According to an investigation by the EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based NGO, a coordinated influence operation, to malign Pakistan’s reputation, is being led by the New-Delhi-based Srivastava Group and amplified by Asia News International (ANI), an Indian news agency.
In total, DisinfoLab researchers believe the operation, which has been running for the past 15 years, has employed more 750 fake media outlets, and more than 550 domain names in 119 countries to reinforce pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan feelings. While the websites have no direct links to the Indian government, researchers tracked them to a New Delhi-based organization called the Srivastava Group.
Dr. Wizarat, a noted scholar and expert on international affairs said India has been directly involved in such activities. “Pakistan and other regional victims of India’s policies must band together to expose the regime in New Delhi.”
China, she said, could play a very important role in putting India on the defensive in this case. When asked about the impact of DisinfoLab’s exposé on India’s global image, Dr. Wizarat bluntly said: “The revelation hammers India’s image as the self-proclaimed largest democracy.”
“Democratic regimes don’t indulge in such activities. All indicators, including the spread of disinformation, show that India is not a democracy.”
According to DisinfoLab, the influence campaign playbook includes fake media outlets in Brussels, Geneva and across the world. The NGO revealed that these outlets repackage and disseminate information via ANI and other obscure local media networks – in several countries.
The network, DisinfoLab said, regurgitates negative content about India’s regional opponents, particularly Pakistan.
In a report published by Politico’s Europe-focused site, DisinfoLab’s managing director explained the website’s aim was to amplify pro-India comments by Members of European Parliament (MEP).
EU Chronicle is the latest addition to the long list of websites that have sprinkled anti-Pakistan content online while constantly lobbying India’s interests. DisinfoLab investigators said EU Chronicle is a “new fake media site with fake journalists supposedly covering European affairs, which offers a platform for MEPs to sign pro-Indian articles.”
According to Euractiv’s report, 11 MEPs across a range of Parliamentary groups have penned or endorsed op-eds on the platform.
Commenting on the development from the Quincy Institute, a newly formed public policy think tank in Washington, D.C., Adam N Weinstein said: “At the very least the EU should open its own investigation and determine whether this misinformation campaign was supported by New Delhi. If not, then India should work with the EU to report misinformation.”
While DisinfoLab has not associated the campaign with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, the messaging, Weinstein said, reflects the Modi administration’s position.
“It is unclear whether the disinformation campaign is endorsed by the Modi administration, but the messaging clearly reflects BJP positions and is unlikely to be challenged without external pressure,” said Weinstein, who focuses on transitional justice, trade, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
On the campaign and its credibility, Weinstein said: “It is particularly disheartening that some of these disinformation accounts appropriated human rights causes inside Pakistan. However, it is also unfortunate that events inside Pakistan have enabled such a campaign to appear authentic.”
A long list of websites, DisinfoLab said, were used over a period of 15 years to discredit Pakistan. These websites and their social media handles were used to publish videos and articles highlighting human rights abuses in Pakistan. At the same time, these platforms published positive reports about India.
DisinfoLab’s investigation reveals that the names of these website staffers were ‘probably not real’. Some articles, the Brussels-based NGO said were also published anonymously.
According to DisinfoLab, the pro-India operation is busy creating informal working groups inside the Parliament, establishing fake newsgroups, as well as influencing parliamentary questions to the European Commission. All such efforts, the investigators at DisinfoLab said were aimed at portraying Pakistan as the villain and India as a defender of globally accepted values.
Many of these fake websites also used names similar to active and defunct news outlets to provide a veneer or credibility.
Reacting to the report, Syed Hassan Akbar, Senior policy specialist at the national security division said “This is one of the most serious expose of India run, managed and funded FAKE news, NGO and think-tank networks created since 2005 to malign Pakistan internationally, especially at the UN and EU. The world needs to be talking about this.”
When asked about how Pakistan should deal with Indian efforts to discredit it on the global stage, Dr. Wizarat unequivocally condemned the actions. “It’s about time Pakistan gets aggressive about this. We need to expose India on every international platform,” the Karachi-based scholar said.
The long list of fictitious NGOs and think tanks, DisinfoLab reported were weaving an alternative narrative. Particularly on issues close to the Indian State’s interest, DisinfoLab said the think tanks and publications were very active.
According to the Brussels-based NGO, 11 MEPs took part in an October 2019 trip to Jammu and Kashmir, sponsored by the New Delhi-based Srivastava Group.
Moreover, DisinfoLab researchers also revealed that several informal European parliamentary groups, including the South Asia Peace Forum, friends of Gilgit Baltistan, and Friends of Balochistan, were set up or chaired by MEPs who were actively involved in events organized by Indian Chronicles.
Commenting on the use of such platforms to modify global discourse on issues like Kashmir and Palestine, CJ Werleman, a journalist and analyst on conflict said:
“The extent to which Israel and India have influenced and corrupted global discourse in favor of their respective crimes in Palestine and Kashmir via Western think tanks, corruptible NGOs and media surrogates is almost immeasurable.”
During its investigation, the DisinfoLab also uncovered an entire network of coordinated UN-accredited NGOs promoting Indian interests and criticizing Pakistan repeatedly. At least 10 of them directly to the Srivastava family, with several other dubious NGOs pushing the same messages.
The deeper dive by DisinfoLab revealed a US-based NGO – accredited to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – which had become inactive in the late 1970s was resurrected in 2005.
Not only that, the organization’s former chairman Louis B. Sohn, attended a UN Human Rights Council meeting in 2007 and participated in an event organized by “Friends of Gilgit-Baltistan” in Washington D.C. in 2011 – that too after several years of his passing.
Most of these UN-accredited NGOs, DisinfoLab said work in coordination with non-accredited think-tanks in Brussels and Geneva. Several of them, including the European Organization for Pakistani Minorities, Balochistan House and the South Asia Democratic Forum were ambiguously created by the Srivastava group.
According to DisinfoLab, Indian Chronicles effectively benefited from the track record of these organizations while pursuing their own agenda: discrediting Pakistan and promoting Indian interests at UN conferences and hearings. While these organizations were fronting as NGOs, they were primarily working to manipulate the EU Parliament.
This article first appeared in The Express Tribune. Click here to go to the original