India’s Disinformation Campaign: An Issue of Great Concern

India’s Disinformation Campaign: An Issue of Great Concern

By Prof. Abdullah Al-Ahsan

EU Disinfo Lab, a Brussels-based NGO devoted to combat disinformation, has released a report on December 9 about a pro-Indian network engaged in disseminating fake news regarding Pakistan. This is the second time that the organization has come up with such an explosive report about internationally active pro-Indian fake news networks in the span of almost a year. In November last year, the same NGO came up with a headline that, “Over 265 fake local news sites in more than 65 countries are managed by an Indian influence network.” What is noteworthy about these findings is that in spite of the explosive nature of this information, the media world does not seem to have taken it seriously. Normally such exposure of disinformation at an era of a severe crisis created by fake news the international press would have exploded. But nothing like this has happened except for some scattered discussions here and there. Why? Is it an Islamophobic approach of the international media? Or is it due to romantic love for “world’s largest democracy”? We will take up this question later; let us first try to understand how the EU Disinfo Lab discovered this phenomenon.

India’s Evil Design and Fake News Networks

In its first report issued in November 2019, it was noted that, “weunexpectedly found alarge number of articles and op-eds related to minorities in Pakistan as well as other India-related matters.” The researchers were examining a website “a self-proclaimed magazine for the European Parliament in Brussels” and reported that, “EP Today is managed by Indian stakeholders, with ties to a large network of think tanks, NGOs, and companies from the Srivastava Group. We also found that the IP address of the Srivastava Group is also home to the obscure online media ‘New Delhi Times’ and the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS), which are all based at the same address in New Delhi, India.”

Based on the first report, the BBC conducted an independent investigation and confirmed that the EP Today did create a “global network of pro-Indian fake websites and think-tanks” with the aim of influencing the decision making process of the European Parliament. It also found that the network was “involved in anti-Pakistan lobbying events in Europe.” It was involved in many cunning and shrewd devices creating many fake websites and “use names of defunct newspapers to provide a veneer of credibility.” According to the BBC, the EU Disinfo Lab has “dubbed these ‘zombie’ sites, because the names were resurrected from dead media outlets.” As an example, “One of the sites is called Manchester Times. Its ‘About Us’ section uses text copied from a Wikipedia entry about a newspaper with the same name. But it omits an important part of the Wikipedia description, which states: ‘The newspaper’s last issue appeared on 22 July 1922.’ It also fails to declare the website’s links to Indian interests.”

The recent report of December 9 discovered even more devastating fake news activities. According to the report, following the publication of the first report, the EP Today disappeared, but a new EU Chronicle was born proclaiming itself a “Brussels-based independent media outlet.” It says:

We soon realised that this US-based NGO – accredited to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – had become inactive in the late 1970s before being resurrected in 2005. Its identity had been hijacked by the same actors depicted in our first investigation. Shockingly, we discovered that the organisation had not only been revived. Its former Chairman and “grandfather of international law in the US”, Louis B. Sohn, who passed away in 2006, seemingly attended a UN Human Rights Council meeting in 2007 and participated in an event organised by “Friends of Gilgit-Baltistan” in Washington D.C. in 2011.

Following the publication of the second report the BBC published another article confirming that, “A dead professor and numerous defunct organisations were resurrected and used alongside at least 750 fake media outlets in a vast 15-year global disinformation campaign to serve Indian interests, a new investigation has revealed.” It further asserted:

Wednesday’s report, titled Indian Chronicles, reveals that the operation, run by SG (referring to a business group in India), is spread over at least 116 countries and has targeted members of the European Parliament and the United Nations – raising questions about how much EU and UN staff knew about SG’s activities, and whether they could have done more to counter those activities, especially after last year’s report.

The EU Disinfo Lab identified at least 10 UN-accredited NGOs that were engaged in lobbying, organizing demonstrations, speaking during press conferences and often received the floor at the UN. At the United Nations in Geneva, Le Temps uncovered that students from diverse backgrounds were recruited by fake NGOs to speak against Pakistan at the UN platform. It also reported that fake media outlets were created; poster campaigns were launched at the “United Nations, a ‘parallel universe’ has been formed to defend India’s interests.”

