Pakistan’s hostile activities are continuing since its inception and have become so common that now they hardly get any prominent space in the newspapers. The singleness of purpose of the Pak authorities in this regard is remarkable, though understandable for remaining in power. The recent acts deserve attention of the Indian security and diplomatic establishment as these are aimed at damaging the image of India and providing incitement to minorities for violence when India is engrossed in the war against COVID-19. There are three planks of Pak information warfare.

First, while Pakistan uses several multinational forums against India, the OIC has remained its principal instrument for its misinformation campaign. Whenever it needs to manipulate facts, it uses this organisation as its mouth piece. Pakistan hopes that its member states by sanctioning trade and diasporic ties with India, can pressurise the latter to change its Kashmir policy. After the removal of Article 370, the Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir on the side-lines of the 74th session of UN General Assembly in New York, in September 2019 expressed “deep concern” over the worsening human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir at the behest of Pakistan. Recently, the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Twitter posts accused India for what it called “unrelenting vicious #Islamophobic campaign in #India maligning Muslims for spread of #COVID-19 as well as their negative profiling in media subjecting them to discrimination & violence with impunity.”

Second plank is circulation of false videos and images on social media by projecting ‘maltreatment to Muslims in India’. There is a long list for this including its submission to UN the images of victims in Syria depicting it as Indian Kashmiris. There had been several cases in the past when the videos and images of other countries were posted to allege ill-treatment to Muslims. False twitter accounts are also used to indicate India that Gulf countries are unhappy over approach towards minorities and could expel the Indians from their countries. On 22nd April, a Twitter handle with the name “H.H. Mona bint Fahd al Said” the Omani princess, tweeted the following, Oman stands with its Muslim brothers and sisters in India. If the Indian government doesn’t stop the persecution of Muslims, then one million (Indian) workers working in Oman may be expelled. I will definitely take up this issue with the Sultan of Oman; It was also tagged to the Indian PM. Significantly, the Pak Foreign Minister Mahmud Qureshi- a known India baiter, made public statement that he would take up the matter with the Government of Oman. Later when the Omani princess learnt about it, she clarified that this tweet was not issued by her and that the offensive post published through an account impersonating me. It was later found out that the Pak Army had prepared it.

Indian intelligence had learnt in the beginning of this year that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), headed by Major General Asif Ghafoor, had been recruiting youth to spread propaganda against India on social media and had recruited over 1,000 interns in one year. They are rewarded when their tweets get re-tweeted. They have been given a detailed list of social media handles of influential Indians and have been asked to set a different narrative about Indian leaders, soldiers and bureaucrats. While some of them get noticed for fake accounts, others remain unchecked and continue to do the damage. Last year in August, the Indian Army had identified 200 fake twitter handles that had been impersonating senior army officers including the then Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat. These twitter handles had their photographs in uniforms. These handles have been spewing venom against India and instigating violence and anti-national sentiments. This activity has been intensified since the anti-CAA stir. The communal violence was mainly instigated by these social media accounts.

Third plank is the use of minorities in India for nefarious propaganda and activities. On media it is projected through such accounts that not only the Tablighi Jamaat followers but all Muslims are harassed. The minority community gets influenced by falsehood and disinformation and start agitating against the government. The political parties who are unhappy over the loss of power support them keeping in view that they form the major chunk of their vote bank. The growing popularity of the Modi is unnerving them. Prominent themes are maltreatment given to the owners of Taj Mahal, Lal Qila and Qutub Minar. Some former senior bureaucrats join them in the hope that when the Opposition forms the government, they would be amply rewarded. The fact that a few positions occupied by former bureaucrats have been elevated to the rank of Cabinet Ministers must be appearing highly tempting to them.

The manner in which our minorities are getting influenced by such false propaganda is raising communal tension. This demands an effective counter strategy to maintain communal harmony. Three aspects should be kept into our calculus while formulating a strategy. First is the law of the few people who, in one way or another, have high standing within certain communities, inspire certain forms of behaviour, set examples that others seek to emulate and are critical in spreading (mis)information. They can belong to a political party or a religious group. Second is the manner in which packaging of information or misinformation is done. Under certain conditions they become irresistible. Certain kinds of ideas also prove attractive, either because they appear to solve problems or because they tap into alienation and despair and offer an outlet for the attendant rage that often goes with this. Third is power of context. Like epidemics, agitations are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of times and places in which they occur.

Pragmatism calls for taking urgent steps. The implication of Pak information war should be treated as the new frontier of intelligence. This should indicate the need for countering certain themes in timely manner. Roping in ‘influencers’ from the minority community for countering the misinformation should be given a greater push.