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Disinformation in age of technology: How India isolated Pakistan through fake news

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In a startling disclosure, EU-based non-governmental organisation EU DisinfoLab revealed an India-sponsored fake, dis-informational network of 265 fake media outlets in 65 countries, including US, Canada, Brussels, and Geneva.  The network is run by Srivastava Group of India. It lists New Delhi Times as one of its assets, and also runs a think tank called International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies. The Institute paid for the travel and accommodation of an unofficial far-right delegation of 23 European Union parliamentarians to Srinagar on October 30, 2013. The trip was arranged by Indian –intelligence surrogate Madi Sharma who posed as a self-styled “international business broker”. The delegation’s shikara (boat) ride in Kashmir Lake (dal) pictured Kashmir as a heaven in serene peace. Some members however smelt a rat and abandoned the free joy ride.

After connecting the dots, the disinformation watchdog found that The Times of Geneva Online,   EP (European parliament) Today and “4newsagency.com” had shady links to a large network of think tanks, Non-Governmental Organisations,  and fake news websites in over 65 countries. The network worked day in and day to create a `mirage’ of anti-Pakistan perceptions by influencing world’s political leaders, international institutions, as well as gullible ordinary folk alike.

Already EP Today has apologised for aping Russia Today’s content and promised to desist from doing so in future. India used fake websites; together with India’s financial relations (Rafale and AS-400 deals, and trade) with world to isolate Pakistan.  The fake website described themselves as “independent not-for-profit news cooperatives’ headquartered in Switzerland”.

It appears India has meticulously implemented Hitler’s propaganda theorems: `The bigger the lie, the better the results. The success of any propaganda campaign ultimately depends on the propagandist’s down-to-earth understanding of the “primitive sentiments of the popular masses”. Mein Kampf (pp. 179-180). According to New York Times dated April 29, 2019, the only antidote to fake information is public awareness like hand-washing techniques during health crisis.

`Isolation’ not an overnight exploit: India doetailed its disinformation policy with structural reforms in army and intelligence set-up to achieve its objective of isolating Pakistan.  Sanjiv Tripathi, the longest serving Research and Analysis chief said `the entire J&K, including PoK, is part of India’. He stressed, `R&AW should carry out psychological operations … through seminars, articles and discussions.” Tripathi believed `Pakistan’s step-motherly treatment of its minorities, particularly the Pashtuns, Sindhis, Baluchis and Baltis, offers excellent ground for hosting Indian agents. However, very little is being done, except in PoK’ .Lo! India under prime minister Narendar Modi modified Indian maps to include Pakistani, Nepalese and Chinese

Territories into India

RAW was restructured to play a more effective role in curbing centrifugal movements (freedom movements in Kashmir, North East, and Naxalbari footholds). All security agencies and advisers now report to new security czar, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.  He is aided by four deputies (earlier there was only one).  The deputies include former spymasters, Rajinder Khanna, R.N. Ravi, and Pankaj Saran, besides a military adviser (Lt Gen V.G. Khandare).

India’s Strategic Policy Group, idle since Manmohan Singh’s second term, has been revived (to create troubles in Sindh, Balochistan, and KPK). NSA’s head has replaced hitherto head, the cabinet secretary. He will also head the newly set up Defence Planning Committee and the four-member National Security Advisory Board (Lt Gen S.L. Narasimhan, a China expert, former RAW hand, A.B. Mathur, and Bimal Patel, an academic). A new post of national cyber security coordinator was created under Computer Emergency Response Team head Gulshan Rai (who reports to the prime minister). K. Ilango, who manipulated Sri Lanka elections in 2015 has been reactivated.

Cyber- and psy-war slots: Indian army chief said, `A jawan costs the army Rs 6-8 lakh a year, compared to an officer who earns Rs 20-22 lakh annually. Simply put, cutting down four or five officers will help save a crore’.  He indicated (October 2, 2018) `army could cut over one lakh troops in the next few years and some of them could be assigned new roles’ (cyber and psy-war). Not only state – but also non-state actors are engaged in so-called fifth-generation warfare.

Influence of fake news in elections: In the lead-up to the elections, the Indian government summoned the top executives of Facebook and Twitter to discuss the crisis of coordinated misinformation, fake news and political bias on their platforms. In March, Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s global vice president for public policy, was called to appear before a committee of 31 members of the Indian Parliament, who were mostly from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party,  to discuss “safeguarding citizens’ rights on social/online news media platforms.”

