In the contemporary era of warfare, the emergence of non-traditional and new tactics of warfare has transformed the very nature of warfare. Now, they have been widely used by states to harm their adversaries. In recent years, ‘information warfare’, and one may term it as ‘war of narratives’ has emerged as a widely used phenomenon and tactic of warfare. Broadly, it comes within the ambit of ‘hybrid warfare’ and involves all the techniques and tactics, being used to spread misinformation, propaganda, and defamation campaigns to create hatred against the adversary states and malign their interests. Be it print or electronic media, digital media, or any other mode of communication that has the reach of the masses, all are now utilized by states to pursue information warfare. In recent years, digital platforms, for instance, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube among others have become more relevant for states in pursuit of information warfare.
The emergence of this phenomenon can also be observed in the South Asian region, where India has been actively involved in information warfare against Pakistan. In pursuit of its hybrid agenda and spreading misinformation against Pakistan, India has been using digital platforms like, Twitter, fake websites, think tanks, and fake media outlets in various countries around the world to defame Pakistan. This was revealed in the EU DisInfo Lab report of 2020 titled ‘Indian Chronicles’, which exposed a massive Indian disinformation network against Pakistan over the period of 15 years. More specifically, India has defamed Pakistan with a network of more than 700 fake websites being run from different countries. As the report suggested, it was a ‘deeper dive’ into the largest ever disinformation campaign against any country to spread false propaganda.
The phenomenon is not new, similarly, once again, a study being carried out by the US-based Stanford Internet Observatory’s (SIO) Cyber Policy Centre has further exposed such things. The centre has published a report titled ‘My Heart Belongs to Kashmir: An Analysis of a Pro-Indian Army Covert Influence Operation on Twitter’. It has exposed a recently suspended twitter network that was consistent with the official Twitter account of the Indian Army Corps, which is responsible for the region. The study has revealed a pro-Indian Army propaganda campaign being run and managed from India to help create a soft image of India and get support for its illegal political annexation of Kashmir.
The story did not end here, since besides running a pro-Indian campaign, the campaign was more focused on promoting the anti-Pakistan narrative and suppressing the Kashmir issue, which is a common practice by the Indian state being dominated by; the RSS-led Hindutva ideology and governed by the same mindset in the form of BJP.
The Twitter Moderation Research Consortium has analysed the report in various aspects that are needed to be critically deliberated upon. To begin with, many Twitter fake accounts were found which were portraying to be Kashmiri and as well as patriot Indians. For instance, in one of the accounts, a description was given like “Proud Indian and Proud Kashmiri” which shows that a kind of narrative was tried to be built that even after the August 2019 political annexation by India, Kashmiris now consider themselves as Indians only and they have surrendered their real identity happily. Such narratives are only been spread to suppress the Kashmir cause and in an attempt to alter the history of the Kashmir region. This would likely have a long-lasting impact on the young minds of the Kashmiris, fighting for their legitimate right of self-determination, as in the long run, they will not be able to pursue the Kashmir cause effectively.
Furthermore, as per the report, the Indian military has been portrayed as saviours of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the reality on the ground is far away from this narrative, it is a known fact that the Indian forces have kept Kashmiris in an open-air jail when the world was suffering from the global pandemic of COVID. Whereas, this narrative was built by sharing a few pictures in which Indian soldier was offering little children something to eat. However, in reality, a picture of a child sitting on the dead body of his grandfather, which got viral on social media a few years ago was the true picture of the events happing inside the Kashmir valley. Also, many tweets were linked to the Chinar Corps of the Indian Army which is presently located in Srinagar and responsible for military operations in the Kashmir Valley. In the past, the social media accounts of the Chinar Corps were suspended multiple times because of their illegitimate and non-authentic activities on social media and promoting propaganda.
As part of this propaganda, the target of this network was also to malign Pakistan, as Islamabad has always raised its voice for the Kashmiris and their legitimate right to self-determination. It has been observed that multiple Twitter accounts have shared and tweeted the terrorist movements in Baluchistan and the former FATA region. This indicates that India is trying to exploit the situation by propagating the illegitimate demands of the already banned terrorist organizations. Furthermore, to further defame Pakistan, it was falsely propagated that the Pakistani state had abandoned its citizens in China during the COVID pandemic. However, the reality is evident from the fact that the world acknowledges how Pakistan has handled the COVID pandemic more efficiently than many developed nations around the globe. In addition to this, another false narrative was tried to create about Pakistan that it is not safe for minorities like Hindus and even for Muslims. However, the reality is that it is India, which is following the path of Hindutva. In this regard, the Gujarat massacre, the recent Delhi riots, and the overall state of Muslims in India are clear indications of how the secular face of India is vanishing under its Hindutva policies, dominating the country.
Hence to summarize this all, it becomes apparent that India has been actively involved in a grave disinformation campaign against Pakistan. The revelations in the EU DisInfo Lab report and the most recent Stanford Internet Observatory report are quite evident, which show how India has pursued an agenda that serves its notorious policies and interests in the region. Given this, Pakistan needs to re-boost its efforts by utilizing all its diplomatic channels to more efficiently highlight how India has been fooling the world community vis-à-vis Kashmir and how it has been putting at stake the peace and stability in the region.
Muhammad Haris is an Islamabad-based researcher and policy analyst. He frequently writes on issues related to regional security with a special focus on contemporary South Asia.