A news report on the alleged business dealings of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority Chairman Lt-Gen (retired) Asim Saleem Bajwa has been decidedly rebuffed after it emerged that the journalist responsible for writing the report had actually been relying on the testimony of a notorious social media influencer with deep ties to the Indian Army.
According to several videos shared on social networking platform Twitter by users around the world, Ahmed Noorani, the journalist who wrote the now debunked expose without revealing his sources, had relied on a video made by a retired major of the Indian Army, named Gaurav Arya. Arya is notorious for misinformation campaigns on Twitter.
In February 2019, when Indian warplanes crossed into Pakistani territory but were shot down and the pilot of one of these planes captured, Arya had been busy spreading lies about the matter on social media. Even after the international media had corroborated the account of Pakistan Army into the matter, Arya was still duping the public.
Abhinandan flew into Pakistan…shot down an F-16, had tea, changed into a blue jacket and Pakistanis came all the way to drop him to Wagah border…all in two days.
Now tell me, how was the tea ☕️
— Major Gaurav Arya (Retd) (@majorgauravarya) July 20, 2019
“Abhinandan flew into Pakistan…shot down an F-16, had tea, changed into a blue jacket and Pakistanis came all the way to drop him to Wagah border…all in two days. Now tell me, how was the tea,” he said. However, reputed American publication Foreign Policy said in a report that two US defence officials with direct knowledge of the matter said US personnel had done a count of Pakistan’s F-16s and found none missing.
Major Gaurav Arya is infamous for spreading lies and rumors against Pakistan. A few months ago, he shared a video clip and claimed that it showed members of the paramilitary Frontier Corps being thrashed by Pakistan Army personnel after the former had deserted their post when attacked by terrorists. Later on, it was revealed that Arya’s claims were false.
Major Gaurav is also involved in propaganda against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. He recently claimed that the entire venture is a failure. He also claimed that the Chinese are seeking a way out of this agreement. Arya often makes these claims without any evidence to back them, leading experts to question his motives for doing so.
‘Malicious, propaganda story’
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Friday also sought to clarify the matter, telling the media that the authenticity of a news report on alleged offshore properties and businesses of Lt-Gen (r) Bajwa and his family would be cleared soon. “It is now a common practice that the news is run without confirmation,” Qureshi reportedly said.
“A news should be made public once it is confirmed. The truth, in this case, will come to the fore soon,” he said in response to questions put by some journalists. The CPEC Authority chief had himself also issued a statement on the malicious story. “A malicious propaganda story published on an unknown site, against me and my family, is strongly rebutted,” he said.
A malicious propaganda story published on an unknown site, against me and my family, (just uploaded on social media)is strongly rebutted
— Asim Saleem Bajwa (@AsimSBajwa) August 27, 2020
The report, published on a propaganda website named FactFocus, intended to develop a correlation between Bajwa’s rise in his professional career and the rise of his family’s business. However, investigative reporters across the country have stressed that the allegations are baseless since Noraani did not publish documents to back his claims.
After the report was published, an outcry ensued on social media, with trolls and bot accounts backed by the Indian establishment working overtime to expand the reach of the story and trying to make up for the gaps in the arguments of Noorani by simply trying to get the story out to as many people as possible.
However, Pakistani users were having none of it. Soon after the story had been published, several leading journalists had offered their frank analysis on the report, urging Pakistanis to be mindful of the fact that Noorani had actually copied ‘word for word’ what Arya had said in his video. The video had been uploaded more than a month back.
Not only Noorani copied all the allegations from Gaurav Arya's youtube vlog (Defensive Offence) but also the Indian propagandist's team is still on it & supporting this campaign against Asim Bajwa. 👇🏼 https://t.co/gQexXlNMux pic.twitter.com/B71PuykXWK
— Musa (@MusaNV18) August 28, 2020
‘We will give them bloody nose, they will remember for generations’
This is not the first time that Arya has sought to sow discord within the political-military circles of Pakistan. In fact, Arya has, over the years, established somewhat of a reputation of being the mouthpiece of the Indian troll army on Twitter. Earlier this year, in open defiance of international law, he claimed that the Indian Army was directly supporting terrorist groups in Pakistan.
Shortly before an attack on security forces in Balochistan, Arya went on a television show in India and openly hurled threats at Pakistan and predicted a terror incident in Balochistan ‘in 10-15 days’. Senior journalist Hamid Mir had brought the matter to public attention, and even asked the United Nations to take note of the matter.
It was an open threat made by Major Rtd Gaurav Arya on Indian channel Republic TV two days ago he predicted an attack on Pakistani forces in Baluchistan in 10-15 days and today there was an attack on Pakistani forces near Iranian border Pakistan must take up the issue with @UN pic.twitter.com/IgYWcXw1ry
— Hamid Mir (@HamidMirPAK) May 8, 2020
“I am in touch with terrorists. The Pakistani Army, we will give them such a bloody nose that these people will remember for ten generations,” he had said. He went on to say that he had the terrorists’s contact numbers in his mobile phone and he was in touch with them ‘almost every day’. He added that he told terrorists that the entire Indian population stands with them, and against Pakistan.
According to Alt News, in March 2017, Arya tweeted an image of a pathology report, claiming it to be the report of Syed Salahuddin, a Kashmiri separatist and the head of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. The report claimed that Salahuddin had contracted HIV. Later, it was found that the image was a photoshopped one, made from a sample available online.
It is still not immediately clear how Noorani got in touch with Arya. It is also as yet unclear how Arya made such tall claims about a senior official in the Pakistan government without offering evidence to back them up, but is still allowed to operate freely on Twitter and other media platforms. Recent news about Indian employees using their positions at social media firms to shield propaganda accounts might explain a part of the story.