The Bitter Relationship
Mired in constant security threats at both the western and eastern border, Pakistan has been skeptical of India, its arch-enemy and neighbor, whose ploys hurled at Pakistan’s security infrastructure have been tantamount to destabilizing it both domestically and internationally. Since India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed political rivals and neighbors, their fracases have taken more of a distant warfare approach.
Grave prospects of using nuclear capabilities against Pakistan have diverted India to use hybrid warfare or fifth-generation warfare to conduct its hostile relations, despite several efforts for peace-building measures from either side. India has, time and again, used multiple fronts of hybrid warfare to denigrate Pakistan: use of proxies, false flag operations, lobbying in Financial Action Task Force (FATF), financial support to terrorism, etcetera.
Much of their conflict is based around the Kashmir region which is currently divided between the two and its defacto boundary is not formally recognized by either. On the international level, India accuses Pakistan of promoting cross-border terrorism, while both deride each other for persecuting their countries’ religious minorities, especially Muslims in India and Hindus in Pakistan.
Era of Disinformation
Recently, a 15-year long Indian attempt of disinformation warfare against Pakistan is unraveled by EU DisinfoLab; a Brussels-based non-governmental organization (NGO). In a report titled “Indian chronicles”, DisinfoLab has opened up a Pandora box of Indian designs to malign Pakistan through the use of fake news and disinformation.
This international campaign has been enabled through multiple actors working in systematic conjunction to destabilize Pakistan internationally. Its sprawl has captured the attention of more than 116 countries. According to the report, more than 750 fake media outlets were used in these countries to destroy the image of Pakistan.
Apart from impersonating the EU, more than 550 domain names were registered who promoted fabricated content which is pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan. According to EU DisinfoLab, the network they have exposed has no direct links to the Indian government or its intelligence network, RAW, but its denominations can be traced back to an Indian organization named Srivastava Group (SG).
What is hard to believe is the strength of this group to stimulate its clout in the esteemed institutions of the world. Its influence over decisions in the European Parliament and United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR), appears to be defining new South-Asian order based on Indian manipulated agendas.
One of the most disturbing maneuvers this group has pulled off is to resurrect dead NGOs for broadcasting fake media campaigns. The Asia News International (ANI), India’s largest wire service, has played a key role in the spread of disinformation; it helped the fake media outlets thrive by providing them with content that goes against Pakistan and in favor of Indian interests of the “dominant India” narrative.
In 2019, EU DisinfoLab highlighted more than 265 websites that were disseminating anti-Pakistan news that were traced back to SG. The most disturbing find under this investigation is the use of dead NGOs and think tanks; more than 10 NGOs that were UN-accredited and were found dormant in the 20th century were later resurrected to give unauthentic information to its audience. They were found promoting Indian interests against Pakistan.
These NGOs used platforms like that of the U.N. to legitimize their voices that only claimed negative connotations for Pakistan. They lobbied, organized demonstrations, spoke during press conferences and U.N. side events, and were often seen propagating on behalf of UN-accredited organizations.
Fake media outlets influenced both international institutions and elected members of these institutions by selectively covering specific aspects of various events and demonstrations. They have also provided valuable press materials to NGOs in order to validate their reputation and be impactful.
To make it more difficult for the reader to discern between authentic and fabricated content, the network has added multiple coatings of media outlets that cited and republished each other’s content in such a way that it manipulated and provided an illusion to the reader of global support for Indian geopolitical interests. This has raised a rather strange question which requires contemplation: did the European Parliament and UNHCR staff know about these organizations and their malicious intentions?
The Beginning of the Indian Propaganda Against Pakistan
The investigation traces back to the time when SG started working in 2005 when UNHRC was founded in its current state of working. One NGO which caught the investigator’s attention was Commission to Study the Organization of Peace (CSOP) which was incepted in the 1930s, won UN-accreditation in 1975 but in the late 1970s became dormant.
