Thursday April 18, 2024

Indian disinformation campaign against Pakistan

By Zahoor Khan Marwat
December 14, 2020

A major scandal recently broke out when an extensive report was published recently by EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based non-governmental organization. The findings of the damning report show how 10 defunct yet UN-accredited NGOs were revived in order to influence the EU and the UN Human Rights Council. It also uncovered over 750 fake local media outlets used to spread disinformation.

According to reports appearing online, the anti-Pakistan media operation was launched by the Srivastava Group in 2005 and has been amplified by ANI (Asian News International) in recent years. The 15-year-long Indian Srivastava Group led campaign “aims to reinforce pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan feelings in India. Internationally, the campaign envisions improving the perception of India by receiving support from EU and UN organizations and by damaging the reputation of Pakistan.”

Termed Indian Chronicles, it says: “The Srivastava Family also created the EU Chronicle, a fake media outlet with counterfeit journalists. The EU Chronicle primarily claimed to cover European affairs. It also invited MEPs in individual capacities to write about developing world trends. However, the personal views expressed by the MEPs were distorted by the Indian Media that presented the ideas as the official narrative of the entire EU. Simply put, Indian news coverage was putting words into the mouth of the EU for years. Of these NGOs, ten were associated with the UN Human Rights Council. Several NGOs were officially provided floor at the UN on behalf of the Human Rights Council. All these NGOs were tasked to lobby against Pakistan by highlighting fabricated incidents of human rights violations. This was done while sweeping the real happenings of human rights violations in Indian occupied Kashmir under the carpet.

“Similarly, the Srivastava Group also concocted the news of the Members of the European Parliament’s (MEPs) trip to Kashmir. The Indian media presented this visit as the official EU delegation. However, in reality, the MEPs did not travel on behalf of the European Parliament.”

It was revealed, “The Srivastava Group was already running reports of fake international media outlets and NGOs against Pakistan to sow seeds of hatred against the country when the Asian News International (ANI), the Indian press agency, joined in. The Srivastava Family created 550 fake online media outlets, from which ANI copy-pasted content.”

The report found some members of the European Parliament (MEPs) had engaged directly with the Indian network through various channels such as “contributing to their media coverage, participation in conferences or by speaking in the European Parliament on behalf of their cause.” One individual mentioned in the report is Madi Sharma, who also goes by the name Madhu Sharma, a British member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) since 2002. She has written for EP Today and the New Delhi Times as their “EU correspondent.”

Gary Machado, EU DisinfoLab's managing director, was quoted as saying: "What we learned in this investigation is that it is possible to turn EU Institutions into unwitting actors of a 15-year influence operation. With lobbying and fake media, Indian Chronicles [the name DisinfoLab has given to the operation] has been successful in building a strong sense of a constant official support of the EU to Indian interests, reaching millions in South-Asia."

He explained how the website works to distort content. For example, a pro-Indian comment spoken in a personal capacity by a single MEP is modified to sound like the official voice of the whole Parliament. "When dozens of Indian media write that 'EU backs India's surgical strikes' based on a single MEP position, we believe it should not be neglected simply because the disinformation takes place far away from the European Union," Machado said.

According to an online report, “The articles with real bylines include European lawmakers, either with or without their consent. Overall, 11 MEPs' names appear on op-eds for EU Chronicle, most of them critical of Pakistan and China, India's other big rival. Two of them, Grzegorz Tobiszowski (Polish, ECR) and Giuseppe Milazzo (Italian, EPP), denied having written the opinion pieces. Tobiszowski "has never been interviewed by EU Chronicle on any topic and hasn't provided them any comments whatsoever," his office said.

Milazzo, whose name appears on an article criticizing Prime Minister Imran Khan's policy towards its minority community, said he was not asked to write anything for the site. "We're not really involved in Pakistani issues," an official from his office said. "I don't know how they could quote us without saying anything at all."

Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella (S&D), whose name appeared on an op-ed calling on EU leaders not to attend the G20 conference in Saudi Arabia, said he did not write the quotes attributed to him in the article.

According to one Pakistani publication, the non-governmental European group in its initial findings earlier in November 2019 had uncovered a network of 265 fake news outlets managed by an Indian network to influence the EU and the UN with content critical of Pakistan.

In all, as details of Indian disinformation campaign emerged, it showed India had no roots to talk on certain issues. It emphasized the vengeful nature of the Indian-backed operation. The disclosure was an embarrassing reminder to India-backed operation that its cover was blown up and they could not wrap themselves in cloak of lies and rhetoric. They cannot now extract morsels of propaganda from the fabricated reports. It is the end of the story of manipulated tactics that were perfected but have now been exposed before the whole world.