The hearing was a hoax as  B.J.P. was the chief beneficiary of divisive content that reaches millions because of the way social media algorithms, especially Facebook, amplify “engaging” articles. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are too timid to tackle the problem head-on for fear of offending politicos. A large proportion of messages shared on social networks in India are not verifiable.  Facebook India has a small 11- to 22-member fact-checking team for content related to Indian elections.

India also has a vast publicly funded Press Information Bureau, and a television and radio network, to monitor, track and debunk fake news. They are good for nothing being under governmental control.

Disinformation or fifth-generation war in history:  ‘Disinformation’ (Russian deziinformatzia) is a concept which finds mention in Sun Tzu’s Ping Fa (Principles of War). Even before Sun Tzu, Kautliya in Arthashastra supported disinformation as a civil and military warfare tool within his concept of koota yuddha (unprincipled warfare as distinguished from dharma yuddha, righteous warfare).

Tzu’s and Kautliya’s principles were used not only in the World War II but also in the Cold War period (to hoodwink own and foreign people). Richard Deacon says, ‘Truth twisting…unless it is conducted with caution and great attention to detail, it will inevitably fail, if practiced too often… It is not the deliberate lie which we have to fear (something propaganda), but the half-truth, the embellished truth and the truth dressed up to appear a something quite different’ (The Truth Twisters, London, Macdonald & Company (Publishers) Limited, 1986/1987, p. 8).  He gives several example of disinformation including subliminal disinformation by which the truth can be twisted so that the distortion is unconsciously absorbed something which both television and radio commentators have subtly perfected’ (Ibid., p. 9).  In USA, Creel Committee, through false anti-German propaganda turned pacifist Americans against Germans.

Now, technology is being used as a complement to media propaganda. Some trolls, recruited by Russian intelligence (GRU), were punished in USA, They provided goldmine of information about Russian tactics. Russian hackers (including Kevin Mitnick) hacked servers, including allegedly Hillary Clinton’s private server (“DC Leaks” and “Guccifer 2.0). They disseminated false information though fake trolls and accounts. They polarized American public opinion in Trump’s favour. A billionaire Russian businessman and Putin associate established a network of troll factories to develop fake news articles and commentary to build anti-Democrat public opinion.

A leading Russian troll factory, the Internet Research Agency, recruited young Americans between ages 18 to 20 years for creating fake social media accounts and blogs, incendiary comments and fake posts on political forums.

Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was hoodwinked into unwittingly handing over more than 50,000 emails to the Russians. Information warfare and cyber warfare were used as political tools to advance the interests of people in Russia. Kudos to India for glitching NADRA result transmission system and portraying Pakistan’s `election’ as a blatant `selection’. Election Commission and NADRA made contradictory statements about delay in result announcement. Malicious articles by Bruce Riedel, and others tried to sully Army image though it had done a commendable job.

On page 144 of his autobiography Mein Kampf(My struggle), Hitler applauds his adversaries for successful propaganda. He lambast Germans `who thought that the work of propaganda could be entrusted to the first ass that came along, braying of his own special talents, and they had no conception of the fact that propaganda demands the most skilled brains that can be found’. Hitler’s propaganda theorems are quoted in American political-science text-books.

USA’s experience: `information and its influence upon masses is a well-known fact. Even in the pre-internet age, the propaganda, disinformation, psychotronics(pamphlets, handbills, photos, etc) was used in World Wars, and thereafter.  Information power, as funneled by computer explosion and telecommunications, is stronger than military, economic, social and political power.  An information revolution is already underway with increase in the world’s population of Internet users.  Recall flare-up of Arab Spring. Pakistan, too, has established an information corps.

The USA realised true potency of information warfare during operations in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and, above all in, Somalia. US General Leigh Armistead says, “General Aideed of Somalia manipulated the media to keep the militarily superior U.S. forces off-balance throughout most of the operations during 1993.  In fact, with the use of $ 600 video camera, Aideed changed forever U.S. foreign policy in the region.  It was Aideed a true information warrior, whose actions in Somalia, perhaps more than any other U.S. military operation, showed the innate power of information…By no means is Somalia on par with the United States in a comparison of power of any kind.  Yet because Aideed effectively used the mass media to his advantage, he in fact controlled the flow of events’.  Since that time, IO has evolved to serve as a model for future…international relations” . I quote from Information Operations: Warfare and the Hard Reality of Soft Power, Brassey’s, Inc., 2004, p. 16). This textbook, taught at US military academies, was produced in conjunction with the [US] Joint Forces Staff College and the National Security Agency, Washington D. C. Armistead reveals `not only the computers connected to the world-wide web but also the air-gapped stand-alone systems are vulnerable to the attack. (Armistead, op.cit. 115).

