How Indian ‘Influencers’ are contributing to anti-India information warfare of Khalistanis-Pakistanis

How Indian ‘Influencers’ are contributing to anti-India information warfare of Khalistanis-Pakistanis

A report titled ‘The Unending War – from Proxy War to Info-War’, launched by Disinfo Lab – an organisation working on disinformation and propaganda warfare has made a series of striking revelations and exposed the coordinated information warfare jointly launched by West-based Khalistani elements and the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI in the wake of ongoing farmers’ protests in India.

Though the initial investigation was centred around the real-time developments, however, brief research highlighted that whatever the nation is currently going through is an outcome of a coordinated and sustainable campaign launched years ago by Khalistanis and the ISI. Disinfo Lab argues that two fascinating things happened while working on the report and explains – “First, the target of our investigation started deleting their traces – almost live. Second, the name of one of the key players of our story came up in the toolkit dropped accidentally by Greta Thunberg regarding farmers’ protests. The foreigner source in the toolkit – Pieter Fredrich.”

The report has found that a US-based old-time Khalistani, Bhajan Singh Bhinder alias Iqbal Chowdhary, who was responsible for coordinating terror attacks in India, is now leading an anti-India campaign against India through his lieutenant Pieter Fredrich and a Pakistan sponsored organization, run by both of them – Organisation for Minorities in India (OFMI). Commenting on the organisation, the report said “the institution ostensibly set up for the cause of Indian minorities was set up in the US, had no Indian or Indian-origin minorities. It had a practising US Christian missionary, a designated terrorist, an African-American, and a ghost.”

It further outlines the genesis of anti-India propagandist Pieter Fredrich and goes on to explain how Khalistani elements sponsored by Pakistan picked up a random individual from rags and given the fondness of the Indian community towards ‘goras’, promoted him as an ‘expert’ on several issues, which kept changing with convenience. In a nutshell, the report has highlighted the three agents/factors that have helped OFMI and Pieter Fredrich to create an ‘ecosystem’ to intensify the anti-India propaganda. These could be broadly categorised into – penetration in the Indian media; support from the network of ‘activists’/ ‘scholars’ from India; and influence amongst Indian social media ‘influencers’.

Diving deep into the roots of the propaganda launched by OFMI and popularity of Pieter Fredrich, the report has highlighted that it were the left-leaning media houses that helped the fake activist and his fake organization gain popularity in the Indian society. The report terms the support tendered by these stakeholders to OFMI/ Pieter Fredrich as the ‘initial impetus for credibility’. The report reveals that a combination of pro-Khalistani, pro-left, and proxy news websites helped Pieter to gain popularity as well as legitimacy in India.

Explaining this, the report quotes – “Pieter’s credibility was established in India in a rather coordinated manner. In the beginning, his articles started getting published in some non-descript online ‘news media’ platforms such as www.countercurrent.org; www.clarionindia.net; www.twocircles.net; www.velivada.com; www.thecitizen.com, www.antiwar.com; www.areomagazine.com; www.shilongtimes.com; www.sabrangindia.in and www.riot.in. These articles were published during 2015-2019. Having established his initial foothold, and creating a base for his further launch – he was suddenly getting published in some of the ‘prominent’ online news media – The Wire, The Caravan, and The Quint.”

Uncovering the coordinated strategy behind promotion of Pieter Fredrich, the report further comments – “All these three platforms published Pieter within a span of 30 days – from 2nd July to 1st August 2019. Eventually, Sikh Siyasat also published his articles. Those of us who have tried their articles published on these platforms could only appreciate how remarkable the feat it was.”

It is also interesting to note that the promotion of Pieter Fredrich has been a transaction based on the give-and-take arrangement as Twitter handles of ‘The Caravan’ as well as Pieter Fredrich have been endorsing and promoting each other’s content. In this regard, a Professor teaching journalism whom we spoke to argued, “It is concerning to note that in a time when the Indian media has gradually lost credibility and is facing allegations of aligning with divisive forces, the revelations have certainly deepened the dent on its reputation.”

Further, it is disappointing to learn from the report that a couple of prominent Indian ‘activists’ and ‘scholars’ have been directly contributing to the anti- India propaganda carried out by OFMI and legitimising its existence. Besides joining events of OFMI, these individuals have also contributed to magnify the anti-India propaganda peddled by the organisation. For example, Arundhati Roy and Manisha Banger joined US-based Khalistani extremist Amrik Singh in an event organised by OFMI in Columbia University in 2014. These individuals have joined several similar events of OFMI and get extensively quoted by the organisation to justify its claims made against India. Also, Facebook posts of Bhajan Singh Bhinder reveal the bonhomie he shares with Arundhati Roy and Manisha Banger.

In addition, the report has also highlighted that Pieter has been working with several individuals with sentiments against the Indian state that include John Dayal and serial abuser Ashok Swain. He has also conducted interviews with both of them in 2015.

The biggest source of strength for OFMI’s propaganda campaigns is the support enjoyed by it amongst left-leaning ‘influencers’ in India. The report has revealed that the Indian Twitter handles verified by a ‘blue-tick’ by Twitter who follow and endorse the content of Pieter Fredrich and OFMI. A social media expert has argued that getting followed by the ‘blue-tick’ handles leads to the propaganda technique of ‘joining the bandwagon’, which means that being followed and endorsed by anti-India Twitter handles has helped OFMI and Pieter to buy the following and endorsement of other prominent handles as well.

The report has termed the phenomenon as the ‘Modern Version of Chicken & Egg’ and has asked, “Did Pieter got to write articles in ‘prominent’ and award-winning media because hundreds of credible (blue-tick) people followed him, or people followed him because he wrote those articles?

Peiter Fredrich has been aggressively pushing campaigns on Kashmir with an anti-India position. The report highlights that he is working on the K-2 (Kashmir-Khalistan) plan of the ISI, in which Khalistanis and Pakistanis have jointly waged a war against India.

It is astonishing to note how quickly left-leaning Indian handles get along with the Pakistani handles to contribute to the information warfare led by OFMI and Pieter Fredrich and bash the Indian government. The prominent Pakistani handles that have been amplifying the propaganda of OFMI/Pieter include Fawad Chowdhary, Ali Haider Zaidi, Shireen Mazari, and Munaza Hassan. Besides, the report has also listed twenty Twitter handles that have been promoting OFMI, which include journalists to YouTubers and Senators to Army Generals. On further analysing the handles, Zee News found that a couple of these handles are those that have been promoted by Pakistan Army’s ISPR. The list also includes troll handles, with followers in thousands, whose sole purpose has been to magnify the messages of the ISPR and proxy handles/ bots deployed by the ISI.

An investigative journalist whom we spoke to argued that these revelations have strengthened the claims of the recent video by ‘The String Reveals’ also reiterated common names of individuals and left-leaning media organisations that have been amplifying the messages of Pieter and OFMI.

The report exposes the intermingling of the foreign-based Khalistani elements, ISI-sponsored players, and left-leaning ‘influencers’ based in India – all working relentlessly to trouble India through information warfare and create a condition of confusion, chaos, and cynicism. The Indian civil society and community groups have started to demand the Indian government to launch a comprehensive investigation on allegations and hold the trial of all the accused in a time-bound manner.

Nevertheless, regardless of all the arguments and claims, the report has definitely become a massive hit as in the first five hours of being tweeted, it got retweeted more than 1.5k times and was liked by 2k handles.

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