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Hilal English

India’s Fake News Propaganda

November 2021

Fake news being produced and disseminated on a mass-scale is now a global challenge, but the infamy of running such a racket at the state level, and that too in the most crude, blatant and into your face style goes to the much-touted world’s largest democracy – India.
One would have thought that after the exposure of ‘India’s Fake News Factory’ by the EU DisinfoLab in December 2020, there would at least be a brief halt in the production of bogus content by the extremist Hindu state or some change in tactics. However, the operation of India’s “Fake News Factory” continues uninterrupted and unhindered, fanning hate, inciting violence and terrorism, and attempting to advance Indian interests by hook or by crook as the global power centers look the other way.
The EU DisinfoLab exposé – dubbed as Indian Chronicles – had uncovered an enormous fake news operation being run by India from Brussels and Geneva that produced and circulated content mainly targeting Pakistan. It focused on international institutions to advance Indian objectives through a web of resurrected dead media, dead think-tanks and NGOs that spread false content against Pakistan, according to the EU DisinfoLab.
Now, almost one year down the road, if on the one hand, India’s Fake News Factory is targeting Pakistan, on the other it is gunning for the religious minorities, especially Muslims, living within the boundaries of this Hindu-majority state, as well as the people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Indeed, the agenda of the extremist Hindu rulers is divisive, violent and hegemonic both within India, its occupied territories and the region.
Pakistani authorities have significant evidence of as to how Twitter and Facebook accounts operating from India created trends, which fomented sectarian, religious and ethnic hate with the sole aim to destabilize Pakistan. Fake news and other content was created and uploaded on shady websites specifically meant for Pakistan.

The Hindutva ideology of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remains the main force behind India's fake content operations, which are being carried out with two objectives. The first is to establish Indian hegemony in the region, for which Pakistan is the main target. The second objective is to promote Hinduism within India by squeezing the space for religious minorities, particularly Indian Muslims.