In 1999, President Clinton signed Presidential Decision Directive 68, titled International Public Information, which was an attempt to gain control over the external messages sent abroad from Washington (ibid., p. 5). Recall Musharraf’s nod to `with us or without’ message.

Lieutenant General S. Bogdanov, Chief of the General Staff for Strategic Studies (1991) points out, “Iraq lost the war before it even began…Iraqi troops were blinded and deafened…modern war can be worn by informatika and that is now vital for the U.S and USSR”. IW is waged not only against the enemy but also one’s own people (recall how Creel Committee, in just about six months.  Whipped up anti-German hysteria and later Red-Square McCarthyism).

Scientists of different countries are now studying not only the ability of information warfare to effect the values, emotions, and belief of target audiences (traditional psychological warfare theory), but also methods to affect the objective reasoning process of soldiers and civilians. That is affecting not only the data-processing capability of hardware and software but also the data-processing capability of the human mind. 

 American researchers are studying influence of information technology on the minds of civilians and soldiers (combat fatigue, youth violence, disobedience, etc.).  Books on social psychology contain research which indicates that a man can be motivated to do a crime or act against his own conscience or value system.

Inference: Fifth-generation war is believed to be a vague term. George Orwell (Politics and the English Language) suggested that that trying to find a clear-cut definition of fifth-generation or hybrid war  would reveal exactly that kind of vagueness, with the use of important-sounding,  pseudo-technological words to impress readers and convince them that this war is  being fought at a level the layperson cannot comprehend. India has proved that it understands dimensions of the fifth generation war or fake news. It knows how to apply its techniques to achieve its objectives. Time for Pakistan to wake up.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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South Asia

The sizzling “Political Matrix”; What will happen now?

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Politics in Pakistan is unfortunately leaving scars that will fade away not that easily. Islamabad today is wrapped in thick political clouds since past few weeks. These last few weeks have altered all assumptions and calculations in the national political matrix.  While the political landscape today is sizzling with intensity, aggression and strain the economy is shattering every day.  Who is to blame for? What will happen now? And will sanity prevail?

The entire edifice of the “conspiracy mantra” which even made PTI commit violation of the constitution stands demolished today. It was one of the worst advices Imran khan could ever get from his party among the list of many others. Sadly he made his entire politics captive to this conspiracy myth.  But today no one questions them on the impact it had on our foreign policy. US today feels betrayed, Saudis not ready to give aid, Chinese worried about their stakes and it continues.  So diplomatically this conspiracy mantra has damaged Pakistan like anything.

Imran Khan’s followers see nothing wrong in what he says and what he does. They absolutely reject all the facts, all the logics and embrace the rhetoric which is fuelling more today with a greater intensity. Imran khan is leading this campaign more aggressively. Khan very well knows that bringing large crowds to Islamabad will have an impact only if there is some kind of aggression.  The leaders on different occasions already hinted towards an aggressive March. He very well realizes that the figure of 2.5 Million is unrealistic but keeping in view the size of Islamabad, 0.1 Million crowd will even be perceived as a bigger crowd. So can he force the early elections at this stage? How will the government react to it? For instance let’s accept this narrative that the pressure of crowd aids PTI in getting an early election call and PTI wins it. So now what next? How will you deal with the mighty US? The economy is already sinking. You need aid to feed it but no one is providing you that. Then how will you stop dollar from going above 200? How will you provide relief from the soaring fuel prices when you won’t have money for a subsidy even? Forget about one lakh jobs and 50 lakh houses.

From the past few weeks we haven’t heard any PTI leader telling any economic plan or any diplomatic plan to revive relations. How will you deal with the IFI’s, World Bank & IMF when they’re all US controlled and as per your narrative you won’t accept “Amreeka ki Ghulami” or USA’s dictatorship.

