Fake News and Narrative Building: Deconstructing Indian Disinformation Campaign

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The nature of war has undergone swift and massive transformations over the years by incorporating new dimensions and domains of warfare. Repercussions of military-nuclear-technology, as demonstrated in WW-II, were so lethal that they compelled world powers to develop frameworks and actionable plans to refrain from direct military confrontation. This led to the expansion of parameters of security in the contemporary global landscape: warfare / military paradigm incorporated non-traditional pillars such as knowledge, information, science and technology in its domain. Based on these developments, modern warfare’s lethality and sophistication, ambit and scope of operations altogether increased multi-fold.

In the ambition to avoid military engagements, countries have employed fifth generation warfare to inflict violent conflicts, disrupt law and order, create fighting groups and instigate proxy wars and or insurgency in the adversary states. This altogether has transformed the dynamics of military doctrines, operational plans and strategies by including kinetic and non-kinetic components. The simultaneously employment of kinetic and non-kinetic options has created a grey-zone, where the margin between war and peace is not just thin rather blurred out. Analysts have noted that hybrid warfare is capable to render a state impair. This article would analyze the scope and ambit of Indian hybrid warfare, disinformation campaigns and fake-propaganda against Pakistan through a multi-level approach, especially under EU DisinfoLab’s report titled, “Indian Chronicles: deep dive into a 15-year operation targeting the EU and UN to serve Indian interests.”

In a desperate attempt to malign Pakistan internationally, India orchestrated an anti-Pakistan rhetoric disseminated across around 100 countries. Since 2005, to isolate Pakistan at multiple front, India formulated a comprehensive well-designed global campaign of weaponized information to vilify Pakistan’s efforts vis-à-vis counter-terrorism, curbing terror financing, human rights etc. For 15 years, India has constantly reported fake news, resurrected dead NGOs and think tanks to organize protests in Brussels and Geneva outside UN bodies to spread a negative image of Pakistan. In an earlier report published by the EU Disinfo Lab, in 2019, the findings showed that the said syndicate of think-tanks, media outlets, and NGOs were linked with New Delhi based Srivastava Group. Moreover, media outlets including New Delhi Times, Asian News International (ANI) and think tanks such as Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS) – found spreading fake information regarding minorities in Pakistan and defaming the country at various levels – were using the same IP address as that of Srivastava Group. The same applied to European Parliament Today which was being managed by Indian stakeholders and only 0.14% of the content was shared by European Parliamentarians.

Indian ambitions did not stay confined only to such tactics as it went above and beyond in order to deteriorate Pakistan’s international linkages and invoke sanctions on the country by lobbying at forums like the United Nations, Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and others. To strengthen its propaganda mechanism and legitimize it publically, New Delhi also established and promoted informal groups in European Parliament, at the South Asia Peace Forum, the Baloch Forum, and Friends of Gilgit-Baltistan. The syndicate employed a multi-pronged strategy to influence decision-making circles in Geneva, Brussels and worldwide to target the UN, the EU and international political landscape respectively. Figure 1 shows a visual representation of the syndicate and the process it follows.

EU Disinfo Lab
Figure 1 EU Disinfo Lab

As mentioned earlier, the grey-zones give rise to vacuum for instigating propaganda and disinformation campaigns directly detrimental for the national security and strategic objectives of targeted countries. In modern history, multiple socio-political, economic and diplomatic crisis were orchestrated because of these disinformation campaigns such as colored revolutions in Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to name a few. These not only stirred political instability inside the countries but also credibly dented foreign engagements of targeted countries.

India resurrected more than 10 UN Human Rights Council accredited NGOs to promote its interests and coordinated their operations with think-tanks and minority rights’ working groups based in Brussels and Geneva. It is ironic to note that the syndicate also resuscitated Professor Louis B. Sohn, deceased in 2006, to use his name for publishing articles, reports and briefings aimed at accusing Pakistan of human rights violations, non-compliance of FATF regulations, and harboring terrorism. These developments were followed by regular seminars, press conferences, and event – both within and in front of – the European Parliament to activate pressure groups against Pakistan and conditioning of the policy-makers. These NGOs fraudulently hoodwinked MEPs into criticizing Pakistan, as they arranged the visit of these far-right MEPs to Illegally Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K). Srivastava group was the primary funder of these activities.