Before the Afghan Taliban took over Kabul in August this year, Indians also used Afghanistan to wage Twitter and Facebook assaults on Pakistan. A handful of Pakistan’s liberals settled in Western countries and some fringe elements within the country echoed those trends originating from India and Afghanistan either by design or default.
For example, in October 2021, Indian-managed or sponsored accounts created a #SanctionPakistan trend on Twitter in which Pakistan was held responsible for the victory of the Afghan Taliban, with fabricated stories made against Pakistan Armed Forces and spy agencies. Even India’s mainstream media joined this chorus as its anchorpersons and bands of analysts and commentators echoed a similar line in angry and frenzied voices.
In September, barely a month after the Afghan Taliban’s march into Kabul, one of India’s far-right and warmonger anchorpersons working for the pro-government news channel, Republic TV, claimed that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was operating from the fifth floor of Serena Hotel in Kabul. His concocted story claimed that the ISI officers were helping Taliban in capturing the Panjshir Valley. But, much to the dismay and embarrassment of the anchorperson, Kabul’s Serena Hotel turned out to only have two floors.
The same channel, along with a UK-based Afghan channel, Hasti TV, came out with a bizarre story that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) pounded Panjshir Valley to help Taliban seize it. Soon afterwards, other mainstream Indian channels, including Zee TV and Time Now, also started showing footage of the alleged airstrike which was in fact obtained from a video game.
India Today, considered a serious media outlet, aired a clip of an American F-15 calling it the "first visuals of a fighter jet, allegedly belonging to Pakistan, hovering over Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan." The same channel also showed a photograph claiming that it was a Pakistani F-16, which was shot down. But a U.S. website, military.com, busted this claim by sharing factual information that the photo was actually from an accident of a U.S. F-16 that crash-landed during a training flight near the Arizona-California border on April 24, 2018.
The abrupt cancellation of New Zealand’s cricket team’s recent Pakistan tour was also because of fake information being disseminated from India. 
One can quote example after example of such fake stories churned out by mainstream and new media outlets operating from India and their fronts and shells in various parts of the world. The production and sharing of fake content aimed at Pakistan is a sustained and organised effort rather than an occasional exercise.
Pakistani officials have already raised a red flag over the way social media accounts from India tried to spark sectarian tension and violence ahead and during the Islamic months of Muharram and Ramadan. These conspiracies were foiled by the Pakistani authorities before they could fully unroll and inflict harm to the country.
Similarly, it is not just the sectarian and religious card which the Indians try to use in an attempt to destabilize Pakistan, but they also remain focused on triggering provincial and ethnic discord through fake news and content. On this front, Pakistan’s biggest city and financial hub, Karachi as well as the erstwhile tribal areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan province remain the key targets.
Indeed, disinformation has emerged as the latest form of state-sponsored violence from India. 
Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, mainly ignore the avalanche of fake news generated from India because of their business interests. A recent research report based on the classified documents called the Facebook Papers, obtained by several U.S. publications, shows that this social media platform remains unable to control fake news, hate speech and inflammatory content, including celebration of violence coming out of India – its biggest market. 
The most worrying aspect is that both Twitter and Facebook managements know that their algorithms encourage users to watch violent videos, hate speeches and conspiracy theories aimed at inciting violence both within India and abroad. And all this is being done because of monetary considerations. 
The international community, especially the Western capitals, must connect the dots to find how fake news/content breeds terrorism and violence both within India and the region, particularly Pakistan. In many ways, the Fake News Factory of India and its operations remain as lethal, if not more, as that of terror financing.
The Hindutva ideology of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remains the main force behind India's fake content operations, which are being carried out with two objectives. The first is to establish Indian hegemony in the region, for which Pakistan is the main target. The second objective is to promote Hinduism within India by squeezing the space for religious minorities, particularly Indian Muslims.
Here again, propaganda is the first weapon of choice of the chauvinistic arm-chair Hindu warriors belonging to BJP or its allied extremists, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), that target Muslims and incite the masses against them by disseminating half-truths or outright lies. These Indian state-sponsored extremists use technologies to generate fake content and manage to ensure centralized control in order to spread disinformation. This disinformation emitting from the social media platforms and shadowy news websites is then legitimized by India’s mainstream media and the BJP and RSS leaders. 
Love jihad is one such theme – propagated both by the mainstream Indian press and social media – in which Muslim men are being accused of marrying Hindu women in a bid to expand their population. This propaganda has resulted in the victimization and even killings of countless Muslim men. 
Then, slaughtering of cows by Muslims is another storyline which sells like hotcakes among many Hindus. This has resulted in public lynching and murder of dozens of Muslims and manhandling and beatings of countless others.
The crackdown against Muslims, particularly in Bengal, in the name of curbing illegal immigration is yet another example in which India’s mainstream and social media has been operating as a vanguard to advance the extremist Hindutva agenda. Poverty-stricken Muslim families are being harassed, rounded-up, forced to leave their shanty homes, beaten and even killed in the name of operations against illegal immigrants.
The Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir is another heart-wrenching story where India’s Fake News Factory is working 24/7 not just to cover up the crimes of Indian security forces against Kashmiri Muslims, but also to cheer them on for all the atrocities and human rights abuses. As the extremist Modi-led government is trying to orchestrate demographic changes in this Muslim-majority state, the hostile Indian media are distorting facts and working overtime to paint the victims as troublemakers and terrorists.
While most of the world capitals have turned a blind eye towards these monstrous acts by India, some international non-governmental organisations working on media and human rights have been trying to expose the world’s biggest Fake News Factory and its human rights abuses. However, they have yet to give context that this whole state-sponsored and promoted fake news operation is responsible for fanning violence and terrorism within and outside India as well as threatening the regional peace and stability.
This is also intensifying polarization within India and sharpening as well as widening its fissures which remain detrimental even for this Hindu-majority state itself.
Pakistani authorities and state institutions, as well as its private media outlets, must work in tandem to expose India’s Fake News Factory at the international level and continue its efforts on a war footing to counter the propaganda and false content generated from its eastern border. 
In the 21st Century, fighting the enemy on the media front also falls in the ambit of national security. Yes, before the fighter aircraft, warships, tanks, missiles and soldiers move, the words would go to the battlefield first and may decide the outcome of a conflict even before the first shot gets fired.

The writer is an eminent journalist who regularly contributes for print and electronic media.
E-mail: [email protected], Twitter: @AmirZia1