Isolated internationally, Pakistan uses disinformation campaign as tool to target India
Thoroughly anti-minority in its approach, Pakistan is projecting India as Islamophobic and anti-minority in order to avoid international attention on unabated human rights violations of people in Gilgit-Baltistan, PoK and Balochistan
Till the mid 2000’s, Pakistan was the darling of the West, supportive in their war on terror. India was on the side lines. Indian response to Pakistan’s terrorist strikes were muted due to western pressures. Things have since changed. The world looks at India, ignoring Pakistan. Bilawal Bhutto addressing a seminar in Islamabad a few days ago stated, “An internationally isolated or disengaged Pakistan cannot achieve its goals of development and prosperity.” He added, “Our foreign policy requires all of us to rethink where we stand in the world today.”
Even Pakistan’s West Asian allies have ignored it in favour of India. The US has dumped Pakistan. Pakistan’s failed Kashmir policy has caused it maximum pain. It has few supporters in Kashmir. Except for the fact that at the OIC Foreign Ministers' meeting in Islamabad in March 2022, it pushed the OIC to pass a resolution on Kashmir.
But then except for backing it occasionally gets from OIC on J&K, there is none to stand by Pakistan on the external front. A few months ago , there was a business delegation of the UAE, led by its ambassador, visiting Srinagar. It conveyed the message that the UAE and its partner from the West Asian region, do not accept Kashmir as disputed, rather recognize it as an Indian territory.
Abrogation of Article 370 further hit Pakistan. The opposition blamed Imran for losing the Kashmir plot. Bilawal stated in August 2019, “Earlier, Pakistan policy used to be how to take Srinagar from India. Due to the failure of the Imran government the position is how can we save Muzaffarabad.” Globally, there were muted calls for restoration of Article 370 and the criticism soon died, despite all Pakistan’s efforts.
In Kashmir, there has been a sea-change, impacting Pakistan. NSA Ajit Doval, told ANI in a recent interview that “post 2019, the mood and temper of the people of Kashmir has totally changed. People are no more in favour of Pakistan or terrorism.” The counter insurgency scenario is well under control and could be exploited by India against Pakistan whenever it suits. Pakistan’s internal security situation and economic meltdown have precluded it from enhancing terrorist activities in India. Balakote had a sobering effect.
However, Pakistan has gained over India in two spheres. Firstly, being the first to highlight Kashmir in global forums, compelling India to react. Secondly, launching a strong disinformation campaign, both externally and internally, aimed at discrediting India globally and enhancing internal strife. In both, truth has been twisted to achieve goals. On multiple occasions, India has been pushed on the defensive.
Addressing the Humanitarian Affairs Segment of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in New York last week, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Munir Akram asked for “humanitarian assistance” for people in Jammu and Kashmir, drawing a sharp response from the Indian delegation. This has been a standard Pakistan ploy.
It raises J&K at multilateral forums, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), pushing India to respond. By highlighting human rights in the Valley, it suppresses its own actions in PoK and Gilgit Baltistan (GB). India rarely comments on Pakistan’s human rights violations in PoK, GB or even Balochistan, acceding space to Pakistan.
Discussing the fallout of the Nupur Sharma controversy, NSA Ajit Doval told ANI, “Some disinformation has been spread against India – which is far from the reality. Probably, there is a need for us to engage them and talk to them and convince them.” He was discussing the impact on India’s relations with Gulf states and the disinformation campaign launched by Pakistan.
Digital Forensics Research and analytics centre, in its open-source analysis of comments on multiple social media sites on the Nupur controversy, stated that majority of those who spread anti-India messages including false inputs were based in Pakistan. Alongside social media networks, Pakistan media houses and their political leadership were involved in a coordinated operation. Every political leader in Pakistan commented, adding fuel to their disinformation campaign.
In December 2021, the Indian government had blocked 20 YouTube channels and two websites. The government statement had read, “These channels and websites belong to a coordinated disinformation network operating from Pakistan and spreading fake news about various sensitive subjects related to India.”
A month later it blocked a further 35 YouTube channels. These accounts cross promoted each other’s content to enhance viewership. Their main topics were the Indian army, foreign relations as also twisted lies to break India’s internal social fabric.
In August 2020, Stanford Internet Observatory stated, “Facebook had suspended 103 Pages, 78 Groups, 453 Facebook accounts, and 107 Instagram accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour. Facebook attributed this network to individuals in Pakistan.” Pakistan is known to be supporting the Khalistan movement which added fuel to the farmer’s protests. The Hijab controversy was pushed by a Pakistan-based disinformation campaign.
The Sunday Guardian, in a report published in April last year, mentioned that Pakistan had created a fake organization known as South Asian United Social Media Front (SAUMF). It included fictitious members from South Asian nations. It was tasked with spreading fake information aimed at impacting India’s relations with its neighbours, including Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Pakistan’s DG ISPR is known to employ thousands of informational warfare specialists and interns in a coordinated disinformation programme to push its anti-India propaganda. The group also utilizes this campaign to indoctrinate Kashmiri youth and break India’s social and religious fabric. It has a budget of over Pakistani Rs 600 crore. A Pakistan news report in April 2019 showed their army chief interacting with these interns.
Pakistan also employs the services of its supported members of Congress in the US and their counterparts in the EU and UK. Last week Congresswoman Ilhan Omar introduced a resolution in the US House of Representatives, condemning human rights and religious freedom in India and demanding that India be designated as a “country of particular concern.” She had visited Pakistan in April. The resolution was supported by Rashida Talib and Juan Vargas, both of whom are pro-Pakistan.
British MPs, Khalid Mehmood, Tahir Ali, Imran Hussain and M Yasin wrote a letter to Boris Johnson seeking intervention in the trial of Yasin Malik, on the prodding of Pakistan. They have regularly criticized India. The European parliament human rights commission has, on occasions, cautioned India on targeting religious minorities. While none of these can curtail Indian government decisions, they impact India’s global image. These add flavour to Pakistan’s anti-India campaign.
Pakistan, which faces security and economic instability, desperately needs India to be preoccupied within, to secure itself from an Indian strike. Aware of its military weakness and India’s ability to strike across the border in case of a major terrorist incident, it has limited choices. The best option is to enhance India’s internal divide, break its social cohesiveness and impact its global image by spreading disinformation. These cannot be countered by military means. India is aware of the danger and stays silent.
NSA Doval, while addressing the IPS academy passing out parade in November, 2021 stated, “It is the civil society that can be subverted, divided and manipulated to hurt the interest of the nation.” Pakistan is projecting India as Islamophobic and anti-minority, whereas it is Pakistan which is anti-minority. India’s silence and inaction is only giving victory to Pakistan on a platter. India is compelled to defend itself rather than consider launching a counter-offensive.
It is time for India to take the bull by the horns. It must adopt an aggressive stance in global bodies, accusing Pakistan of being an anti-minority and ignoring human rights. Simultaneously, it must create a body to counter Pakistan’s disinformation campaign. Unless Pakistan is paid back in the same coin, it will not desist. Time to rise and strike back in an organized manner.
*** The writer is a security and strategic affairs commentator; views expressed are his own