Tussauds), which seems to have new-found expertise in making mannequins and has a stake in pretty much everything, except in blame for debacles.
Another mannequin that Military Tussauds could make, but, instead of the museum, place at the Prime Minister's secretariat in Islamabad, is that of Imran Khan. Not only would it inspire the youth of the country but also make no real difference to the way the country is run. A mannequin of Sheikh Rashid in each train in Pakistan may dissuade ticketless travellers, pickpockets and keep other law-breakers in check within the Railways premises in Pakistan.
In India, traffic police in Bangalore have installed mannequins in police uniforms on the roads to enforce traffic discipline in the city. The police also intend to install policewomen mannequins in civil police uniforms at places "frequented by women" to instil a sense of security among women in Bangalore.
So, what does the Pakistani Establishment intend to achieve by the display of Wg Cdr Abhinandan's mannequin? Does it want to commemorate Wg Cdr Abhinandan for the remarkable valour that he displayed on the morning of February 27, 2019, when his MiG-21 Bison was brought down by a Pakistani F-16 Falcon aircraft in a dogfight? Or does it want to perpetuate the myth of the superiority of its prowess before its people?
Despite its chest-thumping 'mach'ismo on February 27, Pakistan had closed its eastern airspace for almost five months.
In August 1999, another Indian MiG-21 pilot P K Bundela had shot down an Atlantic aircraft of the Pakistani Navy over the Rann of Kutch. No mannequin of Squadron Leader P K Bundela was displayed by Pakistani Military. During the peak of the Kargil conflict in 1999, Indian Flight Lieutenant K Nachiketa was in Pakistani captivity for some time. But, Pakistan did not commemorate his act of valour by displaying his mannequin at a museum then.
Incidentally, the Chief of Pakistani Air Force during the Kargil conflict, Pervaiz Mehdi Qureshi had also been taken as a prisoner of war on November 22, 1971, in East Pakistan (when he was a Flight Lieutenant) by soldiers of Sikh Regiment under the command of Captain (later Lieutenant General) H S Panag and offered, what must have been, a cup of fantastic tea, by the Indians.
Neither was any mannequin of Pervaiz Mehdi Qureshi displayed at any museum in India nor any mannequin of H S Panag displayed at a museum in Pakistan. Perhaps, Pakistani Military hadn't acquired its expertise in making mannequins then as it seems to have now.
Mannequins, like statues, can be considered as elements of Public Art, albeit with much less aesthetic value. Usually, mannequins, statues or portraits are made of those persons who one wants to remember, admire or commemorate. It is not uncommon to have statues of politicians (notably dictators), generals, artists or philosophers. These are, in most cases, people who have made a contribution to society by their actions or by excelling in their respective fields.
Statues are built of those who display valour or are victorious, not of those who are vanquished. If one were to visit the museums in Rome and Paris then one would find busts or statues of Senators, Consuls and Emperors of Ancient Rome. There were emperors such as Caligula and Elagabalus, too (who would have loved Bryan Adams' 18 'til I die, if he were around in the 1990s) but, they were the exceptions and not the rule (pun not intended).
Since the glorious annals of Pakistani military history begin only after 1947, we aren't really sure if the Pakistani military holds such gentlemen of Ancient Rome in high regard.
Or perhaps, when it comes to ancient history, the Pakistani military is likely to eulogize the history of ancient China, which is why they served tea (and not Punjabi lassi), a beverage made from a plant that was, apparently, discovered in ancient China by Emperor Shennong, to the Indian Air Force officer Abhinandan when he was in their captivity. Alongside the mannequin, is also kept the same mug that was used by the Indian officer to drink tea, with the printed words, "tea is fantastic".
In its display of gloating bravado and jubilation on February 27, the Pakistani Military had also hurriedly claimed that it had captured 2 Indian pilots. DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor had himself informed the reporters of the same in his press conference that afternoon.
On the same evening, he had to correct himself and accept that there was only one Indian pilot in the Pakistan Army's custody and that he would be treated as per the Geneva Convention. However, Article 3 (1) (c) of the Third Geneva Convention, 1949, prohibits a Party from committing outrages, including humiliating and degrading treatment upon the person, including a member of the Armed Forces, who is in detention.
Additionally, Article 13 of the said Convention also protects a Prisoner of War against insults and public curiosity at all times. Can Pakistan truly claim that it followed the spirit of the Geneva Convention? But, truthful claims and Pakistani Military are as close as the North Pole and the South Pole. And now, more than 9 months after the post-Pulwama hostilities between the two countries, we have a mannequin of the Indian officer displayed at the PAF museum! A very smart move by Pakistan because mannequins have no rights and protection under the Geneva Convention or other such laws!
The Pakistani Military has met the Great Expectations of its people by tweaking the line from Dickens' famous book - ask no questions, and you'll be told all lies.
The Pakistani Military has always desired to maintain its image of a dependable saviour of the nation in the eyes of the gullible public without being questioned or held accountable for its actions and not acknowledging its failures, especially if they are against India. By effectively sieving the information, garnishing it with a lot of propaganda and magnifying it, the Pakistani Military-led Establishment is able to project itself before the masses of Pakistan, the way it wants to, with an aura of near-infallibility and invincibility.
There is a maxim in Latin, "fraus est celare fraudem", which means that it is a fraud to conceal a fraud. Displaying Abhinandan's mannequin in the museum is another fraud by the Pakistani Military to befool the masses of their own country (and to conceal the true events in the aftermath of Pulwama attack in February this year). Pakistani Military may remember Abhinandan's famous words, "the tea is fantastic", but, when it comes to telling their actual military history to their people, they seem to follow the Indian officer's other famous words, "I am not supposed to tell you that".
About the author: Siddhartha Shukla is a Delhi-based Advocate practising primarily on the Civil side and also a keen observer of people, places and situations.