Usage of propaganda as a tool of “hybrid warfare” is not something new in human history. From Peloponnesian wars to the modern-day cold war’s misinformation has been a cost-effective means to an end. The ever-evolving nature of human interactions in a politically charged arena, may it be diplomacy or war, has had a greater influence on how strategically placed narrative building through propaganda can be utilized most effectively, in terms of achieving state level goals. In this regard, the sophisticated disinformation techniques have taken up the main-stream position especially after the advent of new technological advancements on both political and military strategic fronts and has become a weapon of choice for the adversaries against each other in the current century.
The last decade of the twenty first century has witnessed how the manipulation of information can be effectively used as a hybrid tool in shaping up the national election outcomes to molding international narrative into manipulated perceptions serving one’s own bias and agenda with the use of non-state actors/assets.
Currently, a nuclear charged neighborhood of South Asia where many international political fault lines and conflicts crisscross each other; Pakistan has remained a target of such warfare since 1971, when New Delhi’s hybrid strategy resulted in Indian military intervention which later resulted into succession of East Pakistan. Since then, Pakistan has been subjected to challenges of such nature targeting both civil and military institutions.
However, the most alarming revelation was made by a European group (DisinfoLab) first in late 2019 and then in 2020. EU DisinfoLab published a detailed report on Indian activities aggressively promoting misinformation through a mega disinformation network of Indian origins targeting Pakistan’s interest and image on a global scale since 2005.
Primarily, this kind of propaganda is based on generations of biased academic opinion and literature leaning towards the strong Pakistani institutions and fake news in-order to create an environment of disharmony inside Pakistan and to discredit and harm Pakistan’s image internationally. There are also numerous platforms from various parts of the world being used to target Pakistan. For example, Aqil Shah’s article titled: “Will Pakistan’s Military Lose its Grip on Power? Anger is Mounting at the Generals behind the Throne”, has been published on December 22, 2020 in a US magazine ‘Foreign Affairs’. From the social media opinions/ publications of Aqil Shah, it seems that he follows the line of so called ‘liberals’ having anti Pakistan/anti Pakistan Army radical views.
Recently, Pakistan Army and its intelligence service remained of special interest to these disinformation drives by the pro-India influence networks serving no agenda other than to malign the image of the former. The talk of the town has been Pakistan’s ongoing internal political situation where clearly the purpose is to create misleading literature and opinionated news portraying these institutions as usurpers of national power and that there is an on-going struggle between the national and sub-national political parties/elements and the armed forces of Pakistan; would have been otherwise defined as a recurrent characteristic of any developing state during its political transitions and realignments to the demands of the ever-evolving international system and its influences on internal political dynamics.
In this case, the most convenient choice for the predator states is the knowledge corridors of the developed world such as universities and think tanks. It is evident that the production of agenda-based knowledge, through which disinformation is channeled into international public opinion and policy circles, can only be done with the help of many ordinary thinkers and scholars that become the front-line soldiers in this unholy war against academic objectivity and professionalism.
The ongoing Indian malicious propaganda drive against Pakistan aiming to demean its state institutions is not much different in nature and design from the original sin. Many so-called scholars and opinion makers sitting in the western universities (USA & EU) keep feeding the anti-Pakistan/ anti-Pakistan army narrative to the social media, and in the form of international publications.
On a closer look into these free from objectivity pro-India and anti-Pakistan, academic and opinion making drives, it seems to echo a typical, stereotyped propaganda against state institutions of Pakistan written to please certain non-state actors (NSAs) backed by Indian wrested interests. A simple Google search can lead you to a plethora of published material to read about inauthentic content against Pakistani interests.
The goal of these networks is to misuse and exploit the credibility of these knowledge corridors while highlighting academic publications, in particular those publications that are inimical to Pakistan and serve Indian interests. While the objective is to damage the reputation of Pakistan and ultimately benefit from greater support from International Institutions/countries such as the EU and the USA against Pakistan. These subversive activities supported indirectly by India through non-state actors can be quite damaging for the peace and stability of the South Asian region, something this region has been working and on moving towards for decades for peace.
Certain elements of hybrid campaigns pose a serious threat to world peace by encouraging destabilization and military escalation while others compromise the core of academic professionalism. It is a need of the hour that Pakistan and other responsible states should take a serious notice of this misuse of academic and public space by these foreign funded elements and help introduce a mechanism that can effectively challenge and secure a global ban on the use of disinformation networks by malicious actors and/or their sponsor states.
The universities, likewise, can also play a vital role in curbing and refuting disinformation before it can do more damage by utilizing the tools for research and information dissemination available to them and culminating a culture that also promotes the same values.
More importantly, in this age of globalized information, every citizen must contribute and demand transparency of information, making sure that the information fed to them is not engineered and biased. Similarly, one should be able to identify biased opinions and shallow claims and play their role in exposing such opinion makers and scholars at national and international level for the greater good of international society.
Note: This article appeared in Geopolitica, dated 13 January 2021.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.