Pakistan’s vicious information war campaign against India has been triggered by three incidents: The Balakot attack of February 2019, the return of the BJP government in the May 2019 elections and the August 2019 revision of Article 370.
Pakistan’s longstanding assumption that the nuclear equivalence guaranteed that India would not retaliate against terrorist attacks was demolished by Balakot. The return of the BJP government to Centre signaled that India would continue to follow a muscular policy for the next five years. The abrogation of Article 370 demolished the centerpiece of Pakistan’s nationalism — “Kashmir banega Pakistan” (Kashmir will be Pakistan) — and raised apprehensions about India’s plans for Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK).
These developments have forced Pakistan to shift the emphasis of its anti-India strategy from fomenting terrorism supported by an information war component to an information war supported by terrorism.
Pakistan has two main instruments working alongside each other for the furtherance of this policy — the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). The ISPR is a one-stop-shop for the information war against India. Over the years, it has recruited thousands of youth, trained them in the mechanics of social media and used them to project anti-India themes.
The main Pakistani objective is to demolish “Brand India” by attacking its key components — an inclusive and secular society, democratic polity, decisive government, and a developing economic powerhouse. This has been done by trying to polarize society and disrupt social cohesion.
The key platforms for this strategy are Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook. A large number of fake social media accounts, especially on Twitter, have been created. Even though Twitter is not the most popular platform in terms of numbers in either India or Pakistan, it is perhaps the most effective form of instant communication. Pakistan has developed malicious narratives embellished with fake audio and video clips.
Internal developments and dissent in India have been manipulated, packaged and used to develop a narrative damaging India’s social fabric. Key strategies include India disenfranchising Muslims, and the “fascist Indian government’s” Hindutva supremacist ideology.
On Jammu and Kashmir, the key themes are: Kashmir is a “disputed territory” awaiting solution under the UN resolutions; India needs to talk to Pakistan to resolve the issue and since India refuses to talk, there must be international intervention; Kashmiris want “azaadi”; Kashmiris are waging a jihad against India; the Indian Army is violating the human rights of Kashmiris.
Recently, they are propagating that India is preparing a false flag operation and genocide of Muslims in Kashmir.
What is interesting is that the same anti-India narrative is repeated ad nauseam from every medium and platform — whether it is politicians like Imran Khan or Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the ISPR, or print, electronic and social media.
One indicator of Pakistan’s strategy is available in the Pakistan Army’s Green Book 2020. An article by Lt. General Raza Muhammad Khan (Retd.) states: “With the proliferation of the internet, nowadays nothing can escape exaggeration, distortion and fabrication to manipulate perceptions on crucial issues of peace and security.”
Another article by one Farzana Shah, states: “A single video clip or picture can change the perception of India, which it has built so painstakingly over the years.”
For India, there has to be a relentless vigil and battle against this campaign just as there has been against terrorism fomented by Pakistan. Even though the Indian polity is strong, such persistent venomous attacks can temporarily damage our social fabric. We must not allow ourselves to fall prey to such machinations to polarize society, even temporarily.