Investigation team set up to probe 'propaganda' campaign against army following chopper crash

Activists pay tribute to six Pakistani servicemen, who died in a helicopter crash during flood relief operations, in Lahore, Pakistan, on August 6, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 08 August 2022

Investigation team set up to probe 'propaganda' campaign against army following chopper crash

  • Military helicopter carrying senior commander and five others crashed during a flood relief operation last week, all onboard killed
  • Social media campaign targeted deceased officers, including top commander in Balochistan, hashtags launched against army

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said on Monday an online smear campaign against the military and its officers in the wake of an army helicopter crash would be investigated, as a team was set up by the government to probe the “negative propaganda.”

A Pakistani military helicopter carrying a senior commander and five others crashed on a mountain during a flood relief operation last Monday and all onboard were killed. Following the incident, an online smear campaign targeted the deceased officers and included hashtags against the military.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called the campaign “horrifying” and said it reflected that the minds of young Pakistanis were being poisoned. The army’s media wing also rejected the “regretful” social media trends, saying they had caused anguish among the families of those who had died as well as in the army as an institution.

On Sunday, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said it was forming a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the smear campaign.

“A joint inquiry team has been formed to investigate the issue of negative propaganda campaign on social media after the Pakistan Army helicopter crash,” the notification said.

Members of the team include Additional Director General Cyber Crime Muhammad Jafar, Director Cybercrime Waqaruddin Syed, Additional Director Ayaz Khan and Assistant Director Imran Haider

Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon, Sanaullah said the nation had “rejected” the propaganda against the victims of the helicopter crash.

“There is no segment of society which shares these sentiments,” the minister said.

Speaking to Geo News last week, ISPR Director-General Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar said the entire armed forces were “distressed” since the helicopter accident.

“The propaganda has caused immense pain, particularly to the families of the martyrs,” he said, urging the nation to unite against those spreading negative propaganda and rumors.

“Insensitive behavior is unacceptable and should be condemned on every platform.”

Two Pakistani soldiers, 7 militants killed in shootouts 

Updated 04 October 2022

Two Pakistani soldiers, 7 militants killed in shootouts 

  • First firefight happened near Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
  • Separately, troops killed four militants in northwestern town of Tank in overnight raid

PESHAWAR: Militants with small arms attacked a convoy of Pakistani security forces near the northwest border with Afghanistan, triggering an intense shootout that killed two soldiers and three insurgents, the military said Tuesday.
The firefight happened near Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The military provided no further details and the identities of the slain insurgents were not known.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Separately, in an overnight raid, troops killed four militants in Tank, a northwestern town that also borders Afghanistan, the military said. It provided no further details.
Mohammad Khurasani, a spokesperson for the Pakistani Taliban, said the four men killed in Tank were their “holy warriors.” In a statement, he said such military raids indicate that the government and its institutions do not want peace in Pakistan.
The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but are allies of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan more than a year ago as the US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout.
The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has emboldened the Pakistani Taliban, who are known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP. 
A monthslong cease-fire between the TTP and Pakistan is intact.
Although the Taliban in Afghanistan have encouraged Islamabad and the TTP to reach a peace agreement, talks between the two sides that started in May have not had results.

Pakistani chief justice calls constitutional article on disqualification of MPs a ‘draconian’ law

Updated 04 October 2022

Pakistani chief justice calls constitutional article on disqualification of MPs a ‘draconian’ law

  • Article 62(1)(f) has been used to end the terms of sitting heads of government and top politicians
  • In 2017, three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was removed from office under Article 62(1)(f)

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Chief Justice Umer Ata Bandial on Tuesday said Article 62(1)(f), which pertains to the disqualification from politics of members of parliament, was a “draconian” law, calling into question a legal provision that has been used in the past to end the careers of sitting heads of government and top politicians.

In 2017, three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was removed from office by the Supreme Court for not being “honest” or “truthful,” otherwise known as “ameen” and “sadiq,” respectively in Article 62(1)(f).

On Tuesday, while a hearing a petition filed by opposition politician Faisal Vawda against a lifetime ban from politics in a case pertaining to the submission of a false affidavit in election papers, the chief justice said: 

“Article 62 (1)(f) is a draconian law and we will hear this case with caution and in detail.” 

In April 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had ruled that lawmakers disqualified under Article 62(1)(f) would be unable to contest elections for the rest of their lives.

The apex court said the disqualification would hold until the court declaration disqualifying the lawmaker stood. The judges also unanimously ruled that the Constitution states that those not ‘honest’ and ‘truthful’ as per the law were banned from parliament for life.

Opposition politician Jahangir Tarin was also disqualified for life under Article 62(1)(f) in 2017.

After government assurances, farmers call off nearly week-long Islamabad protests over tariffs, taxes

Updated 04 October 2022

After government assurances, farmers call off nearly week-long Islamabad protests over tariffs, taxes

  • Kissan Ittehad, comprising farmers from across Punjab, were protesting in Islamabad since last week
  • Demands include the restoration of a previous tube well electricity tariff and removal of taxes

ISLAMABAD: Representatives of farmers on Tuesday called off their nearly week-long demonstrations in Islamabad over electricity tariffs and taxes after a breakthrough was reached with the federal government of Pakistan.