So now what options the present regime has? The government would of course like to stop this building dangerous momentum of “Azadi March”. They would not like any big clash in Islamabad which results in bigger mess and chaos. The PDM government also has a much bigger fish to deal with, the same sinking economy. They came into power with this narrative to fix economy as former Premiere was unable to do it.  The key cabinet members made more than two different official visits.  The instructions are coming from London today as a decisive power so who will run the government? Who will run the system? Will the IMF aid? What will be the upcoming budget about? This upcoming budget is a bigger risk for this government along with an already announced to Long march call. Khan has already played a dangerous narrative especially with the blame of another conspiracy being made about his Life.   

The stakes, the narrative and the politics of every party is at risk today.  But above that, Pakistan is at risk. The dread is in the air. The end of May will be heated ferociously in Islamabad, whether politically or meteorologically.

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Sri Lankan economic crisis and the China factor

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After the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is the sole member of the United National Party (UNP), was sworn in as Sri Lankan Prime Minister on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Wickremesinghe will be holding the position of Sri Lankan PM for the sixth time. While the new Sri Lankan PM is a seasoned administrator, the task of restoring even a modicum of normalcy to the island nation’s economy, which is currently facing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 seems to be a Herculean task (Wickremesinghe has clearly indicated, that his first task will be ensuring the supply of electricity, diesel and petrol to the people).

 The grave economic crisis, which has resulted in acute shortage of food and essential commodities have brought ordinary people on the roads and demonstrations have resulted in violence and loss of lives (the Sri Lankan President had to declare a state of emergency twice first last month and then earlier this month). There had been a growing clamor for the resignation by President Gottabaya Rajapaksa but Wickremesinghe was sworn in after the exit of Mahinda Rajapaksa (protests have been carrying on even after the swearing in of Wickremesinghe)

During his previous tenure, Wickremesinghe had tried to reduce Sri Lanka’s dependence upon China, and in his current tenure he will be compelled to do the same. He had also been critical of the previous government for not approaching the IMF for assistance (Wickremesinghe has been repeatedly accused of being pro-west and having neoliberal leanings by many of his political opponents).

It would be pertinent to point out, that the PM had also batted for a coordinated regional response, by SAARC vis-à-vis the covid19 pandemic. The new Sri Lankan PM has also been an ardent advocate of improving ties with India.

While it is true, that Sri Lanka finds itself in the current situation due to economic mismanagement and excessive dependence upon the tourism sector (which faced a severe setback as a result of covid 19), it is tough to overlook the level of debts piled vis-à-vis China, and the fact that the Island nation was following China’s model of economic growth with a focus on big ticket infrastructure projects.

Another South Asian nation — Pakistan which witnessed a change last month where Shehbaz Sharif took over as Prime Minister, replacing Imran Khan, also faces daunting economic challenges.  Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were estimated to be a little over $ 10 billion on May 6, 2022 and the Pakistani Rupee fell to its all time low versus the US Dollar on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Shehbaz Sharif ever since taking over as PM has repeatedly reiterated the importance of Pakistan’s ties with China and the Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto in a conversation with his Chinese counterpart alluded to the same, with Pakistan’s Foreign office in a statement released after the conversation between Bhutto and Wang Yi said:

 “underscored his determination to inject fresh momentum in the bilateral strategic cooperative partnership and add new avenues to practical cooperation”.

 Yet, China has categorically said that it will not provide any financial assistance until Pakistan resumes the IMF aid program. Pakistan has been compelled to look at other alternatives such as Saudi Arabia and UAE, which have also said that without the revival of the IMF program aid will not be possible. Only recently, Chinese power companies functioning under the umbrella of the China Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) have threatened to shut down their operations if their dues (to the tune of 1.59 billion USD) are not cleared. China had also reacted very strongly to the terror attack on Karachi University in which three Chinese teachers lost their lives, this is the second such attack after 2021. China in recent years had also indicated to Pakistan, that it was not happy with the progress of the China Pakistan Economic (CPEC) project. The current government in Pakistan has repeatedly pointed to this fact.

One point which is abundantly clear from the economic crisis in Sri Lanka as well as the challenges which Pakistan is facing is that excessive dependence upon China has disastrous consequences in the long run. If one were to look at the case of South Asia, Bangladesh has been astute by not being excessively dependent upon China – it has maintained robust economic relations with India and Japan. Given the changing economic situation it is becoming increasingly important for developing countries, especially in South Asia, to join hands to confront the mounting challenges posed by excessive dependency upon China. US, Japan and western multilateral bodies and financial institutions need to find common ground and provide developing countries with an alternative economic narrative. It is also time for India along with other countries in the South Asian region to find common ground and focus on robust economic cooperation.

