Earlier this month, the Brussels-based EU DisinfoLab published an investigative report titled Indian Chronicles, which revealed a staggering network of disinformation and propaganda against Pakistan.
The report revealed an operation that spanned 15 years in 116 countries, featuring more than 500 fake media and a dozen fake NGOs. This network has endeavored to promote a pro-India and anti-Pakistan discourse in the European Union and the United Nations.
In addition, the report implicated Asian News International (ANI), an Indian news agency, for covering and disseminating false information produced by the network. While the report was careful not to tie the network to the Indian state, there is no doubt that such a large enterprise could and would only exist with the knowledge of the government.
The revelations led Pakistani nationalists and supporters of his security establishment to cheerfully remind opponents: “we told you.” If only critics were not immersed in blissful ignorance, if they realized the scale of the security threats facing the besieged Pakistani state, they would fire the military and intelligence services.
These claims have repeatedly deployed a rhetorical stick – that of “fifth generation war”. The basic idea behind this term is that in the modern age, wars are not fought by armies or guerrillas, but in the minds of ordinary citizens.
A “fifth generation war”?
Perceptions, information, propaganda, and “fake news” are all tools in this ostensibly modern form of warfare. In the wake of the EU DisinfoLab report, it has been argued that Pakistan is facing a new type of holistic warfare, which encompasses everything from bombs to robots.
One problem with this logic is that, at least as far as international relations or international security specialists are concerned, “fifth generation warfare” is not a widely accepted idea. Searching the content of five reputable peer-reviewed journals on international relations or international security – International Security, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Peace Research, Journal of Strategic Studies and Security Studies – the term ‘fifth generation war’ did not appear in the last five years, during which time these journals printed about 5 million words between themselves. It would be curious if such a revolutionary concept escaped the eye of experts in the field.
In all likelihood, this lack of academic attention to fifth-generation warfare is due to its limited validity. The term evokes another oft-repeated refrain, that of “hybrid warfare,” which has become popular among the transatlantic security community to describe Russian foreign policy and alleged acts of sabotage by its intelligence services.
As with “fifth generation warfare,” critics say “hybrid warfare” was in many ways a meaningless term, associating disparate elements of war with the practice of diplomacy.
All war is political, but all politics is not war
In truth, terms such as “fifth generation warfare” and “hybrid warfare” are often used to lend a veneer of strategic gravity to ultimately bland analysis. Contrary to such haunting arguments, the practice of amplifying fissures in opposing societies was well established by the turn of the 20th century. Indeed, since the end of World War II, these tools have become a standardized part of counterintelligence tactics.
For example, the Soviet Union and the United States sponsored propaganda and disinformation against each other during the Cold War. The United States eagerly broadened the reach of its propaganda and psychological operations under President Dwight Eisenhower and continued to build an impressive infrastructure of institutions, such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, which were dedicated to this task.
For its part, the USSR liked to focus on racism in the United States. Propaganda posters often juxtaposed symbols of American democracy, like the Statue of Liberty, with emblems of slavery, racism, and domestic terrorism, like the Ku Klux Klan or the police.
It is not simply a question of challenging the nomenclature of the “fifth generation war”. By viewing disinformation and managing perceptions as tools of war rather than as “normal” politics and diplomacy, states risk exaggerating the gravity of the threats they face. Although all war is politics, as Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz pointed out, not all politics is war.
Hard power vs soft propaganda
Above all, the main difference between real warfare equipment and the tools of so-called “fifth generation”, “hybrid” or “gray zone” wars is that the former are weapons, but the latter must be militarized. – and that too with the connivance and cooperation of the target.
When India acquires jets, missiles or frigates, Pakistan has no choice but to darkly prepare for their use. Pakistan has an obligation to deter or neutralize these instruments because they can kill human beings regardless of their social or political background. As such, it is best to do it yourself.
In contrast, India’s use of tools such as disinformation is not in itself dangerous. On the contrary, it requires the participation of Pakistan. Foreign actors around the world push and arouse the internal vulnerabilities of opponents, but they find fertile ground only in situations where the government has created, deliberately or unintentionally, a vacuum for armed opposition and foreign interference.
In the case of Pakistan, it is indisputable that innocent Baluchis are arbitrarily imprisoned, tortured and murdered by Pakistani security forces. It is not an Indian invention.
Pakistani chief justices have precipitated national crises over the Baloch missing people. Pakistani journalists have lost their lives while reporting on missing people from Baloch. Pakistani human rights groups have called for treason labels to highlight the Baloch missing. And Pakistani political parties have made their voices heard in support of the Baloch missing people. When propaganda is based on real grievances, as with Soviet targeting of race relations in the United States, it resonates.
The real Indian threat
When it comes to security threats, it is important to separate the wheat from the chaff. Just because the threat of disinformation is not a “war” does not mean that Islamabad has no bone to pick with India.
India’s aggressive foreign policy under the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been unsettling. Besides its assertive nationalism in Kashmir, New Delhi’s support for Baloch separatism and terrorism has only worsened tensions in South Asia, already the most geopolitically dysfunctional region in the world.
Given its limited scope, the EU DisinfoLab report did not go so far as to address Indian geopolitical behavior more generally. But by highlighting how India’s news media is so closely aligned with its government, especially when it comes to foreign relations, the report is useful for Pakistani diplomacy.
The symbiosis between the Indian government and its media is not new. Just eighteen months ago, India and Pakistan found themselves in the midst of a dangerous crisis that risked nuclear war. In these nervous and tense times, the Indian media, according to a study by the Polis Project, “has largely taken on the role of an amplifier of government propaganda”, regurgitating baseless claims and pouring jingo gasoline into a fire. raging nationalist.
Likewise, the EU DisinfoLab report presented evidence that India’s “private” mainstream media is in many ways a branch of the Indian state. In doing so, he strengthened Pakistan’s position regarding the degradation of India’s national political institutions. India’s reputation as a democracy, so crucial to its soft power, has already been damaged under Modi. This report does not help.
Of course, the West has good relations with India not because of its democratic status, but rather because of its potential to balance China and fuel economic growth. It would be unreasonable to expect this report to fundamentally change that trajectory.
But at the very least, Islamabad has been given ammunition for a diplomatic argument that he has expressed repeatedly since Imran Khan’s rise to power: this is not your grandfather’s India. It is dangerous and demagogic. Wake up before it’s too late.
The most certain result of the report
Regardless of its effects on the Indo-Pakistani dynamic, EU DisinfoLab is to be commended for having meticulously uncovered such an extensive network of disinformation. Unfortunately, the most certain consequence of the publication of this report will be harmful.
It is not the authors’ fault; they are cautious enough in offering caveats that urge policymakers to hear what the Baloch and Pashtun organizations have to say, even though those voices are amplified by New Delhi. The report explicitly states that “our investigation is in no way a judgment on the human rights situation in Pakistan, nor should it serve to undermine the credibility of minority movements in Pakistan.”
Unfortunately, this is exactly how this report will be used in the Pakistani discourse. Pakistan’s current “hybrid regime” – a full-fledged military regime concealed in the thinnest of civilian facades – has severely restricted the space for journalists, political parties, dissidents, Baloch nationalists, human rights leaders. Pashtuns and others. Invoking national security and nefarious views abroad is the oldest trick in the establishment book when it comes to crushing dissent and sidelining the opposition.
The EU’s DisinfoLab has given Pakistan’s national security establishment an edge. It’s a card he’ll love to play against both India and the domestic challengers.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.