Tuesday April 23, 2024

Afghan, Indian social media accounts behind anti-Pakistan disinformation campaign: NSA

Moeed Yusuf says many accounts "have links to the state"; efforts underway to shift blame on Pakistan for failures in Afghanistan

By Web Desk
August 11, 2021
Afghan, Indian social media accounts behind anti-Pakistan disinformation campaign: NSA

National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf on Wednesday  shed light on the "information warfare" Pakistan is faced with,  which has been fuelled by anti-state disinformation campaigns being run by Afghan and Indian social media accounts.

Yusuf shared data pertaining to anti-Pakistan social media trends that were launched between 2019 and 2021, the majority of which have been traced to India and Afghanistan, with the aim of running a "targeted, deliberate and conscious disinformation campaign against Pakistan"

He said he wishes to speak of Afghanistan in particular, where the Taliban and the government are at war.

He said the government's social media teams and think tanks have worked extensively to gather evidence that shows that social media accounts "from Afghanistan and India are being used repeatedly to malign Pakistan".

Yusuf said that most recently a #SanctionPakistan trend spread online and it merited an investigation to see whether it was organic.

The NSA went on to say that besides this, there are efforts to blame Pakistan for all the failures that accumulated in the 20-year-long war in Afghanistan.

He said that as US troops began to withdraw from Afghanistan and the Taliban took control of cities and provincial capitals, "there was a growing narrative against Pakistan with the aim to save themselves from being blamed for their own failures".

"And it is very unfortunate that some high level officials in the Afghan government are part of this, some of which have come forth as well," he said.

He said "a lot of accounts have links to the state" and through India as well "a very well coordinated campaign is being run against Pakistan".

"We will expose all these truths, not through fake news but through data and facts. We will form a narrative to tell the world what is being done with Pakistan."

The NSA then proceeded to show a few slides, one of which was a timeline from 2019 onwards, and others, which showed how, as matters grew more intense in Afghanistan, hashtags against Pakistan popped up.

Yusuf said there are five broad themes that can be seen in the trends:

  1. Discredit Pakistan government, and especially Pakistan Army.
  2. Fan fictitious sub-nationalism.
  3. Directly target CPEC through hybrid warfare.
  4. Push Pakistan into the FATF blacklist.
  5. Blame Pakistan for the chaos in Afghanistan.

'30-40% activity comes from bots'

The NSA said that an important thing to note is the use of "bots" which push trends artificially.

"Unfortunately, within Pakistan, people who are unaware, who think this is taking place organically, end up retweeting these hashtags. They think this is a natural, organic thing.

"A lot of the videos, let me tell you, are five years old, 10 years old, but because they suit the international media's narrative right now, are being spread as if they are current," Yusuf said.

He said that 30-40% of the activity is through these bots.

The #SanctionPakistan trend

Speaking in greater depth of the #SanctionPakistan trend, he said that he has just come from the US, and "neither is there such talk, nor is it true or without any merit".

"So I urge our people to please know this: there is no reason for such a thing. We have positive discussions underway with every important country."

He said that around 9th and 10th August this trend saw a sharp rise and people were left shocked but "the truth is that the US, that had invested a trillion dollars into the war, simply wished to no longer fight it".

"So is this our problem, or theirs?"

Yusuf also rubbished the notion that Pakistan has been supporting the Taliban, saying that "if one looks at the areas they have captured, they are so far away from here that it would take at least 10 days to get there".

"So please, there must be some sense before one talks about such things."

'Targeted, deliberate, conscious' disinformation campaign against Pakistan

Yusuf then sought to address the media in English for international audiences.

"We have just summarised for the audience and the press, a targeted, deliberate and conscious disinformation campaign against Pakistan, directly linked to accounts in Afghanistan and India, some unfortunately linked to the state apparatus which are constantly trying to malign Pakistan in the international arena, discrediting the Pakistan government and Army, talking about fictitious sub-nationalism, targeting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and trying to put all blame of what is happening in Afghanistan on Pakistan," said the NSA.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I must remind you Pakistan is a victim of the war in Afghanistan: 80,000 plus casualties, $150 billion dollars lost in the economy. Stop blaming the victim. The failures are in the 20 years of what happened in Afghanistan. Please look inward. This will not work. Because the kind of data we are now showing you, through data analysis and forensics, is irrefutable," he continued.

"We will keep doing this because we know what kind of disinformation campaign is happening just to absolve the Afghan leadership of their own failures and those who put in billions and billions of dollars into Afghanistan," Yusuf asserted.

He said this information warfare is a "key pillar" of the hybrid warfare against Pakistan but the country now has the capability to demonstrate "without any doubt" what is happening against Pakistan.

'Real tragedy' in all this

Yusuf said the "real tragedy" in all of this is that the world, rather than focusing on putting all its efforts being a political settlement in Afghanistan — which is Pakistan's priority and effort — "many in positions of responsibility" are trying to "shift the blame", trying to create such disinformation campaigns.

'Please do not believe everything on social media'

He urged his fellow Pakistanis to not believe everything on social media. "Please check and verify before you see a trend going in a particular direction."

"Our security forces, security apparatus and government is vigilant and InshaAllah we are safe, and will remain safe. There is nothing to worry about but this fake news disinformation campaign is going on and we will not shy away from pointing out who is doing this," Yusuf ended by saying.

'India biggest hand behind anti-state social media trends'

Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry, meanwhile, shed light on India's involvement in the disinformation campaign.

"India's is the biggest hand in the social media trends against Pakistan," he said, adding that it used fake social media accounts for the purpose.

Citing the example of Senior Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party leader Usman Kakar, who he said died due to a brain hemorrhage, the minister said that India ran fake social media campaigns against his death as well.

"Some 2,000 tweets were posted from Indian accounts over his death," Chaudhry said.

He also spoke of how PTI member Zulfi Bukhari was accused of covertly visiting Israel. "Israel ran a social media trend regarding this which saw 10,000 tweets posted."

The information minister said that the PML-N media team and JUI-F "also participated in this trend with full zeal".

He said that all the discord between groups in Pakistan stems from "foreign involvement".

"Social media accounts from abroad are involved in attempts to fan sectarian hatred."

Chaudhry further said that using the Noor Mukadam murder, Indian TV channels uploaded several hours of videos in a bid to defame Pakistan.

"A massive media war has been launched against Pakistan through fake news," he warned.