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Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis and Taliban’s obsession with women’s rights

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A mother and her child in the Haji camp for internally displaced people in Kandahar, Afghanistan. © UNICEF Afghanistan

The Taliban’s latest move to restrict the rights of women points to an obsession with women’s rights. This is in stark contrast to the neglect the regime is showing in addressing an ever worsening economic and humanitarian crisis. With Afghan’s facing poverty and starvation, the Taliban needs to focus on rebuilding the country, and this can only be achieved by respecting the rights of women.

This comes after the Taliban ordered all women to cover their faces in public, making it the latest restriction on the rights of women by the oppressive regime. The Taliban has previously forbidden women from travelling long distances unsupervised or working outside of the healthcare sector. The Taliban also faced international outcry earlier this year when they backflipped on a decision to allow women and girls to attend secondary school and university, making it impossible for women to receive an education.

The Taliban’s treatment of women is not a new development. During the regimes previous reign, between 1996 and 2001, it was described as the least feminist movement in the world. The Taliban forbade education, employment and access to healthcare delivered by men, while also making the veil mandatory and forbidding women to leave the home unless accompanied by a male family member. This was seen as the strictest interpretation of Sharia Law.

Contrary to claims made by the Taliban, the latest iteration of the movement is now attempting to do the same by systematically removing women from public life.

The difference this time is that, since the US withdrawal, the country has experienced an economic and humanitarian crisis. This is largely due to poor governance, the freezing of central bank assets by the US and the withdrawal of foreign aid in response to the Taliban takeover.

The situation is dire. Half the population, approximately 20 million people, are facing acute food insecurity, malnutrition, and hunger. Healthcare is notoriously difficult to access, and poverty is widespread, with women, persecuted minority groups and former government employees refused work and unable to provide for their families. The crisis is so critical that families are resorting to selling their children to delay starvation.

This raises the question of why the Taliban is so obsessed with restricting the rights of women when Afghanistan is falling apart around them. Strict adherence to Sharia Law aside, this attack of women’s rights is clearly to the Taliban’s detriment and the detriment of the people of Afghanistan. This position must change for the country to rebuild.

First and foremost, the actions of the Taliban and the humanitarian crisis is making the situation of women much worse, as women are one of Afghanistan’s the most vulnerable groups. The restriction of their rights has resulted in a lack of income and education, making women reliant on their families for food, water and sanitation products. This is meant that women are not only facing poverty and starvation, but they are also increasingly at risk of exploitation by family members and their communities.

Second, the removal of women from the workplace also affects Afghanistan as a whole. While the Taliban has allowed women to work in the health sector, many have not returned to work, dramatically reducing the number of doctors and nurses able to treat other women, particularly in rural areas. On top of this, women that have returned have not been paid, and are reliant on aid agencies to feed their families.

Outside of healthcare, women have been completely removed from the workplace, including in government, the judicial system, charities and aid agencies. Under the Karzai and Ghani governments the wages of women played an important role in providing for families through their increased workplace representation. With their right to employment suddenly removed, this has played a fundamental role in the causing poverty levels to rise throughout the country.

Third, the Taliban is desperate for international recognition, and that recognition and the aid that comes with it is tied to respecting human rights. The Taliban’s abhorrent treatment of women means that the frozen assets held by the US, and aid from the international community, will continue to be out of arms reach. This will leave the country short of much needed funds to avert the current crisis, leaving those most vulnerable, particularly women, at risk of starvation.

While the international community shares some blame for the humanitarian crisis by withholding assets and restricting the flow of aid, it is also the Taliban’s responsibility, under international law, to treat its citizens as per their human rights.

For this reason, if the Taliban is interested in allowing Afghanistan to rebuild, then it must realise that economic relief is directly tied to the human rights of women.

Allowing women to participate in society, through attending school and participating in the workforce, will have a net benefit for Afghan society by increasing education levels, workforce participation and, in the short term, reduce poverty levels.

Respecting the rights of women will also allow aid to flow into the country, helping alleviate the worst effects of the humanitarian crisis that has engulfed the country and will allow aid agencies to monitor human rights throughout Afghanistan.

This creates an opportunity for the international community to pressure the regime into respecting the rights of women. This will help to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and will go a long way to improving the lives of women and girls by giving them an opportunity to get an education, enter the workforce and participate in society.

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