External Affairs

A Soap Opera Offers Glimpse Into Pakistani Army's Narrative on Balakot

"It is likely that the episode will shed light on the retaliatory attack by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) after India’s Balakot airstrike,” said a report published on SAMAA TV's website.

New Delhi: A year after the Pakistani army captured Indian Air Force (IAF) wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman after it shot down his fighter plane on Pakistani soil, the incident has found a ‘surprise’ place in Ehd-e-Wafa – a 26-part highly popular series in the country, jointly produced by the Intelligence Services Public Relations (ISPR) wing of the Army, with the Karachi-based private channel Hum TV.

Though the last episode of the show that featured the character of wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman in custody and being interrogated by a Pakistan army major named Humayun Khan, was aired on Hum TV on March 15, the trailer of the concluding part – broadcast on the channel about three weeks prior to it – created considerable curiosity among the country’s TV viewers.

Soon after the two-minute teaser went on air, quite a few news stories emerged over the impending episode. A report published on the website of SAMAA TV on February 28 had said, it “doesn’t give away much but introduces two new characters in the drama, Major Humayun and Wing Commander Abhinandan. It is likely that the episode will shed light on the retaliatory attack by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) after India’s Balakot airstrike.” Playing down the ‘surprise’ element, the show’s director Saifi Hassan told the TV channel that Abinandan’s character “and that scene in particular was always a part of the script.”

Popular actor Humayun Saeed featured only in the last episode as Major Khan. Hassan said the decision to feature him was taken much later. Abhinandan’s character’s attire is complete with his handlebar get-up.

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After the teaser was made public, the Express Tribune quoted a press note from Hum TV stating, “The grand finale of Ehd-e-Wafa will be screened in select cinemas nationwide from March 14, 2020” besides being aired on the entertainment channel on March 15. On March 20, it was uploaded on the YouTube channel of Hum TV.

Earlier this year, ARY Digital’s series Meray Paas Tum Ho started the trend of releasing the final episode of the popular TV dramas in Pakistani theatres. The theatres minted considerable profit from it, leading other players too to follow the trend for their popular series.

Before the particular scene between Abhinandan Varthaman’s character and Khan opened, the major, briefing fellow officials on the mounting ‘tension’ by the ‘dushman’ (enemy) along the Line of Control (LOC), mentioned impending elections in India and that “once again, (the government of the day) would not fight it (the elections) on its performance but on its enmity with Pakistan.”

Also read: The Cost of Extreme Media Censorship – a View From Pakistan

“This time too, it will make an attempt to have dramas like Balakot and flop films like Pulwama. So be ready, several Abhinandans are going to come to our side.”

“We are ready with fantastic tea, sir,” joked an officer, referring to a cup a tea offered to wing commander Abhinandan after his capture, a video put out by Pakistan army last year, confirming that the pilot was in its custody.

Captain Khan is then seen replying, “No jokes about Abhinandan. He may get angry and come here once again.”

Notably, in that scene, the Pakistan army’s media outreach effort to utilise that episode to pose itself as a superior force than that of the ‘enemy’,  also emphasised that even though in the (real) video wing commander Abhinandan had said that he didn’t reveal anything to Pakistan Army, “Prior to it, he told us everything.”

The protagonist of the series, army captain Saad (played by Ahad Raza Mir), did pose the question: “What if Abhinandan returns? What do we do with him?”

“What we did with him, on February 27 (2019),” retorted Humayun Khan, referring to interrogation to squeeze out as much information possible from the captured about the ‘enemy’.

In the recreation of the interrogation scene of wing commander Abhinandan by the Pakistan army, Major Khan’s character asked the actor playing Abhinandan about the meaning of his name. On said, it meant ‘welcome, greetings’, he referred to the attack on him by people residing on the other side of Kashmir upon his landing and said, “Looks like quite a good welcome of you was done by our people”.

Apart from featuring the Abhinandan Varthaman episode, the ISPR sponsored TV show also offered a glimpse of the Pakistan government’s decision to open the Kartarpur Corridor for Sikh pilgrims from India, detention of Kulbhushan Jadhav, and raising “the Kashmir issue at the national and international level”. The episode featured a young politician being made the chairman of the ‘Kashmir committee’ by ‘the prime minister’ to carry it out.

Also read: Reading Between the Lines, from Pulwama to the Balakot Airstrike

The episode also tried sending a message to the public about the need to bring on board two other important segments – bureaucracy and media – aside from the Pakistan army and politicians, to help drum up mass support to tackle the ‘enemy’. A young bureaucrat is heard mouthing the line in the last episode, “Charo ek ek kone me khare ho jayenge and sambhal lenge sab kuch. (Four of us will stand on each corner and bring the situation under control.)

First aired on September 22, Ehd-e-Wafa, otherwise, was a tale of friendship between four youth as they traverse through the idealism of their early life in a boarding school to the harsh realities of the practical world.