The disinformation operations and influence campaigns ran by India employed over 750 fake media outlets to malign Pakistan’s international standing specifically the country’s internal political environment: by promoting fake news stories of Pakistani government conducting atrocities against Baloch population, they stirred the European lobbies on Indian agenda. In addition, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Liberation Movements (BLM) were funded through these channels to carry out regular protests for bogus missing person cases in Geneva to condition the global approach towards Pakistan and ultimately change the positive narrative held by European countries and their communities. This is also termed as psychological warfare in security studies. New Delhi strategically forged, raised and used Hindu community issues in Pakistan to cover its own human rights violations and illegal constitutional overhauling against IIOJ&K and the northeast Indian seven sister states.

Indian propaganda against Pakistan can be detected on various social media platforms of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. The users have multiple times identified fake accounts propagating fake news regarding the minorities residing in Pakistan. The fake news related to the Hindu community is one of the highest trending news picked up by the fake accounts of India. One such recent incident of domestic violence raised by an Indian Instagram page was portrayed as atrocities against Hindu Community. The news channels in Pakistan reported an incident of domestic violence where a woman in Umerkot, Tharparkar District in the province of Sindh Pakistan filed for divorce and alleged that her in-laws seized 140 acres of her land. The Indian social media accounts portrayed the issue as a brutality case against a Hindu woman in Pakistan. The Instagram handle “Hinduvoices” run by the website hindupact.org posted the video on Instagram on 22 December 2021 voicing that Pakistan was conducting human rights violation and atrocities against minorities. India’s disinformation campaign has led to a worldwide propaganda that flourishes on such fake news.

India media also plays a vital role in managing hybrid warfare against Pakistan. The non-kinetic means of warfare are used in promoting an anti-Pakistan narrative internationally and within India terming Pakistan a terrorist state. One of the recent vicious propaganda campaign was initiated in wake of Pulwama crisis when Indian Air Force accused Pakistan of bombing its military convoy leading to an air combat between Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and Indian Air Force (IAF). PAF downed two aircrafts of IAF which followed the capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan by Pakistan Army. The two countries climbed the escalation ladder in matter of no time that defence analysts predicted a possible nuclear exchange. During the multi-phased incident, Indian disinformation campaign faced credible rebuttals since it was miscalculated: (i) the false claim of an attack on Indian military convoy and (ii) the fake avowal of killing over 300 terrorists in Balakot, Pakistan. Moreover, Indian government awarded Wing Commander Abhinandan with third highest medal, Vir Chakra, as well as promoted him to the rank of Group Captain for downing Pakistani fighter jet in contradiction with the reality.

The latest addition to the Indian Hybrid warfare is the information warfare that was unearthed by the EU Disinfo Lab. Indian focus on the fake propaganda against Pakistan on human rights and minority rights is false and baseless whereas, the minorities in India face extreme constitutional marginalization through CAA and NCR. On 11 December 2019, Indian Mahasabha passed a bill of National Citizen Register (NCR) that opened new avenues to constitutional atrocities against marginalized minorities in India. However, India has keenly made an effort to jeopardize the national interests of Pakistan in every aspect; politically, economically, militarily and socially, yet; these efforts stand null and void before the counter-efforts of Pakistan. The civil military administration has ensured the safeguard of national interests of Pakistan against all adversarial activities.

From sponsoring terrorism, facilitating insurgent movements to instigating sectarian violence in Pakistan, India has increasingly relied on employing hybrid warfare and disinformation campaigns to weaken Pakistan, internally and externally. In its essence, Indian hybrid warfare has inflicted considerable damage to Pakistan including: (i) economic – millions of dollars in addressing internal security challenges; (ii) disrupted the political processes in the country; (iii) accounted for loss of thousands of precious lives; (iv) promotion of a violent and extremist culture and (v) above all, painting of Pakistan as an extremist country.

It is high time for the international community to evaluate the snowballing threat of hybrid warfare and disinformation campaigns vis-à-vis their penetration in international bodies like the UN, EU and formation of agenda-based foreign funded think tanks associated renowned universities. Such processes have maligned the credibility and purity of educational institutes, denigrated global intellectual pool and influenced policy-making processes against countries in compliance with all international rules and regulations. This is not only weakening the reliance of countries on these institutions but also promoting a culture of proxy wars and denouncing abiding by the international law. Going by this approach, countries would end up following the proverb, “might is right” further inspiring them to develop hybrid warfare capabilities. We leave you with a thought – The world needs to think whether to punish those exposed or act in blindness to let it all go unquestioned and wait for a global crisis.

Co-authored by Ms. Noor ul Huda

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