National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf said on Wednesday that social media accounts operated from Afghanistan and India were being used to malign Pakistan as Afghan authorities failed to stop sweeping territorial gains made by the Taliban.
Addressing a press conference alongside Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Yusuf regretted the “global silence” in response to India propagating disinformation against Pakistan.
But he said the government would keep presenting analytics-based data to show the “information warfare” being faced by Pakistan.
“Afghanistan has a volatile situation now, but let me tell you Afghan and Indian accounts are being used to malign Pakistan,” he added, noting that ‘Sanction Pakistan’ was widely trended on Twitter to create a narrative against the country.
He clarified that he had just returned from the United States and there was no talk of sanctioning Pakistan.
“Attempts are underway to blame Pakistan for Afghanistan’s failures. As the Taliban offensive is increasing, there are campaigns to shift its blame on Pakistan.”
Yusuf said senior Afghan officials, including his Afghan counterpart, were involved in such campaigns, adding that the government would expose everything through data and not fake news. “We won’t expose fake news through fake news,” he commented.
The remarks came as the Digital Media Wing of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting launched a “Deep Analytics Report” on “Anti-State Trends”.
The 135-page report covering “PTM, Political Parties, Indian and Fake News Nexus” dissects what it terms anti-Pakistan trends from 2019 to 2021.
According to NSA Yusuf, the five top themes used by the elements involved in the propaganda are:
- Discredit the Pakistani government and especially Pakistan Army
- Fan sub-nationalism
- Target the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
- Keep Pakistan on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list
- Blame Pakistan for all the chaos in Afghanistan
‘Stop blaming the victim’
Yusuf regretted that a number of people inside Pakistan too unknowingly believed such trends to be genuine and started promoting them. “These hashtags are initiated through 40 per cent of bot activity,” he said.
The NSA also called out the Afghan army, saying the force that was raised 20 years ago had surrendered before the Taliban and excused itself from putting up a fight.
“It’s not our fault. You must look at the Afghanistan map and see the territories captured by the Taliban. They are mostly areas which are far off from Pakistan,” he stressed.
Yusuf said a “targeted, deliberate and conscious” disinformation campaign was being constantly run by accounts in India and Afghanistan, some of which were linked to the state apparatus, in order to defame Pakistan in the international arena.
“I must remind you that Pakistan is a victim of the war in Afghanistan. We suffered more than 80,000 casualties with $150 billion loss in economy, therefore, stop blaming the victim,” he added.
The NSA emphasised that the actual failures were in the 20 years of what happened in Afghanistan. “This [propaganda] will not work because the kind of data we are showing you through forensics is irrefutable,” he said.
He added that many in positions of power at the global level were busy trying to shift the blame and create fake news about Pakistan, “but we will respond to it through data analysis”.
He also urged Pakistanis not to believe everything on social media, asking them to check and verify if they saw a trend going in a particular direction.
He assured the nation that the country was safe and would remain safe, saying the government would not shy away from calling out whoever was involved in defaming Pakistan.
‘India generating fake Twitter trends helped by PTM’
Earlier, Information Minister Chaudhry said government teams had analysed Twitter trends from June 2019 to August 2021 and “it transpired that India led the top trends against Pakistan and the biggest player which helped India was PTM (Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement) and its activists.” He added that representatives of the Afghan government were also part of such activity.
Giving a breakdown of a few trends allegedly based on disinformation, Chaudhry said the PTM had initiated 150 trends against Pakistan in the last two years consisting of 3.7 million tweets — and it takes more than 1,000 hours to do tweets at this scale, he added.
He said the PTM had also actively supported Baloch activism and on Aug 14, 2020, the hashtag ‘#BalochistanSolidarityDay’ was trended with massive support from India, with around 150,000 tweets posted with the hashtag by Indian activists in a day.
The minister went on to say that a few other trends under hashtags ‘#PTMExposedFakeTerrorism’, ‘#DaSangaAzadiDa’ and #BalochistanSolidarityDay had over 200,000 tweets backed by India, while other trends were also started under titles such as ‘Tyrant Pakistan Army’, ‘Army behind target killings’, and ‘Pakistan Army Kill Pashtuns’ to defame Pakistan. “These trends were initiated by PTM and supported by India,” he added.
He noted that a new hashtag was now being trended titled ‘#SanctionPakistan’, which had at least 800,000 tweets, 20,000 among them from the PTM. Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh, NSA Rehmatullah Andar and Defence Minister M. Bismillah also participated in these campaigns, he said.
Chaudhry said another “interesting trend” seen was that Wikipedia administrators from India were “designing campaigns for PTM and also running their pages on the website”.
The proof of such activity was shown in EU Disinfo Lab’s report titled ‘Indian Chronicles’ that exposed 845 websites created to propagate disinformation about Pakistan, he recalled.
The minister said there were several instances of misleading tweets like on the occasion of the death of Baloch activist Karima Baloch in Canada, when it was alleged that ‘StateKilledKarimaBaloch’ but Canadian police later confirmed her death was a natural one. “But PTM did 20,000 tweets using that hashtag to target Pakistan,” he added.
Citing another example, Chaudhry said the hashtag ‘#RapistArmyinBalochistan’ was trended but it later turned out to be fake. The majority of the tweets were contributed from India and some from the US to this particular trend, he added.
He said a trend was also created alleging that former special assistant to the prime minister Zulfi Bukhari had visited Israel. “The trend was titled ‘Zulfi Imran Bajwa Israeli tikon (triangle)’, and it was created by the Israeli group Haaretz, and more than 10,000 tweets were done under it,” he added.
The minister said whether knowingly or unknowingly, representatives of the JUI-F and PML-N had also tweeted under the hashtag created to spread misinformation.
‘TLP tweets supported by India’
“We have seen TLP tweets are getting huge support from India,” Chaudhry told the presser.
Citing the analysis of his team, he said a thorough reading into the trends showed that foreign elements had huge contributions in spreading anarchy inside Pakistan. “When the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) started tweeting under a campaign, they got 400,000 tweets in 15 hours with a huge chunk of it [coming] from India and its Ahmedabad city,” he disclosed.
In yet another instance, he said the hashtag ‘#ExposeProQadianiMinisters’ attracted around 122,000 tweets, a majority of them posted by elements based abroad.
‘Misleading’ portrayal of Noor Mukaddam case
The minister said the Noor Mukaddam murder case was a criminal one but a campaign was run on social media claiming Pakistan to be an “unsafe country for women”.
He added that an Indian web channel, WION, had created several videos about the incident and they were subsequently propagated to malign Pakistan.