The Kissan Ittehad, comprising farmers from across Punjab, has been protesting in Islamabad since last week, demanding the restoration of a previous tube well electricity tariff of Rs5.3 per unit and the removal of taxes and adjustments, among other things. The protests had led to road closures in the capital and long traffic jams.

At a media talk with Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, Kissan Ittehad Chairman Khalid Butt called off the protest.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah addresses media after negotiationg with farmers in Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 4, 2022. (PML-N/Twitter)

“Farmers are our guests, we sat with them and solved their problems,” Sanaullah said on Twitter after the negotiations. “Will also resolve their demands in an adequate way. A committee of ministers has been formed for implementation of their demands.”

The farmers’ demands include being allowed to pay power bills in instalments and the cancelation of fuel adjustment charges.

Sanaullah said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif would announce a package for farmers within 10 days.

“It is our philosophy that Pakistan will be prosperous when farmers are prosperous,” the minister told media. “So we will consider all things in a better manner and solve these problems.”

“It is our responsibility to solve your demands and we will do it,” Sanaullah added.

How social media storm unleashed in India fueled Hindu-Muslim unrest in UK — experts

Updated 04 October 2022

How social media storm unleashed in India fueled Hindu-Muslim unrest in UK — experts

  • Rumours spread online included that a Muslim girl was kidnapped and Hindu temple had unleashed masked thugs
  • Rob Nixon, who runs Leicestershire Police, says misinformation on social media had played “huge role” in last month’s unrest

Rumour had it that a Muslim girl had been kidnapped and a Hindu temple had sent masked thugs into combat. Add in local fury over an India-Pakistan cricket match, and Hindu and Muslim men were soon fighting on the streets of central England.
It was a social media storm — mostly cooked up a continent away — that materialized in real life in Leicester, where police made almost 50 arrests and a community was left in tatters.
“It is a powerful illustration of how hashtag dynamics on Twitter can use dubious inflammatory claims to ... escalate tensions on the ground,” said a spokesperson at fact-checking site Logically, which analyzed the posts’ veracity.
Experts say most of the incendiary tweets, rumors and lies came from India, showing the power of unchecked social media to spread disinformation and stir unrest a full continent away.
“I’ve seen quite a selection of the social media stuff which is very, very, very distorting now and some of it just completely lying about what had been happening between different communities,” Peter Soulsby, Leicester’s mayor, told BBC radio.
Rob Nixon, who runs Leicestershire Police, concurred, telling the BBC that misinformation on social media had played a “huge role” in last month’s unrest.
To counter some of these claims, police took to social media themselves, saying they had fully investigated reports of three men approaching a teenaged girl in an attempted kidnap, and found no truth whatsoever to the online story.
“We urge you to only share information on social media you know to be true,” they said.
Fact-checkers also found no truth to claims that gangs of masked thugs were bussed into Leicester.
Many of the misleading posts alleging that Hindus and Hindu sites were being attacked came from India, analysis showed.
Some 80 percent of tweets with geographic coordinates, or geo-tagged information, were connected to India, Logically said.
“The ratio of tweets geo-tagged to the UK versus those geo-tagged to India was remarkably high for what, ostensibly, was a domestic incident,” a spokesperson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The involvement of high-profile figures in India setting the discourse was a key element.”
BBC Monitoring said that more than half of the 200,000 tweets it investigated came from accounts geo-tagged to India, with hashtags such as #Leicester, #HindusUnderAttack and #HindusUnderattackinUK.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.


