India apologizes for ad gaffe

New Delhi, India -- India apologized to its citizens for a government advertisement, aimed at promoting female children, that showed a former Pakistani air force chief.

The office of the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, ordered a probe into what it called a lapse, but television statements branded a faux pas.

"While an internal inquiry has been instituted, the PMO (prime minister's office) apologizes to the public for this lapse," an official statement read.

The full-page newspaper advertisement in the Sunday Times of India was put out by India's woman and child development ministry to mark National Girl-Child Day. The day is aimed at promoting and protecting female children and raising awareness of female feticide -- sex-selective abortions blamed for a skewed ratio of males to females in India.

The ad showed several well-known Indian citizens -- cricketer Virender Sehwag, former cricket captain Kapil Dev and musician Amjad Ali Khan with his two sons playing the sarod, a stringed instrument -- along with the former air force chief, identified by the Times of India as Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed.

"Where would you be if your mother was not allowed to be born?" the ad says.

Relations between India and Pakistan have been tense for decades, and the two nations have fought three wars.

Krishna Tirath, minister for women and child development, told the Times of India that the "message is more important than the image. The photograph is only symbolic. The message for the girl child is more important. She should be protected."

In a quick statement after the media outcry, the Indian government said it regretted that the ad showed a "foreign national."

The same paper also had another government advertisement featuring NASA astronaut Sunita Williams. Although born and raised in the United States, Williams was welcomed to India as a symbol of national pride when she visited the home of her father's side of the family in 2007.

India froze a fragile peace dialogue with Pakistan after the 2008 terror attacks on its financial capital of Mumbai. Indian authorities blamed Pakistan-based militants for the assault.

In their latest row, the two South Asian archrivals exchanged diplomatic barbs after club owners of the Indian Premier League cricket tournament shunned all Pakistani players in a multi-million dollar auction in Mumbai on Tuesday.
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