Sultan M Hali
THE world is agog at the disclosure of the “Indian Chronicles” courtesy European Union’s DisinfoLab, which in its 90-page report, has lifted the cloak from the machinations of an international network funded by organizations with Indian leanings. The detailed exposé comprises 265 fake media outlets, multiple dubious think tanks and NGOs, financed by Indian or pro-Indian entities surreptitiously working to destabilize Pakistan while simultaneously tarnishing Islamabad’s image internationally. The propaganda and disinformation tool was operating clandestinely using defunct media, think tanks, NGOs and even using the identities of deceased writers and academics to lend an aura of authority to the bogus stories but being quoted by mainstream media to add authenticity to the intrigues being hatched to denigrate Pakistan.
It is no coincidence that Indian history illustrates that ancient Indians had gained great expertise in the secret art of disinformation, which is being discussed as Fifth Generation Warfare. The techniques and operational methods adopted by the Indians 2500 years ago were highly advanced, and can be usefully emulated today. From the spasas of Varuna, the fore-runners of the modern globe-trotting spies (the etymological affinity of the two terms is noticeable) to Chanakya’s final manifestation of this art in the Arthashastra which is in fact a systematic codification of a wide variety of scattered information copiously found in the Epics, – the Mahabharata and the Ramayana – the Puränas and literary works of Bhasa, Kalidäsa, Magha and Bana; and the Tamil Sangam literature, transcends unprecedented heights in this discipline. The vision of the Arthashastra is truly breathtaking, its practical utility timeless and the clarity of its exposition unique. The techniques of manipulating public opinion and creating disinformation, propounded by Chanakya anticipated modern intelligence systems by several centuries. No wonder then that the nearly 2500 years old lessons in deceit, guile, hypocrisy, machination and gore taught by that Master strategist, Chanakya alias Kautilya (literally meaning ‘crooked’) was adopted in toto by India and its chief intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). While laying the foundation stone of RAW, India’s late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi approvingly quoted Louis F Hallis, when she said that its objectives should be the ‘Ability to get what one wants by whatever means: eloquence, reasoned arguments, bluff, tirade, threat or coercion, as well as, by arousing pity, annoying others, or making them uneasy’.
“Disinformation and Dissension” campaign professed that manipulation of public opinion is as important an object of the State today as it was in ancient India. It is used to create disharmony and distrust among the enemy’s friends, ill-will among his allies, loss of confidence in their leadership and disruption by psychological means his capacity and will to fight. Chanakya had perfected the technique of disinformation and highly eulogized the use of dissension in enemy’s ranks for winning a battle without any military action. Fast forward to the 21st Century, even a cursory glance of the Indian Chronicle in EU DisinfoLab describes it as “a recipe for how to set up a fake local media with fake journalists.” The steps outlined make interesting reading. In response to the question of “How to create a fake local media outlet?” The response is that “One could imagine creating an ecosystem of fake content as huge as Indian Chronicles would be very difficult, if not impossible to pull off.” The instruction is not to fear but follow the recommended few steps, and always remember the motto: “Fake it ‘till you make it!” The first step in this surreptitious guideline is: “Find a good name.” The recommendation is to pick the name of a dead newspaper to give it the semblance of a real newspaper! It could be a fake name resembling a real one, recommending a dubious but convincing source as the Times of North Korea, edited from Pyongyang. For the second step, the recommendation is to establish one’s virtual office in such a manner that the claim corroborates the fake local anchorage but preferably one, which provides the facility of using its search engine.
The third step involves setting up one’s website and Twitter account for which it recommends buying a domain name which provides false pieces of information, so nobody will bother you in your clandestine operation. To add authenticity it recommends reminding the user constantly of the high level of ethics being followed, without disclosing any name to avoid consequences of any sort. As a fourth step, it is recommended that a dream team is conjured with names of fake journalists. For the fifth step in this furtive exercise, copy-pasting content is recommended, using most of the content from legitimate sources. This will give the false appearance of the fake organization having a big newsroom. Even for the next step, it recommends copy-paste should not be restricted to news content even advertisements, privacy policies and legal mentions can be copy-pasted without the fear or libel suits since the organization does not exist in reality. The final step involves contacting policymakers to make them believe that the fake organization is an independent media platform and there is a possibility that a genuine news agency will become interested in quoting content from the fake one. It can be seen that Indian policy makers are doing exactly similar machinations since time immemorial except that they have now been exposed. No wonder that the diplomatic enclave in New Delhi is named Chanakyapuri and the Arthashastra is a compulsory course at the military staff colleges.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.