Pakistan accuses India of using cyberspace as weapon, says cyber policy coming soon 

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Federal Minister for Science & Technology Chaudhry Fawad Hussain talking to media persons after attending seminar, The Future Summit on September 18, 2019. (APP)
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In this file photo, Pakistan’s Minister for Science and Technology talks during an exclusive interview with Arab News on March 28, 2019. (AN photo by Yazeed Alsamrani)
Updated 17 November 2019

Pakistan accuses India of using cyberspace as weapon, says cyber policy coming soon 

  • European disinformation watchdog uncovered 265 Indian websites spreading anti-Pakistan content
  • Pakistan is one of the world’s least cyber-safe countries

ISLAMABAD: Fawad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s Minister for Science and Technology, said on Saturday that India has launched a cyber war against Pakistan, days after a Europe-based watchdog cracked open a nexus of hundreds of dormant companies and 'fake media outlets' saying that it is promoting India’s diplomatic interests around the world, and kickstarting a conversation about cyber security in Pakistan.
EU DisinfoLab, a nonprofit organization that researches and tackles disinformation campaigns, said on Wednesday that it has uncovered 265 fake media outlets spread across 65 countries managed by an Indian network, with content “designed to influence the European Union and the United Nations by repeatedly criticizing Pakistan,” the organization said in a report.
“It’s a cyber war and they [Indians] are using cyberspace as a weapon,” Chaudhry told Arab News.
“Cyber security has become a major global issue,” he continued, and added Pakistan’s cyber security policy would be announced soon.
Investigating the network, the Lab traced digital prints linked to a group of Indian companies, NGOs, and think tanks, from a little-known company called the Srivastava Group.
Dubious news portals all based at the same New Delhi address and mentioned in the watchdog’s investigation included Times of Los Angeles, Times of Portugal, New Delhi Times, New York Journal American, Times of North Korea and The International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS), which is the same organization that reportedly invited 27 members of the European Parliament to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visit Kashmir, amid international attention on curbs on free speech and allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.
On Aug. 5, New Delhi flooded Kashmir valley with troops, enforced a curfew and communications blackout, and scrapped the special legal status of the disputed region which both India and Pakistan own in part but claim in full. Since then, New Delhi has denied its part in any human rights abuses on different media outlets- many of which have turned out to be zombie websites.
Foreign Affairs expert Qamar Cheema said India wanted Pakistan to become globally isolated.
“It is India’s declared position to isolate Pakistan diplomatically and economically,” Cheema told Arab News.
“Both countries are vying to influence the domestic and international audience about their strategic and tactical narratives, but India has developed cobwebs in the virtual world. This is because of India’s IT achievements and expanding global reach,” he said.
“Pakistan is using traditional tools of diplomacy. India is using traditional tools, its web armies and data mining techniques to influence public opinions to which Pakistan may not be able to respond, lacking resources and state of the art IT infrastructure,” he continued.
The fake news websites republished contents from Russia Today and Voice of America, but the report said they also found a large number of articles related to minorities in Pakistan.
In Geneva, the investigating group found that – an online ‘newspaper’ self-professed to be ‘approaching 35 years in business’ – published and produced videos covering events and demonstrations that criticized Pakistan’s role in the Kashmir conflict.
“Media and cyber space are increasingly being used as weapons to influence events and to project national interests. India has been doing it for many years, whether it is hacking our command and control centers... or planting stories about Pakistan,” Ambassador Vice Admiral (R) Khan Hasham Bin Saddique, President of Islamabad Policy Research Institute, told Arab News.
“India’s prowess in the IT field has undermined our national security interests,” he said. “It is time that Pakistan invests in human resource and technological competence because media and cyberspace are the components of 21st century warfare.”
In April, Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications, had announced that a comprehensive cyber security policy would be introduced soon.
Domestically however, the country has placed great importance on countering and policing the spread of content and information through special cyber laws-- but these were specific to cyber-crime not cyber-security, experts say.
“We have been creating cyber crime laws but not a cyber security policy,” Ammar Jafri, former head of the Federal Investigation Agency’s National Response Center for Cyber Crime wing, told Arab News.
Jafri was instrumental in drafting Pakistan’s first cyber security policy in 2012 which is still pending approval.
“We are one of the few countries in the world without a national computer emergency response team, cyber security policy and cyber security strategy,” he said.
“There are plenty of challenges that Pakistan faces in cyberspace that need government initiatives to confront. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. The cyber security bill can be reactivated with certain amendments.”
“This is the cyber era and we need to spend on cyber weapons to counter enemies of the state on the internet,” he continued.
Pakistan is one of the least cyber-safe countries in the world according to a 2019 Comparitech study sourced from Kaspersky Lab, International Telecommunication Union, and Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Russian minister in Islamabad to offer investment in heavy industry

Updated 10 December 2019

Russian minister in Islamabad to offer investment in heavy industry

  • Russians are interested in Pakistan’s energy, oil and gas, defense and steel sectors
  • Russian delegation is in Islamabad to attend Inter-Governmental Commission meeting

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Russia have agreed to expand business and trade ties, with investment in the energy, oil and gas and defense, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Petroleum Nadeem Babar told Arab News in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

A delegation of 64 Russian officials, led by Trade and Industries Minister Denis Manturov, discussed the plans with Pakistani stakeholders at a meeting of the Pakistan-Russia Joint Working Group (JWG) on Energy in Islamabad on Monday.

“The Russian delegation is here to expand ties with Pakistan and engage in trade and business worth billions of dollars. They are interested in three major sectors – energy, oil and gas, and defense,” Babar said.

“In its first phase, Pakistan is going to auction 12 blocks of E&P (exploration and production) this month. Russians are very much interested in this auction,” he added.

“They have representatives of oil and gas companies with them in this delegation, who discussed different projects and showed interest in bidding for these blocks. We are very hopeful that they will take a few blocks in this auction which would be a first as they have never operated in Pakistan before,” he said.

Russian companies are also interested to build a gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore, Babar said. “We hope to sign an agreement on this in the next two months as both sides have agreed on many things. We have many meetings on this and after this visit, we hope all remaining issues will be solved.”

He said Pakistan and Russia have also discussed an agreement, which was signed earlier, for the laying of more than 1,500 kilometers of an offshore gas pipeline that would transport natural gas from Russia to Pakistan.

Babar said Russia has also shown interest in the rehabilitation and upgrading of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) and wants to invest $1 billion. He added, however, that “other countries are also interested in Steel Mills.”

Sergey Vasiliev, director of Russia-Pakistan Business Forum who is in the delegation, told Arab News the visit will be good for removing trade and investment obstacles between the two countries, and for improving business to business contacts.

As Pakistan’s image has lately improved in Russia, “Russian businessmen are more interested in the oil and gas and energy sectors,” he said.

“We are discussing collaboration with Pakistan Steel Mills, so new technology from Russia can enhance its production. We are also ready to provide support in the field of agriculture, especially in increasing storage capacity for local food items and fruits.”

A major breakthrough in Pakistan-Russia relations was the signing of an agreement in Moscow on Dec. 4 by Russia’s Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak and Pakistani Ambassador Qazi Khalilullah, whereby Pakistan will repay its $93.5 million debt to Russia, he said.

On Wednesday, the delegation is scheduled to attend an inter-governmental commission meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.