Open source investigations can be a tedious and cumbersome task and ‘Indian Chronicles’ a report published by the EU’s DisinfoLab which details the fifteen year operation conducted by the Srivastava Group and Asian News International (ANI) is no exception. Since 2005, the operation continued unabated with astonishing tactics of subversion at the international level involving identity thefts, fake media outlets and domain names. This included Former President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz as well as photo of James Purnell, a former UK Minister who became subjects of egregious fabrication with close to 750 fake media outlets covering 119 countries or 61% of the global population as well as over 550 domain names being registered. The sole objective was to promote India’s narrative at the expense of transparency and authenticity to claim that this is ordinary is to claim that Albert Einstein was solely a scientist. It reveals a criminally bare story.
What the evidence does demonstrate is that New Delhi, through the Srivastava Group employed underhand tactics such as activating side events and demonstrations in support of minority rights in various countries as well as impersonating distinguished UN accredited NGOs with the aim of promoting ‘India- centric’ narratives and muzzling out divergent voices at the international level. Solid evidence has implicated organizations created by the Srivastava Group, which successfully organized trips to Brussels in Belgium for members of the European parliament (MEPs) to Kashmir, Bangladesh and even the Maldives. The delegates purportedly attending these conferences were not EU officials per say, given that they lacked sanctioning from the European Parliament but impersonations and fake profiles as per the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace (CSOP), a US based NGO had become inactive in the late 1970s yet in 2005, its identity had been hijacked by actors from the Srivastava Family given that the deceased Professor Louis B Sohn, had actually passed away in 2006 and apparently attended both a UN Human Rights Council Meeting in 2007 and participated in the ‘Friends of Gilgit Baltistan’ event in Washington D.C. in 2011.
Furthermore, informal groups such as the ‘South Asia Peace Forum’ and ‘The Baloch Forum’ were also considered integral components of the European Parliament with press conferences and events taking place worldwide These shocking revelations cannot be simply contested as attempts by India’s adversaries, Pakistan or China to deflect blame, but are realistic attempts which threaten the very foundations of diplomatic initiatives in Western democracies as well as states which are grappling with issues such as terrorism on their shores.
Despite this moral bankruptcy, the Srivastava Group continued its operations unabashedly and unabatedly given that they fell below the global radar. The recent launch of the ‘EU Chronicle’ which is a fake EU outlet spread disinformation and reached out to world capitals to promote fabricated narratives and muzzle out dissenting voices, particularly from India’s staunchest adversaries such as Pakistan and China. Recently, India’s nuclear armed rival, shared a dossier on India’s terror campaign with the United Nations Secretary General which mentions New Delhi’s sponsorship of groups such as the Tehrik I Taliban and Jamaat Ul Ahrar which are terrorist organizations of which the former was responsible for the heinous 2014Army Public School attack in Peshawar six years ago. The setting up of a dedicated cell to sabotage the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, an economic lifeline for cash strapped Pakistan with investments worth Rs 500 million as well as subversive tactics in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan underlines how Beijing’s influence was also viewed as a threat and had to be targeted through disinformation campaigns and systematic investments. All this was emanating from a secular democracy and not rogue dictatorships such as Iran or Russia with a history of attempts to hijack, dissuade, project and subvert international norms for promoting Moscow or Tehran’s global ambitions.
There is a catch for states which have not been provided with international platforms to voice their concerns. India’s rival and the most brutalized victim, Pakistan has long been considered to be partly complicit in regional terrorism and for its failure to crack down on militants on its soil. Islamabad has also been significantly berated at the United Nations with less than convincing counter narratives to truly depict the country as a victim instead of a sponsor of terrorism. The report by DisinfoLab however, has vindicated such positions, given that disinformation campaigns launched by New Delhi has not implicated fledgling dictatorships but Western democratic, diplomatic representatives which have been championing the cause of transparency and curbing cybercrime across the globe.
Numerous analysts, scholars, academics and practitioners and even the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan had pointed to the campaigns initiated by Indian lobbies in the United States, Europe and Asia and their ability to garner widespread support for its narrative as a key factor in promoting wider Indian designs. The multiplication of repetitive negative content online has resulted in global audiences to consume the fact that they were not being diplomatically represented in august forums given that the profiles of their representatives were fabricated and personal information was tapped into which is nothing short of state sponsored clandestine, propaganda warfare.
The evidence is undoubtedly damning, revealing and shocking and requires international attention given that transparency, the right to privacy, curbing cybercrime, stymying defamation campaigns and acts of subversion, have long been advocated for as globally inviolable norms. What the international community’s response to the EU DisinfoLab’s revelations will hence be the real challenge given that this emanated from a secular democracy not a rogue dictatorship.
*Hamza Rifaat Hussain, is a Contributing Columnist for the China Global Television Network (CGTN), former Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington DC, and Assistant Research Associate at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.
Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) is an independent think tank based in Islamabad, Pakistan. It is dedicated to research, analysis and evaluation of strategic and emerging issues, and in its research activities, IPRI interacts freely with national and international forums.