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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Unmasking Disinformation: The 9 May Attacks and its Impact on Pakistan

The catastrophic May 9 attacks, suspected to be foreign-sponsored, shattered the nation, seeking to disrupt the chain of command, foment mutiny, and undermine Pakistan's sovereignty. In the aftermath, Pakistan finds itself locked in a relentless struggle for truth, unity, and national stability, as it battles against the dissemination of falsehoods and strives to reclaim its harmony and integrity.

PTI’s media hype spiked after 10 Apr 2022. Local social media handlers inside Pakistan gave a fillip to the disinformation campaign. Journalist Imran Riaz led the media assaults. Copious articles were written by retired officers on websites. They belittled Army’s policies, poured scorn on the govt and the Army leadership, and showered tons of praises on the one only one IK.

Besides the PTI’s social media, which is connected with Indian and Western social media, the digital media and artificial intelligence were incorporated. Journalists and anchors were given handsome pay packages commensurate to the results produced by them. The Pakistani expats joined the war against the Pak Army. Foreign powers doled out vast sums for the success of their darling boy.

Read more: Pakistan’s Imran Khan gets bail on murder charges – lawyer

Motives of the Disinformation Campaign

  1. To hide truth from falsehood, build attractive narratives based on lies.
  2. Generate misgivings, further widen the divides in the society by breeding hatred, and undermine all the state institutions.
  3. Create chaotic conditions, break the unity and cohesion of the Army by creating fissures in junior ranks.
  4. Create divisions in the top command of the Army so as to weaken the Army’s trunk.

Their contributions made their foreign paymasters happy since this is what was desired by them which they couldn’t achieve on their own through various means for the last 20 years.

It was easy to cultivate and win over the disgruntled veterans and use them as a tool to achieve their objectives. The websites run by veterans left no stone unturned to spew venom against the army chief and other senior army officers of the Army. They happily forwarded anti-army write-ups and bucked up the writers. Anyone writing in disfavor of IK was reprimanded and rubbished.

Objectives of 9 May Cataclysmic Attacks

There is a strong possibility that the 9 May rampage was foreign sponsored and abetted. With this premise, the following could be possible objectives: –

  • Sow seeds of discord.
  • Breakup Pak Army’s unity by disrupting chain of command.
  • Foment mutiny in the Army.
  • Stoke widespread civil unrest.
  • Undermine Pakistan’s sovereignty, security and integrity.
  • Drive a wedge between the people and Army and to dislocate concord.
  • Create conditions conducive for India to launch its Cold Start Doctrine in AJK and GB.
  • Create suitable conditions for the UN and the US to intervene and either destroy Pakistan’s nuclear/missile arsenals, or shift nukes to another country.
  • Force Pakistan to accept India’s hegemony and to become a compliant state.

Rider clause. The last three objectives were to be manipulated by foreign powers on their own. For the western powers, Modi is a much sweeter darling than IK.

Read more: Pakistan’s Imran Khan formally named in ‘abetting’ lawyer’s drive-by murder

9 May Arson not Condemned

IK maintained his traditional arrogance and refused to condemn the arson of his party activists on 9 May in spite of the three Supreme Court judges urging him to do so. He took the excuse that he had no knowledge of the happenings after his abduction and illegal arrest.

To add insult to injury, he boisterously said that the reaction was bound to happen after the rough treatment meted out to him. He sprightly moved out from the premises of the Supreme Court without his wheelchair or a stick, negating the floating stories that he was hit with a rod on his head and his injured leg and blood oozed out from his two legs and was running a high fever.

He was seen hale and hearty and in a boisterous mood. He arrogantly remarked that if he was arrested again, a similar response would come from his party. It was a clear admission that he was fully aware of the 9 May arson.

New Narrative

In the meanwhile, the PTI social media network like Azhar Mashwani group, which is expert in making deep fake video and audio tapes and in spreading fabricated stories, got busy dishing out video clips showing PTI activists, both men and women being brutalized by the police. Videos of arrested females involved in vandalism were circulated to gain sympathy from the people.

The mesmerized followers of IK including the majority of misinformed veterans, refused to condemn the miscreants, inciters and planners of 9 May mayhem. They didn’t express sympathy with the families of the Shuhada. They believed in the fake narrative of the PTI that no PTI activist was involved in the arson and that it was a drama planned and executed by intelligence agencies under the direction of the Army and the PDM govt so as to ban the party and to disqualify IK.

The obsessive followers of PTI shed tears of sympathy for the perpetrators who were arrested, and for others who are on the run and being rounded up. They were deeply worried about the PTI girls and women caught red handed leading the assaults on the military installations. They readily believed in the fake stories of PTI social media network that they were being tortured, molested and raped and didn’t feel ashamed when the PTI women in detention of the police denied the circulating rumors.

The Pakistani lobby in the US was activated to garner support of the US Congress members. Main purpose was to draw the attention of the UN and the Human Rights Organizations and to put Pakistan under sanctions. 80 members of the US Congress spoke in favor of IK and the PTI. Zalmey Khalilzad has become the spokesperson of IK.

Baffling Response of Veterans to 9 May Arson

While the joys of the PTI activists and followers was understandable, what was incomprehensible was the behavior of some of the army veterans. They were equally overjoyed and blamed Gen Asim Munir for committing the blunder of getting IK arrested. They exuberantly forwarded the footage of IK’s arrest, all acts of vandalism of the PTI militants against army installations and law enforcement agencies on social media and raised victory signs.

They were pleased to see the attacks and destruction of the Corps Commander House (CCH) in Lahore and the GHQ gates. Like the PTI leaders, the two veterans sitting abroad exhorted the attackers not to spare the houses of Gen Asim, Gen QJB, DG ISI Lt Gen Naveed Anjum, and DDG ISI Maj Gen Faisal Naseer. Like the PTI lovers, ex-army officers under the magic spell of IK thought that the Army soldiers and officers had refused to fire on the protestors and mutiny in the Army was in the offing.