Criminal Offences 

It is interesting to note that a google search now[1] on EP Today guides the reader to the European Parliament and EU Chronicle claims to be an association of “freelance journalists” based mainly in Europe with the “purpose is to provide informing, ethical, stimulating and quality news to the reader.” On the other hand, by examining EU Dininfo Lab reports, one can easily confirm its report of lobbying at UN agencies, demonstrating for Indian interests in a manner that are acceptable in a democratic environment. However, hoodwinking people with fake websites, concocting news to defame enemies, establishing false think tanks and feeding them with fabricated information, getting access to world bodies using bogus institutions, misusing names of famous deceased personalities – all these would be criminal offences. For a common person looking for information names such as EP Today or EU Chronicle will look like official representatives of the institution as their names suggest. Nevertheless, many questions will arise in the current context. Aren’t the European Parliament or the European Union concerned about their reputation? Why didn’t the European Parliament take any action when it was discovered in the first report that its name was misused? Why no action was taken when it was discovered that its letterhead was inappropriately used? Why and how some members of the European Parliament were persuaded to speak and write based on fake information? Where is the democratic accountability? “Imagine if the same operation was run by China or Russia. How do you think the world would have reacted? Probably with international outrage, leading to public inquiries and probably sanctions,” wondered a EU Disinfo Lab researcher to the BBC correspondent. Why is India treated differently? Is it because India claims to be democratic entity? Or it is because India apparently belongs to the privileged group in the perceived clash of civilizations conflict.

Remarkably, Delphine Colard, a European Parliament spokeswoman, has claimed that “We take very seriously any effort to misrepresent the positions of the European Parliament or its elected members,” but added that she was “not aware of such a request made by Pakistan.” Is the burden of fighting fake news and creating false bodies and spreading lies only Pakistan’s responsibility? Why is the international community silent on the issue? Are not these actors violating democratic and human values? Indecisiveness on such developments will definitely lead to more chaos in an already chaotic media world. Yet surprisingly institutions such as Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) and Reporters Without Border (RSF) do not seem to have expressed their concern about India’s habit of disinformation campaign.

Pakistan: the Victim

Both reports identified Pakistan as the victim, but Pakistan does not seem to have responded after the publication of the first report in November 2019. Following the publication of the second report in December 2020, however, Pakistan’s Prime Minister as well as the Foreign Minister have issued statements and expressed their concerns and desire to raise the issue in international forums. Pakistani newspapers too have highlighted the importance of the issue. In this context, one should remember that in Pakistan blaming India for anything that goes wrong for the country is not a new phenomenon. In this month of December particularly, one notices many activities remembering the role of India in dismembering the country in 1971. While no one can deny India’s vicious role during the event, no Pakistani should ignore the part some of their leaders played during the catastrophic event. Nations make progress only when they analyze their past and correct mistakes.

 I hear analysts referring to the Ganga hijacking affair during the 1971 crisis – an affair in which two Kashmiri “freedom fighters” hijacked a cheap aircraft to Pakistan – an issue that India used to stop Pakistan flying over Indian airspace to connect with former East Pakistan. Who welcomed the hijackers in Pakistan? How could the Indians influence Pakistani political leaders to fall in their trap? Who had turned down the Polish resolution – a resolution that could have largely saved Pakistan’s dignity – at the UN on December 15, 1971 just a day before Pakistan’s armed forces surrendered in Dhaka? As a student of history, when I look back at the events of 1971 it seems to me that Pakistan continued to fall into the traps one after another that India had set. Should one call these events India’s conspiracy against Pakistan or foolishness of Pakistan’s political establishment? Will Pakistanis evaluate their history rationally and critically?

New Opportunity for Pakistan

The EU Disinfo Lab reports have opened a new door for Pakistan to establish its credibility in international affairs. However, it is not enough for the Foreign Minister to go around the world and talk about India’s intrigues against Pakistan; all Pakistanis, particularly diplomats, academics, media personalities, the business community – all have to know and analyze their history, the conceptual foundation of their nation as perceived by the founding fathers and act accordingly. If they are familiar with their founding fathers dream, they should understand that this would mean to sharpen their taqwah or God-consciousness. If they are able to do that, they will find friends like the researchers of EU Disinfo Lab, but all over the world. The founding fathers wanted to save not only Muslims of the Indian sub-continent from the caste-ridden Hindutva domination, but the whole of humanity from a civilization crisis. Pakistan’s visionary poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal perceived Pakistan to become a model nation that would develop “a creative synthesis of the East and the West.” For Iqbal, Pakistan would have sunk

“… into her deeper self, temporarily focus her vision on herself alone, until all are strong and powerful to form a living family of republic. A true and living unity, according to the nationalist thinkers, is not so easy as to be achieved by a merely symbolic overlordship. It is truly manifested in a multiplicity of free, independent units whose racial rivalries are adjusted and harmonized by the unifying bond of a common spiritual inspiration.”[2]

A sincere deep self-evaluation and appropriate action will enable Pakistan achieve the objective set by its founding fathers. Pakistan definitely possesses the potential for becoming the catalyst for civilizational co-existence today.

[1] Accessed on December 25. 2020

[2] Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (Reprinted New Delhi: Kitab Bhaban, 1981), 159.

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