BBC exposes Indian propaganda warfare against Pakistan for last 15 years

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ISLAMABAD: A dead professor and numerous defunct organisations were resurrected and used alongside at least 750 fake media outlets in a vast 15-year global disinformation campaign to serve Indian interests, a new investigation has revealed. The man whose identity was stolen was regarded as one of the founding fathers of international human rights law, who died aged 92 in 2006.

"It is the largest network we have exposed," said Alexandre Alaphilippe, executive director of EU DisinfoLab, which undertook the investigation and published an extensive report on Wednesday, BBC reported.

The network was designed primarily to "discredit Pakistan internationally" and influence decision-making at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and European Parliament, EU DisinfoLab said. EU DisinfoLab partially exposed the network last year but now says the operation is much larger and more resilient than it first suspected.

The network relies heavily on amplifying content produced on fake media outlets with the help of Asian News International (ANI) - India’s largest wire service, and a key focus of the investigation.

The EU DisinfoLab researchers, who are based in Brussels, believe the network’s purpose is to disseminate propaganda against India’s neighbour and rival Pakistan. Last year, the researchers uncovered 265 pro-Indian sites operating across 65 countries, and traced them back to a Delhi-based Indian holding company, the Srivastava Group (SG).

Wednesday's report, titled Indian Chronicles, reveals that the operation, run by SG, is spread over at least 116 countries and has targeted members of the European Parliament and the United Nations - raising questions about how much EU and UN staff knew about SG's activities, and whether they could have done more to counter those activities, especially after last year's report.

Alaphilippe said the EU DisinfoLab researchers had never encountered such co-ordination between different stakeholders to spread disinformation. "During the last 15 years, and even after being exposed last year, the fact that this network managed to operate so effectively shows the sophistication and the drive of the actors behind Indian Chronicles," he said.

"You need more than a few computers to plan and sustain such an action," he said. Ben Nimmo, a disinformation network expert, said the uncovered network was "one of the most persistent and complex operations" he had seen, but he too was wary of attributing it to a specific actor.

Nimmo, who is director of investigations at digital monitoring firm Graphika, cited previous examples of privately-run large-scale troll operations. "Just because they're big, it doesn't necessarily mean they're directly run by the state.