An organised campaign is going on against the Pakistan army since the emergence of the recent chaotic political situation in Pakistan. Trends against the armed forces and its leadership have seen intense activity on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and the list goes on. Such propaganda campaigns are not new but have been occurring for several years just to weaken Pakistan internally. The contemporary situation around the country further paved the way for its adversaries to expedite their process of disinformation and propaganda, as the nature of war has turned from conventional to non-conventional.
Disinformation or propaganda concerns the deliberate spread of false or unbalanced information by foreign states (or relevant non-state actors) with the primary objective to confuse and mislead, to sow disagreement and discord among parts of the population in other countries. The disinformation-propagating state’s goal is to strategically benefit from the chaotic results of disagreements and to ultimately achieve one’s relative objective. In international relations, disinformation or information manipulation is an instrument of foreign policy. It targets not only the international audience but also the domestic audience as well.
Propagating disinformation proves to be particularly effective at shaping opinion, especially when audiences are unaware that they are being targeted. This means that foreign agents no longer need access to our military bases to practice their tradecraft on our nation’s defenders of freedom. All they need is a computer with internet access to reach thousands of individuals at once on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
In the case of Pakistan, it no longer remains a secret after getting disclosed in a report of the EU DisInfoLab in 2020 which exposed a disinformation campaign against Pakistan, destroying its image in the international community, and destabilising it internally by attempting to weaken civil-military relations and try and create an atmosphere of lack of trust among the state and their individuals. According to this report, 750 Indian-backed websites have been spreading hatred against Pakistan for the last 15 years and were active in more than 115 countries around the world with the prime objective of the promotion of Anti-Pakistan content.
On December 16, 1971, Radio Pakistan broadcasted: “after an agreement between local commanders, a ceasefire was declared in East Pakistan.” Meanwhile, the BBC was simultaneously reporting that the Pakistan Army had surrendered to Indian troops. Neither is Pakistan’s vulnerability to foreign disinformation efforts new. During the Afghan war of the 1980s, the former Soviet Union took several measures amounting to disinformation designed to disturb the Pakistan-US alliance—challenging the credibility of Pakistan in the region and aiming to incite domestic unrest within the country. This included, for example, distributing leaflets denouncing the Pakistani government’s policies allegedly written by a rogue group within the Pakistan army, and planting stories in the local press stating that the Pakistan army was using the conflict to build more influence in Afghanistan’s politics.
In the age of social media, Pakistan experienced episodes of state-initiated disinformation campaigns at the domestic level.
In 2019, Twitter and Facebook shut down thousands of accounts claimed to be run by the Pakistan military’s PR wing including handles meant to target adversaries across the border and others maliciously campaigning against political opposition and dissenting citizens.
In another instance, an analysis of Twitter trends during TLP Pakistan’s protest in April 2021 revealed that approximately 61 percent of the total hashtags “#CivilWarinPak” and the like originated from India with several Indian-based Twitter fake accounts producing a total of 84,000 tweets, retweets and replies using the hashtag. Seven of the top ten cities where the hashtag was trending were in India. The increased use of social media in Pakistan accompanied by the low level of media literacy and a dearth of fact-checking training and practice to counter disinformation is a high risk in itself.
Here the question arises: why is propaganda spread on social media against Pakistan’s armed forces, especially the Army? Whenever external forces try to weaken Pakistan, they always flunk in their attempts because all such malicious and rogue attempts to destabilise Pakistan have always been thwarted by its armed forces since its inception and act as a barricade in their way with entire public support. Undoubtedly, the people of Pakistan have always believed in their heroes (the military) and supported them all the time. Whereas, a propaganda campaign against the Armed forces especially Pakistan Army has been initiated that intended to create chaos between the general public and the Army. The second reason is that the armed forces are not only confined to wars and battlefields, it is undoubtedly, the last resort in National calamities. Whenever we face floods, heavy rains, earthquakes etc., the soldiers of the Pakistan army are always here to rescue us. During Covid-19 the army was at the forefront. It shows how disciplined and organised the institution of the Army is.
According to Stephen Cohen’s book, some armies guard their nation’s borders; some are occupied with protecting their position in society and some defend a cause or idea, “the Pakistan army does all three”. The primary role of the Pakistan army is to defend the country against all internal and external threats, yet it shares the economic burden of the country by undertaking nation-building projects because of its displayed performance, commitment, loyalty and efficiency.
Attempts are being made by the adversaries of the country, intended to achieve with the nature of warfare constantly evolving, the people of Pakistan need to acknowledge that service members are being targeted in unconventional and subtle ways. These new tactics are surprisingly effective at changing the narrative and views of those who have taken an oath to defend our beloved Pakistan. We the people of Pakistan have to defend our heroes from propaganda and disinformation.