Eye on Gulf countries, Pak ups Twitter campaign to target India over ‘Islamophobia’
Indian security agencies have identified nearly 7,000 accounts on micro-blogging site Twitter that were opened in April 2020 and are being operated from Pakistan, a report submitted to the government this week has said. These social media handles, the report said, had launched a shrill campaign against India that was aimed at influencing India’s relations with the Gulf countries.
Indian intelligence agencies had earlier reported an organised effort by Pakistan to target New Delhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media by Twitter accounts opened between January and March. The report handed over to the government this week said it had spotted 7,000 more accounts that were opened in April, all of them being operated from Pakistan.
The barrage of tweets, quite a few of them by handles that pass themselves off as residents or citizens of Gulf countries, have gained some traction in the local social media landscape in Islamic countries and led a number of people in the gulf countries also to fall prey to it, the report said.
By way of an example, the report names one verified Twitter handle of a prominent national of a Gulf country that had been taken in by claims of persecution of Muslims in Kashmir. This account, put out a photograph of a dead man with a caption, ‘Persecution of people in Kashmir’.
When security officials looked around, they found the photograph was of a Jaish terrorist killed in an encounter along with 2 Pakistani terrorists in Dhriti village of Jammu and Kashmir’s on 14 September 2018.
Then there was a tweet purportedly by an Omani princess that advocated expulsion of Indian workers from the country. Sayyida Mona bint Fahd al Said, the Omani princess whose name was used by the impersonator, issued clarification that she had no connection to the tweets and the handle was a fake.
Indian officials said it was clear that the social media campaign wasn’t just an invention of Pakistan’s deep state, the Inter Services Intelligence, but had its origin in Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s shrill pitch against India, and PM Modi at the UN General Assembly in August last year.
It has been a recurring theme in statements from PM Khan and his foreign ministry as well but hadn’t found any reverberation outside of Islamabad. PM Khan had repeatedly made the same point during protests against amendments to the citizenship law that fast-tracked citizenship for religious minorities from Islamic countries in India’s neighbourhood.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, asked about the flurry of social media posts in West Asia, this week stopped short of naming Pakistan but described much of the material on social media platforms as “propaganda by interested parties”.
On some commentators calling out out what they said were Islamophobic social media posts by a handful of Indians working in the Middle East, Srivastava underscored that “stray tweets cannot be used to characterise our bilateral relations with these countries, and the real picture of these relations is very different”.