Pakistan’s tangled web of cyber warfare | Sergio Restelli

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Towards the end of September 2021, a disinformation warfare campaign was launched against India, targeting India’s economic interests. A trending, #BoycottIndianProducts on Twitter was started to launch the campaign. According to a report by Dis Info Lab, the campaign was launched by the Muslim Brotherhood using an unfortunate incident of violence during an anti-encroachment campaign in Assam as bait to trigger the campaign.

This report suggests a major tectonic shift in the Islamic world, where the Qatar-Turkey-Pakistan nexus dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical politico-religious organization based in Qatar, is becoming the new hub for radical Islamists. This invariably also explains why the Taliban invited Qatar, Turkey and Pakistan as three of the six countries they invited for the inauguration ceremony of their caretaker government. Are left out his old friends and followers; Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which supported them during their first reign in the 1990s.

Although the target appears to be India, the real targets of the campaign were Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, particularly targeting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud of Saudi Arabia for his support of India. However, the angle of relations with India is only a ploy. This campaign is not isolated, the Qatar-Turkey-Pakistan alliance has targeted Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for some time now, questioning their “right” to be rulers of the Islamic world. The main objective is to discredit the crown prince in order to pave the way for Erdogan, the leader of Turkey, to claim the title of legitimate leader of the Ouma. Furthermore, the report suggests that India alone was not the target of this economic boycott. The campaign also targeted France, with a call for a boycott of French products. This social media trend was not just in the virtual realm. There seems to be a strong economic logic behind this which also targets Israel. Much of it indeed seems to be inspired by the relative success of the BDS movement.

“By creating the subordinate boycott culture through social media, they would also create a powerful weapon. Once the Qatar-Turkey-Pakistan nexus takes center stage in the Islamic world, such campaigns would facilitate the creation of an “exclusive economy of gigantic proportions”. Therefore, the economic power then created by this nexus will not only affect the Muslim world, but dictate conditions all over the world – in the name of adapting to this huge market.

A Twitter trend was seen on September 26, “#مقاطعة _ المنتجات _ الهندية (#BoycottIndianProducts) demonstrating the popularity of the campaign and went viral at that time. The trend was mostly in Arabic except for a few handles that tweeted in English It was noticed that some social media users in Egypt and Iraq, as well as Turkish and Pakistani users, ran coordinated campaigns #مقاطعة _ المنتجات _ الهندية (#BoycottIndianProducts) & الهند _ تقتل المسلم ي (#IndiaIsK ي (#IndiaIsK) boycott of Indian products citing atrocities committed against Muslims in India. This campaign trend was reminiscent of a similar campaign launched from the Arab world in #IslamophobiaInIndia fashion in 2019, following the Tablighi Jamaat incident. The report highlights an interesting aspect of the campaign by stating that this shooting of social media posts created the perceptio n of widespread anger, also from prominent members of the GCC royal families. However, upon detailed investigations, most of these accounts and nicknames were found to be fake. “The Pakistani information warfare machinery had been impersonating several prominent Arabs (royals), including women, and creating fake names in their name and pushing this coordinated campaign.”

However, the online world of social media lies remains in perpetuity. The perception of “Islamophobia” in India went undeterred even after these fake social media posts were exposed by several prominent fact checkers proving the significant role of Pakistani disinformation machinery behind these campaigns.

The report claimed that this was not the first time such a social media trend had been attempted. It was launched in 2018, and since then it has been an annual event for the Muslim Brotherhood to launch such disinformation campaigns in an effort to give it a gradual boost. It is also observed that a number of these handfuls are led from Pakistan and Turkey, by Muslim Brotherhood influencers.

Pakistan has now shifted its strategy of using terrorism as a foreign policy tool to the cyber world. Already “greylisted” by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), it now fears the latent threat of international isolation and sanctions and has now resorted to changing the nature of its war. Shifting from proxy wars to information warfare seems to be its current statecraft strategy. If the actors remain the same, terrorists and radical Islamists, the theater of war is now undergoing a radical addition of cyber.

Countries like India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia must now develop capabilities to counter disinformation and protect their economies in addition to protecting their borders and their citizens.

Sergio Restelli is an Italian political adviser, author and geopolitical expert. He served in the Craxi government in the 1990s as special assistant to Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Martelli and worked closely with anti-Mafia magistrates Falcone and Borsellino. Over the past decades, he has been involved in peacebuilding and diplomacy efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. He has written for Geopolitica and several Italian online and print media. In 2020, his first fiction “Napoli sta bene” is published.

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