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Pakistan’s info war

By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army


Why Pakistan’s information war succeeds in India is not only because of exploitation of communications and social media and is using the religious card in Kashmir Valley, but it also has a cross-section of pro-Pakistan lobby in India. After some Hurriyat leaders openly admitted to have taken money from Pakistan to stoke unrest in Kashmir Valley, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) raided 26 places across Kashmir, Delhi and Haryana, recovering letterheads of Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), laptops, mobile phones, gold jewellery and more than Rs 2.5 crore in cash. 18 raids were in Kashmir Valley itself. FIRs have been registered albeit NIA reports on terror financing have been there for past few years without much follow up. In early May 2017, TV channels had aired how Pakistan’s ISI had routed Rs 70 lakhs or more to stone-pelters in J&K through one single Hurriyat leader This came on the heels of confessions by two ISI agents captured recently that they received money regularly from Abdul Basit, Pakistan's envoy to India. Then we have politicians in India who are on ISI blackmail because of having routed black money via hawala through Dawood Ibrahim’s ‘D’ Company which is a franchisee of ISI.

According to a serving Rajya Sabha MP, some 15 Indian politicians are in the ISI net because of this reason. In addition, there is cross-section of media in India that are clearly working against Indian interests – some supported by opposition parties. There has been consistent effort by Pakistan to infiltrate some educational institutions where anti-India slogans and activities have been surfacing. Certain media and oppositions support to elements like Umar Khalid and his entourage screaming “Aazadi” slogans directly helps Pakistan in building its narrative. A recent Pakistani Parliament (Senate) Committee Report on the “Policy guidelines in the view of the latest situation developing between India and Pakistan” reveals that Pakistan had decided to fight the war through a fifth column in India, and it appeared to be winning. Intransigence by the Centre and State has led to Wahabism influence in the Kashmir Valley. The number of mosques controlled by Wahabis including the Ahle Hadith has reportedly gone up quite substantially in the last 10-15 years as they have almost doubled from around 1,000 mosques to around 2,000 with most of the youth opting for them than the traditional Kashmiri Sufi shrines. The influence of the Wahabis has also changed the nature of the insurgency in Kashmir as from seeking freedom for Kashmir, the narrative has changed with terrorists fighting for the cause of Islam. The Centre and the State apparently have done nothing towards de-radicalization, preferring to be bystanders. In March this year, Ajit Kumar, India's Permanent Representative at the UN told the Human Rights Council in Geneva, "The basic reason for disturbance in most part of Jammu and Kashmir is the cross-border terrorism aided and abetted by Pakistan”. While that is right and will continue to happen, India has done little to stymie the spread of radicalization in the Kashmir Valley. Loud speakers atop mosques have been blaring messages to radicalize youth against India.

ISIS and Pakistani flags and banners are displayed with increasing periodicity. Electronic and social media is exploited very well by the Pakistani military and their proxies. Last year, Pakistan Senate passed a resolution highlighting their renewed Kashmir policy, which stressed on reaching out to Modi haters, using media, and importantly, stoking communal tensions between various ethnic groups in India exploiting castes, particularly Dalits. So, Pakistan has created and exploiting multiple fake websites to burn India in caste wars – extending and multiplying the ‘thousand cut’ policy into the media domain while continuing to use the mainstream media as before. A narrative is being built that Pakistan is doing nothing in J&K and all the unrest is because of the Centre. To top this, you have goof ups like a prominent political party releasing its party booklet on June 3, 2017 showing J&K as ‘Indian occupied Kashmir’. Pakistan is going full hog on its info war. The so-called banned outfits are all active and available to every user on the social network. Investigations undertaken by Pakistan’s ‘Dawn’ in April 2017 revealed 41 of Pakistan’s 64 banned outfits are present Facebook in the form of hundreds of pages, groups and individual user profiles. User profiles linked to these banned outfits indicates open support of sectarian and extremist ideology. The more organized outfits appear to have ‘official’ media cells sharing press releases and religious sermons or political speeches as both audio and video. Such pages and groups also share links from websites, blogs or Twitter accounts that appear to be run by members of these outfits. Here the question is what is India’s counter to Pakistan’s info war? Do we have a plan beyond ‘blocking’ the internet and WhatsApp etc? Who is responsible to for waging info war on Pakistan, the terrorists and the jihadis? The British army has created a special force of Facebook warriors, skilled in psychological operations and use of social media to engage in unconventional warfare in the information age. This is the 77th Brigade, based at in Hermitage, near Newbury, in Berkshire, with strength of some 1,500 personnel formed in units drawn from across the army. It is responsible for non-lethal warfare; against a background of 24-hour news, smar-tphones and social media like Facebook and Twitter, this brigade works to control the narrative in hybrid warfare. India disbanded the Army’s Information Warfare Brigade.

However, we must acknowledge that the hybrid wars that we are contending with are not waged against the military but the whole nation. Consequently, the response too must necessarily be at the national level, even though the military must take its own share of responsibility in this sphere. Look around and see the major role that information and psychological warfare is being played worldwide by US, Russia, China, UK and of course Pakistan to control the narrative in furtherance of respective national interest. Brute force and physical actions can hardly suffice to win conflicts. What India urgently needs is a ‘National Information Warfare Department’ for overall coordination and guidance in waging info war including psychological operations. In addition, ‘Information and Psychological Warfare Units’ comprising experts from different disciplines are needed at national level, as well as such units within the military.