Hard-hitting Response of Law Enforcers

In the Special Corps Commanders conference followed by the NSC meeting, it was agreed upon that the attacks on pre-selected army targets (79 big and small) were politically motivated, pre-planned, well-coordinated arson. Each and every military and civil target was pinpointed and the teams were prepared and trained to ransack them. The Corps Comds vowed that the perpetrators will be taken to task; instigators and masterminds will be arrested and tried; next time, no restraint will be shown. A serious concern was expressed on the venom spitting social media network and the govt was asked to dismantle it through the stringent application of cyber-crime laws.

This was the first drop scene for the PTI and its supporters who till then were propagating that serious differences had arisen among the senior army officers and they were in disagreement with Gen Asim’s policies. In fact, one of the motivating factors which had impelled IK to give a green signal for the 9 May attacks was that he had been informed that few Corps Commanders would be supportive of the offensive acts of the PTI. His preposterous and atrocious assumption proved fallacious.

While addressing the Formation Commanders Conference on June 7, (all Lt Gens and Maj Gens), Gen Asim Munir was more forthright in expressing his resolve to bring all the culprits to justice speedily under PAA 1952 and Official Secrets Acts 1923, irrespective of internal and external pressures. He said that none will escape the hand of law because of the irrefutable evidence collected.

Read more: Imran Khan sues health minister for Rs10 billion over medical report

Gen Asim made it clear that the planners and masterminds who had mounted the hate ripened and politically driven rebellion against the state and state institutions will not be spared.

The military courts have been established in Lahore and Pindi, and trials have commenced well within the judicial system. Since then, the PTI leaders and workers, the PTI enthusiasts including the misled veterans have pulled long faces.

Pakistani Expats in the Investigative Loop

Overseas Pakistanis got a big jolt when the government decided to expand the scope of investigations of 9 May to the Pakistani emigrants. All those expats found involved in instigation, glorification and moral, physical, financial support to make the heinous attacks successful, shall be proceeded against. Relevant data of about 600 Pakistanis has been collected. Investigators have gathered that some of the ring leaders are backed and funded by hostile foreign agencies.

The government intends to initiate criminal proceedings against all of them and their host countries will be requested to extradite them to Pakistan. Their dual nationality applications, and fraudulent methods used to obtain foreign nationalities will also be probed.

Ramifications of 9 May Saga

The saga of 9 May was horrendous and its implications horrifying. Targets of the vandals were Army specific, which never happened before. It was a close shave and a wake-up call. Pakistan cannot afford another 9 May, and it is a do or die situation.

Majority of the rioters as well as the instigating PTI leaders have been arrested, but the master planner is still being sweet-talked, hugged with affection and given protective bails by the superior courts.

IK has met his Waterloo in politics, but remnants of the PTI leaders reject the idea of minus IK formula. IK faces numerous grave court charges. Toshakhana case, foreign funding case, 190 million pounds corruption scandal, and murder of Advocate Abdul Razaq Sher in Quetta in which IK has been nominated as the principal accused. All cases have perilous connotations for IK’s political career.

It leaves IK with the choice of making an apology to the nation, hoping that he will be pardoned and allowed to live a secluded life with his wife Bushra Bibi in Banigala. The other is to accept his guilt and suffer a long jail sentence. The third option is prolonged exile. All are painful options.

The PDM parties and PPP are not ready to forgive IK since he poses the biggest threat to their political careers. They want elections not earlier than Oct 2023 since by then President Alvi and Chief Justice Bandial would have retired, at least one of the court verdicts against IK announced and Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan.

Spoilers and vested groups are ganging up and devising ways and mean how to debase and disable the crackdown, make the military courts controversial and stop them from punishing the culprits, and how to get rid of Gen Asim. The resolve and steadfastness of Gen Asim and his core team are at stake. Time is of great essence.

Lessons and Way Forward

Threat from within has become much graver than external threats. For external enemies, Pakistan has credible nuclear deterrence to keep them at bay, but it has not devised an effective mechanism to thwart and defeat hybrid war and internal enemies who have made inroads inside the fort of Army and among the veterans. A system of internal monitoring and checks and balances will have to be streamlined and made foolproof.

The dual nationality holders and overseas Pakistanis who have become security hazards need special monitoring and handling.

The PPP, PML-N, PTI and provincial parties have foreign links, and have a track record of disparaging the Army.  A permanent solution to this fowl practice will have to be found.

No political party must be allowed to create militant wings, get allied with proscribed groups, stage long marches and sit-ins.

A political code of conduct and ethics has become a necessity. Similar code is required for electronic and social media, which is the most potent tool in the hands of adversaries to weaken Pakistan from within.

The magic of IK will wane and die down if the next political government doesn’t repeat past mistakes and makes earnest efforts to make Pakistan better. Progress can be achieved only through reforms and not otherwise.

Dependence on foreign aids and loans will never make Pakistan self-reliant. The best way is to rid Pakistan of US dependency.

The Army will have to get rid of its Bonapartist tendencies, its meddling in politics, political engineering and carrying out experiments to retain its ascendency. These practices must be put to an end by erasing special powers given to the ISI.

Ongoing accountability of the 9 May culprits must be taken to its logical conclusion with speed. It will make Pakistan stronger.

 

The writer is retired Brig Gen, second generation officer and father of a martyr Maj Faheem Asif, war veteran, who took part in the epic battle of Hilli in Northwest Bengal in 1971, which was applauded by every Indian, Bangladesh and western writer.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.