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Though many might say that the nature of war doesn't and cannot change, war has altered in terms of its nature and character. Propaganda, as a tool of war, is not new, but its significance has increased greatly in this day and age.

Exploiting the massive information landscape, countries are looking to achieve strategic results through coordinated, seemingly-innocuous, and brazen influence operations. Earlier this week, the EU Disinformation Lab, came out with an extensive report on how India, over the past 15 years, created a web of fake organisations and media outlets to undermine Pakistan and its international credibility. The operation is being termed as a major factor that had helped India conjure a narrative against Pakistan.

While a lot has been and will be written about this expose going forward, there is a need to look at the bigger picture. The disinformation campaign was assiduously geared towards tarnishing Pakistan’s image globally in a bid to influence decision makers in important capitals.

The smear vilification of Pakistan has targeted the sensitivities of powers that be. The disinformation blitz has portrayed Pakistan as an unsafe place for women and minorities, and a country where ethnic groups are suppressed by the country's behemoth military establishment.

All this, it must be recalled, has been used by policymakers and analysts as a basis to deal with Pakistan, a factor that has hurt the country in more ways than one. For instance, Washington has been pressuring Islamabad to improve its allegedly abysmal record on human rights. Using the same framework, elements in the United States have shown their sympathies and expressed support to movements like the Pashtun Tahafuzz Movement (PTM).

Moreover, this systematic intrusion of disinformation that is further amplified by Indian and western media outlets, has also created confusion within Pakistan, especially when it comes to trusting state institutions. Civil-military fissures have been concocted, and Pakistan's strategic relations with countries like Saudi Arabia and China have been specifically targeted.

Due to lacklustre capacity and will, the Pakistani media have gone with the flow and played a part in projecting India's disinformation throughout Pakistan.

Pakistan's decision makers have, however, been mindful of India's nefarious shenanigans. The country's military establishment has been warning about the very many threats that 5th Generation and Hybrid Warfare bring to the table for Pakistan.

In its messaging, Islamabad has maintained as to how the enemy is using the information bonanza to create new and widen existing fault lines in Pakistan. Recently, it was brought to light that, the sudden upsurge in sectarian hatred on social media was staged by digital soldiers from India.

However, the country’s efforts to apprise the hoi polloi of these sets of silent weapons, have been conflated with desecration of the principles of democracy. Media inside and outside of Pakistan have repudiated the very existence of 5GW and have time and again termed such enunciations as mere paranoia, spread primarily to stifle dissent.

This line of argument has been used to undermine Pakistan’s attempts to ward-off threats to its security, both by elements within the country and those based abroad.

All this has added to the worries of the state. It has found it difficult to get the public on the same page when it comes to fighting this different kind of war. The enemy has used this dithering to good effect. Let’s look at the narrative surrounding CPEC and China’s so-called colonisation of Pakistan.

The Pakistani media have oftentimes taken commentaries by US and Indian media on face value, leaving many people at pains to ascertain the nature and status of the mega-project. Similarly, a flurry of fake news has tried to drive a wedge between the government and the public as far as the former’s commitment to the Kashmir cause is concerned.

Disinformation is but one of the strategic weapons available to states that want to harm their adversaries’ strategic interests. Pakistan’s long-held stand on India’s subversion has been vindicated, and that too convincingly. This must lead to course correction.

It is worth asking this: Is the discourse on Pakistan even valid now, given that a large chunk of it is a product of a coordinated disinformation rampage?

Many watchers inside the Beltway often take include Pakistan’s so-called credibility problem in their somewhat tendentious analyses on South Asia. Given these startling revelations, it would be both unfair and illogical for pundits to assess a South Asian security issue through a lens that sees India as a veritable victim and Pakistan as an irresponsible, revisionist perpetrator of violence and instability.

The first test-case would be as to how Western analysts and policymakers will look at the dossiers that Pakistan released recently. If the US officialdom, think tankers, and academicians continue to look the other way, their country cannot be expected to see a peaceful and stable South Asia.

For foreign capitals, it is imperative to see the writing on the wall and acknowledge that Pakistan is not a bully in the region, but a country that is grappling with unremitting aggression from South Asia’s wrecker-in-chief. For domestic forces, it is about time that state organs are trusted and so as to disallow saboteurs from ruling the roost, in a country already marred by fissures and other challenges.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of his organization.

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery is a Research Associate at the Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research at the University of Lahore. He is also the Associate Editor of Pakistan Politico, the country’s first strategic and foreign affairs magazine. He is also teaching undergraduate courses on Foreign Policy and National Security. He has been working in the think tank circuit for the past 4 years. His research interest lie in nuclear deterrence, military strategy, and the geopolitics of South Asia. He regularly contributes to premier dailies.

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