The fact-checks confirmed what several Leicester residents had suspected for years: online disinformation and abuse aimed at religious minorities came increasingly from users in India, and platforms were doing little or nothing to check it.
“The events in Leicester did not happen out of the blue,” said Keval Bharadia at the South Asia Solidarity Group, a British community non-profit.
“Friends and family have been sending fake news and misinformation for years. It is a never-ending stream of propaganda from troll armies,” he said.
A spokesman for India’s ministry of home affairs did not respond to a request for comment.
The Indian High Commission in London, in a statement, said it “strongly” condemned the violence against the Indian community in Leicester, and the vandalism of “premises and symbols of Hindu religion.”
Some commentators and rights groups say India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has a hand in the social-media warfare that targets religious and ethnic minorities.
The BJP swept into power in India in 2014 and won by an even bigger margin in 2019, its victories in part credited to its savvy tech cell and social-media prowess, fueled by thousands of supporters it calls digital “yodhas” or warriors.
BJP’s tech cell, as well as government appointed cyber volunteers, often abuse religious minorities and spread disinformation about them on social media, rights groups say.
In a recent report, Dalit rights group Equality Labs said “nationalistic, Islamophobic, and casteist disinformation” was spreading among expatriate Indians via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and thousands of Whatsapp and Telegram chat groups.
“Hindu nationalism is one of the largest disinformation networks in the global South Asian diaspora, with bigoted and often terrifying attacks against caste and religious minorities,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan of Equality Labs.
“Just think about the horrific hashtags that are now normal,” said Soundararajan, citing “presstitute” — a derogatory term for journalists — and “lovejihad,” an Islamophobic conspiracy theory popular in India.
“Narratives spread on WhatsApp have led to offline violence,” she added.
While expatriates have long absorbed content from India, and commented on events, disinformation has mushroomed with the rise of social media platforms, said Pratik Sinha, co-founder of Indian fact checking site AltNews.
“We are so polarized now, and this is particularly true of non-resident Indians who can’t check the reality on the ground,” he said.
“A lot of hate speech and misinformation, particularly in regional languages, goes unchecked on social media platforms.”
Much of the noise emanates from Meta, formerly Facebook, which in 2019 commissioned an independent assessment of its role in spreading hate speech and incitement to violence on its platforms in India, following criticism by civil society groups.
But Meta has since said it would not release the full report, only saying that it had “significantly increased” its content moderation workforce and language support for India.
Twitter — which has about 24 million users in India — has asked an Indian court to overturn some government orders to remove posts which Delhi said spread misinformation.
Last month, in a rare rebuke, India’s Supreme Court said television was the “chief medium of hate speech” and asked why the government was “standing by as a mute witness.”
The government has not responded to the charge.
Meanwhile, hate speech and disinformation on social media platforms goes largely unchecked in one of their largest markets, said Sinha.
“Misinformation leads to radicalization, no matter where you are,” he said. “We are already seeing the consequences on the ground.”

Stranded Pakistanis return as Tehran reopens border after weekend violence in southeastern town

Updated 04 October 2022

Stranded Pakistanis return as Tehran reopens border after weekend violence in southeastern town

  • Violence erupted in Zahedan in Iran’s Sistan and Balochistan province on Friday over the rape of 15-year-old girl
  • Tehran shut down communication services in Zahedan and surroundings, sealed border crossing at Taftan

QUETTA: Iran has reopened its border crossing with Pakistan at Taftan, a top Pakistani official said on Monday, after Tehran sealed the frontier over the weekend amid unrest in the southeastern town of Zahedan that stranded scores of Pakistanis on the Iranian side.

Violence broke out in the capital of Sistan and Balochistan province during Friday prayers after worshipers at a local mosque called protests over the rape of a 15-year-old girl, allegedly by a local military commander. A provincial intelligence chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ali Mousavi, was shot during the clashes and pronounced dead at a hospital.

In response to the violence, in which the administration of Sistan and Balochistan has said 19 people were killed, Tehran shut down communication services in Zahedan and its surrounding areas and sealed the border crossing at Taftan in Chagai District in the Pakistani province of Balochistan.

The border between Pakistan and Iran is more than 600 miles and movement between the two countries is common, especially among Pakistanis who travel to Iran on religious pilgrimages. It is also a crucial trade route.

Badal Dashti, an additional deputy commissioner for Chaghi, said Iran had opened the gates on its side of the Taftan crossing yesterday, Monday, and normal movement had been restored.

“Border activities have been restored after Iran opened the gates on its side of the border on October 03,” he said.

A Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency official also told Arab News that the crossing had reopened on Monday. Iran did not formally announce the closing of the border and has not officially commented on its reopening.

With the Taftan crossing sealed for over two days, many Pakistanis were stranded on the Iranian side and reported after their return that while fighting had decreased in Zahedan, it had moved to the city’s outskirts amid a heavy deployment of troops.

Khalil Ahmed, 27, a diesel importer from the Pakistani border town of Nokundi, said he was stuck in Iran for two nights after security forces there sealed the border for all movement. He described the situation in areas surrounding Zahedan as “grim” and said most of residents feared leaving their houses. 

“I have seen heavy presence of Iranian forces in Zahedan and its adjacent towns,” Ahmed, who was visiting Rutuk, a small town near Zahedan, and returned to Pakistan on Monday night, told Arab News, describing hearing heavy gunshots during the two nights he spent in Iran.

Naveed Ahmed, 32, a Pakistani who owns a shop in Taftan, said he returned from Zahedan in the afternoon on Monday, after spending six days in the city.

“Business activities are still closed in all of Zahedan city after Friday’s clashes,” he told Arab News. “There were no more clashes in Zahedan city after Friday, but yes, some fighting continued between Iranian forces and separatist groups on the outskirts of Zahedan, because we heard gunshots in the night.”

Iranian officials have not commented as yet on fresh troop deployment in Zahedan or its surrounding areas.

The deaths of security personnel and the provincial IRGC intelligence chief have been a major escalation in anti-government demonstrations that began in Iran in mid-September, triggered by the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Iran’s morality police.

The protests continue and have spread to all of Iran’s 31 provinces, with ethnic and religious minorities joining in, despite a violent response from authorities.

The independent Iran Human Rights NGO estimates at least 133 people have been killed by security forces since the beginning of the protests, over three time the number reported by Iranian state media.