Its former chairman, Prof. Louis Sohn, who was considered the grandfather of international law and died in 2006, was later identified as a CSOP participant under the name Louis Sohn at the 2007 session of UNHRC and at a separate event in Washington DC in 2011. The investigation further unearthed several hundred interventions of pro-Indian nature by non-accredited NGOs which often took the floor of UNHRC on the behalf of such accredited organizations to pursue inimical designs to malign Pakistan.
Similar attempts by several other NGOs and think tanks that, according to their stated goals had nothing to do with Pakistan or India, time and again availed opportunities at the UNHRC forum to voice their negative propaganda against Pakistan. Canners International, an NGO, which is now headed by the former President of European Parliament, Martin Schulz, had been promoting canned foods but has now been directed to slam Pakistan at the UNHRC forum.
At another instance, in March 2019, another UN-accredited NGO, namely United Schools International (USI), which has direct connections with SG, allowed its slot to be used by a research analyst, associated with an Amsterdam-based think tank called European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), who highlighted the “atrocities committed by Pakistan.” There are many such instances where the UN forum is abused to project fabricated information in order to derail Pakistan’s efforts to highlight Indian atrocities in the South Asian region, especially Kashmir.
Bragging about itself as the leading news agency of South Asia with more than 100 bureaus in India and beyond, ANI has not only promoted and boosted pro-India content, backed by SG, but has also republished op-eds on anti-Pakistan or anti-China stances written by Members of European Parliament (MEPs) in EU Chronicle, another fake media website that has links to SG.
In 2019, when EP Today was flagged by Disinfo report as “fake”, it was renamed to EU Chronicle that started operating in May 2020. This network has more wonders to show than are found on the face of the Earth. The report furthered enunciated the malicious attempts of actors involved in this operation.
From mimicking daily media such as EU Observer, using the letterhead of the European Parliament, registering websites with fake phone numbers and fake addresses to set up publishing houses in order to print books of think-tanks, they have used unprecedented means to further their goals.
With the audacity to lure in MEPs in its fight against Pakistan, India has shocked millions, if not billions. A group of MEPs, who wrote exclusive op-eds in EU chronicle, which was later amplified by ANI, also took part in a visit to the Indian-administered Kashmir in 2019. This clearly depicts how bottom level MEPs, instead of investing in their mandate, avail incentives “to travel on sponsored trips” orchestrated by odiferous governments with wicked intentions.
This is a matter of sheer concern and should be taken as such. Had it been orchestrated under the Chinese or Russian administration, it would have provoked global outrage that would push relevant authorities to sanction actors involved in the operation, but due to its Indian-nature, albeit exposed in a vindictive environment, entails no harsh consequences for the actors in the play.
This indifference on the part of relevant authorities will not help in containing the disinformation spread and in fact, gives a breathing ground to such forces to enlarge their operation. In this war of narratives, traditions, regulations, ethics and personal relationships do not outweigh the target audience.
World history is full of such instances when geographies were changed on the basis of such covert operations. To prove itself authentic, relevant, and powerful, the state of Pakistan needs to confront India on every front, defying all set norms. In order to produce lucrative results, proactive policies and correct behavior at the right time are necessary.
Public support to thwart the enemy’s ongoing hybrid efforts against Pakistan may not receive desirable results unless the government is determined to destroy nefarious designs that India has projected at Pakistan while also maintaining firm grounds to propel its concerns on equal war footings in the international arena. Without taking them into confidence, Pakistan would not be able to prove itself a true stakeholder of the international community.
Reciprocating the essence of fraternity in the international community, esteemed institutions need to be more cautious and attentive, setting comprehensive guidelines to scrutinize international media outlets, domain names, NGOs, and think-tanks before giving them official forums to voice their concerns. If international institutions continue to fail and get pulled into despicable projects of mischievous extent, that will, knowingly or unknowingly, lead warring nations to brinkmanship.
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