Indian toxic disinformation campaigns

Even cricket is used for disinformation

India has always tried to tarnish Pakistan’s image internationally, be it by false flag operations or disinformation campaigns. And in doing so, it has made a mockery of itself by its unwarranted, outrageous and unaccredited actions.

Let us start with a false flag operation in 1971. India launched a false flag operation on January 30th, 1971 by staging the hijack of a Fokker plane. Its purpose was to lengthen the flight distance between East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan which was achieved by banning over-flights of its territory. The distance increased to three times the original distance which created a further divide between the two wings. And, to disseminate disinformation about Pakistan’s alleged role in Kashmir.

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In 1999, an Indian plane was hijacked to Kandahar and Pakistan was blamed for it. The Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval blamed Pakistan and its Intelligence service for providing intelligence to the hijackers. It was rather an attempt to malign Pakistan without any proof.

In 2000, the Chattisinghpora massacre, just before the then US president Bill Clinton’s visit to India, was staged that killed 35 innocent Sikhs in Anantnag, Indian-Occupied Kashmir. Its purpose was to communalize the Kashmir dispute and blame Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir.

Similarly, the Indian Parliament, Mumbai, Uri, and Pathankot attacks were controversial and staged to serve different purposes and to portray Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism.

In 2019, India staged another false flag operation. This time its purpose was to provide BJP with a base to secure a majority in upcoming elections. And to spread disinformation about Pakistan’s alleged link and support to the Kashmiri resistance. That it was staged was further confirmed by leaked WhatsApp chats of Arnab Goswami.

Media on the other hand should help in the dissemination of the right information and in pointing out fake news designed to create conflict. The public using social media should be aware of these disinformation agendas and must not fall for them

In 2020, a Brussels-based independent non-profit organisation, EU Disinfo Lab, that ” focused on tackling sophisticated disinformation campaigns targeting the EU” published a report “Indian Chronicles”.

The report unearthed disinformation campaigns of India orchestrated to “discredit Pakistan internationally” and to “influence decision-making at the UNHRC and the European Parliament”.

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Talking about the extent and capacity of the 15-year disinformation campaign, the executive director of the EU Disinfo Lab said “it is the largest network we have exposed”. The campaign was run by SG (Shrivastava group) and was spread over 110 countries. It involved 750+ fake social media outlets and 10 UN-accredited NGOs.

The purpose of the campaign was to discredit, criticize and malign Pakistan internationally, disseminate disinformation against Pakistan and lobby for Indian interests. Here, it is important to mention that ANI, India’s largest wire service, was involved in the proliferation of fake news against Pakistan.

According to reports, there were 13 instances when ANI re-published information originally shared on EU Chronicles- a fake news site of the Shrivastava group.

This alarming and eyeopening report did not prevent Indian print and electronic media from disseminating disinformation against Pakistan. At a time when the world needed unbiased and fact-based reporting during the recent Afghan crisis, Indian media resorted to its old tactics and circulated disinformation against PakistanFor example, Republic TV reported that Pakistan invaded Panjshir Valley. Similarly, Times Now Navbharat and Zee Hindustan aired fake footage and claimed that Pakistan had bombed Panjshir. However, a fact-checking website “Boom” found Indian claims misleading as the footage aired by the Indian media outlets was from a video game.

But, with ever-rising social media and ever-expanding number of social media users, the threat has increased manifold.

The most recent example is of a disinformation storm artificially created on social media by social media users in India soon after Pakistan lost the semi-final to Australia in the T20 Wold Cup.

As soon as the match ended, social media users started spreading fake news. It is noteworthy to mention that the campaign was started by Indian journalists, news anchors, news websites and other highly followed persons.

An attempt was made to create an atmosphere of hate by spreading disinformation that a cricketer in Pakistan was targeted because of his sect. This information was wrong to an extent that the cricketer did not even belong to the sect with which he was associated.

Here, it is relevant to mention that an Indian Muslim cricketer was abused mercilessly and trolled on social media when India lost to Pakistan on 24th October. He was abused, called a traitor and asked to go to Pakistan. To compensate for what they did, they tried to replicate this in Pakistan by a sophisticated and preplanned disinformation campaign. The disinformation campaign was an attempt to spread hate and malign Pakistan’s image and discredit it for not being fair with its factions.

These disinformation campaigns are directed by the government and amplified by journalists, news anchors, film stars and those with a huge fan following.

When the shot is fired, the common users are expected to do the rest.

In the most recent context, some analysts believe that these disinformation campaigns on social media should not worry Pakistan as it exposes Indian media. But Pakistan should be aware of the fact that it is a multi-ethnic, multicultural, and multi-sect state. And these disinformation campaigns can trigger reactions as ordinary social media users can fall prey to these disinformation campaigns.

The fire should be met with fire, not in its method or way but its intensity and capacity.

Pakistan must adopt a three-pronged strategy to deal with these disinformation campaigns. Government, media and social media users must collaborate and do their bit. Government should highlight and inform the world that Indian claims of Pakistan being behind the Kashmiri resistance are as fake as these media and social media disinformation campaigns. It should demystify the world about Indian hegemonic designs in Kashmir and its nefarious agenda in neighbouring countries.

It might not impact Indian allies who preferred to remain silent even on an eye-opening EU Disinfo Lab report, either because of its market potential or because of economic relations, but it will attract those in search of truth.

Media on the other hand should help in the dissemination of the right information and in pointing out fake news designed to create conflict. The public using social media should be aware of these disinformation agendas and must not fall for them.

Muhammad Ali Alvi
The writer is freelance columnist

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