By Sher Bano*
The South Asian region is one of the most unstable regions in the world. This is primarily because of the hostile relations between India and Pakistan. Both the countries have indulged in the continuous military, economic and political tensions over the years. This has been intensified in recent years since the Indian hostilities towards Pakistan have evolved into new forms and dimensions. Like for instance, India has been using a propaganda war strategy against Pakistan. The information war as part of the hybrid war has now begun to penetrate through the borders of both the states. Even though there are multiple tools of the Hybrid war, information warfare by far is the most lethal and cost-effective tool that provides the opportunity to spread propaganda without being noticed. As part of its aggressive and antagonistic approach towards Pakistan, the Indian government has been using its soft power and media to spread disinformation against Pakistan at the international level. In recent years, Prime Minister Modi’s government has used it as a strategic weapon to attain its strategic objective of damaging Pakistan.
Very recently a European non-profit organization EU Disinfo Lab released a report which revealed that for years India has been involved in subversive activities against Pakistan. The report called ‘Indian chronicles’ revealed a network of fake media organizations and NGOs in Brussels and Geneva that remained involved in anti-Pakistan propaganda at various international forums for more than a decade. The objective of EU Disinfo Lab is to keep a check over the disinformation campaigns that are used to target and manipulate the European Union, its policies, and parliamentarians. According to the report, in a sophisticated operation, hundreds of long-dead organizations, stolen identities, and fake media outlets mostly linked with Delhi based Srivastava group have been used by India to build a negative image of Pakistan in front of the EU and the UN. It further elaborates that India in pursuit of its efforts to malign Pakistan has not only spread misinformation but has abused the international institutions. Even in 2019, the EU Disinfo Lab report uncovered 265 fake websites that were being run by a ghost company. These websites were spreading false information about Pakistan in nearly 65 countries. According to the research, these fake websites had a huge influence on the United Nations, especially the website called “Time of Geneva” which had a lot of video content and interviews against Pakistan. Suspiciously, the website has been inactive since the report came out.
It is quite noteworthy that many of these networks that published the false content and articles were using fake personas and names of dead journalists and human rights activists and were impersonating the press and media agencies of international repute. These include; the Economist, EU observer, and Voice of America. That’s the reason many members of the UN fell into this trap. According to the recent report of EU Disinfo Lab, a total of 500 local media outlets operating in 95 counties have been producing negative content about China and Pakistan.
Recently at a press conference Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated that India has been involved in Hybrid War against Pakistan. He has urged the United Nations to investigate the Indian campaign of nearly 15 years to undermine Pakistan. He further emphasized that the United Nations needs to scrutinize the government-owned organizations. In this regard, if they are found spreading hate and misinformation, they ought to be denied from the UN platforms. Furthermore, these campaigns by using the EU letterhead have abused the legal institution and have manipulated EU parliamentarians. This might raise questions on the credibility of the EU institutions. Pakistan also seeks a credible investigation of such manipulation of the EU legislative process by these fake organizations that were involved in anti-Pakistan propaganda.
Since Pakistan has been facing information warfare being waged by India, it’s print and electronic media has to act more responsibly. Though there is now a very credible regulation of media, the media outlets must further verify any suspicious news first before breaking it. Responsible media coverage is one of the keys to avoiding any foreign-imposed chaos in the country which could ultimately disturb the law and order situation in any country. That is why the enemy can use it as an effective tool to damage the external and internal security of the state. There is a need to increase the fake news busters that could further help in controlling fake news and hate content. For reference, it would be worth considering that France recently had an agreement with one of the social media giants to remove any terrorist or hate content posted on the social media site within an hour. These fake news busters would further contribute towards differentiating between real and fake news and to avoid misinformation. As a principle, three steps are needed to be further adopted: analyze, verify, and disseminate.
Summarizing it all, one of the positive outcomes of the recent EU Disinfo Lab report appears that governments all over the world have become proactive. The actions might not be what Pakistan can expect right now, at the very least it would likely lead to progress in the future that could eliminate misinformation. For instance, some of the measures taken by the major websites are e.g. Facebook and YouTube have options to report the content. All such actions have great potential to be improved in the coming times and we might have a perfect solution. Though already very robust, Pakistan needs to further strengthen the cybercrime laws and punishments.
*The writer is working as a Research Affiliate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan.