EU Disinfo Lab an independent non-profit organisation focused on tackling sophisticated disinformation has exposed the latest iteration of an Indian influence campaign aimed at defaming Pakistan within the EU institutions.
EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based disinformation watchdog, on Wednesday cracked open a massive 15-year-old Indian operation targeting international institutions including the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) with over 750 fake local media outlets and more than 10 dead NGOs to serve Indian interests and amplify content to undermine Pakistan and China.
The report stated that the operation led by the Srivastava Group and amplified by ANI — an Indian news agency based in New Delhi — under the banner of “Indian Chronicles” began in 2005 and is still underway. It’s mission is to discredit nations in conflict with India in Asia, in particular, Pakistan but also China to a lesser extent.
“Indian Chronicles’ key objective is to undermine Pakistan internationally. To do so, they resurrected dead NGOs at the UN. They impersonated the EU. They laundered content produced by fake media to real media – and reached millions in South-Asia and across the world,” the report added.
Resurrection of UN-accredited NGOs
During the investigation, it was found that the former president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz — who said to have left politics — was now heading Canners International, an NGO dedicated to the promotion of food in cans.
“We soon found the NGO he was supposedly leading officially ceased to exist in 2007 and was now regularly speaking at the UN Human Rights Council to slam Pakistan,” the report said.
According to the EU DisinfoLab, the Indian Chronicles also resurrected a renowned international human rights lawyer Louis Sohn. He was listed as a participant in a UN event in 2007 as well as an attendee during an event in Washington DC in 2011 even though he passed away in 2006.
The report further said that outside the doors of the UN, Indian Chronicles also created and supported several NGOs and think-tanks in charge of lobbying, organising events and demonstrations, all favourable to Indian interests.
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Summary of the 15-year influence operation
The open-source investigation shows that the operation is still ongoing.
The operation’s mission is to discredit nations in conflict with India in Asia, in particular Pakistan but also China to a lesser extent. Its long-term objective is:
- In India, to reinforce pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan (and anti-Chinese) feelings.
- Internationally, to consolidate the power and improve the perception of India, to damage the reputation of other countries and ultimately benefit from more support from international institutions such as the EU and the UN.
To do so, the operation consists of:
- The support to minority and human rights NGOs and think-tanks.
- The use of Members of the European Parliament to create a mirage of institutional support from European institutions to these minority groups, in favour of Indian interests and against Pakistan (and China).
An active presence in Geneva and the United Nations’ Human Rights Council through:
- Side-events and demonstrations in support of minority rights;
- Impersonation of extinguished UN-accredited NGOs or use speaking slots reserved to various NGOs whose original missions seem totally unrelated.
- The creation of fake media in Brussels, Geneva and across the world and/or the repackaging and dissemination via ANI and obscure local media networks – at least in 97 countries – to multiply the repetition of online negative content about countries in conflict with India, in particular Pakistan.
Advocacy in Geneva
The investigation uncovered an entire network of coordinated UN-accredited NGOs promoting Indian interests and criticising Pakistan repeatedly.
“We could tie at least 10 of them directly to the Srivastava family, with several other dubious NGOs pushing the same messages,” the report said.
It said that these UN-accredited NGOs work in coordination with non-accredited think-tanks and minority-rights NGOs in Brussels and Geneva. Several of them – like the European Organisation for Pakistani Minorities (EOPM), Baluchistan House and the South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF) – were directly but opaquely created by the Srivastava group.
“In Geneva, these think-tanks and NGOs are in charge of lobbying, organising demonstrations and speaking during press conferences and UN side-events. They were repeatedly given the floor at the UN on behalf of the accredited organisations.”
Lobbying in Brussels
The organisations created by the Srivastava Group in Brussels organised trips for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to Occupied Kashmir, Bangladesh and the Maldives.
“Some of these trips led to much institutional controversy, as the delegations of MEPs were often presented as official EU delegations when they were in fact not travelling on behalf of the Parliament,” the report stated.
The actors orchestrating Indian Chronicles are directly tied – and again not at all transparently – to the creation of three informal groups in the European Parliament, namely the “South Asia Peace Forum”, the “Baloch Forum” and “Friends of Gilgit-Baltistan”.
The report said that they have organised press conferences and events within and in front of the European Parliament.
Organisations like WESTT – the Women Economic and Social Think-Tank – have drafted and suggested parliamentary questions to the European Commission, along with articles for fake EU magazines such as EP Today.
“These served as a honeypot to attract a growing number of MEPs into a pro-India and anti-Pakistan discourse, often using causes such as minorities rights and women’s rights as an entry point.”
The reported uncovered EU Chronicles — a platform of fake media with fake journalists supposedly covering European affairs — which essentially provides a platform for MEPs to sign pro-Indian articles. “In less than 6 months of existence, already 11 MEPs have written or endorsed op-eds at a remarkably high pace for EU Chronicle.”
Role of ANI
The report stated that the only valuable coverage these op-eds receive, comes from an immediate repackaging by an Indian press agency named ANI (Asian News International), often quoting these op-eds as genuine articles from “independent media EU Chronicle”.
“Without Times of Geneva and 4 News Agency which stopped their activities following our previous investigation, ANI – which is considered as one of the biggest news agencies in India and the largest television agency of India – remains the only press agency to extensively cover the activities of dubious NGOs in Geneva,” the report stated.
The coverage – and often distortion – by ANI of the content produced in Brussels and Geneva led us to the Big News Network and the World News Network – an entire network of 500+ fake local media in 95 countries that have helped reproduce negative iterations about Pakistan (or China). “We also realised that the content produced was primarily targeted at Indian nationals, with an extensive coverage of these barely known “media”, MEPs and “NGOs” in Europe.”
The investigation also revealed how the activities of a fake zombie-NGO and that of a fake specialised media can be repackaged, distorted and amplified by malicious actors to influence or disinform globally, using loopholes in international institutions and online search engines.
The report was originally published by EU DisinfoLab
Pro-Indian ‘fake websites targeted decision makers in Europe’
‘India targets EU, UN with fake media, dead NGOs for anti-Pakistan propaganda’
In a nutshell, Indian Chronicles is:
- a 15 year-long operation running since 2005;
- 10+ UN Human Rights Council accredited NGOs, mostly resurrected;
- The resurrection of Prof. Louis B. Sohn, a prominent figure in human rights, deceased in 2006;
- Several identity thefts, including the name of Martin Schulz, former president of the European Parliament or the photo of James Purnell, a former UK Government minister;
- 750+ fake media outlets, covering 119 countries;
- 550+ domain names registered.
According to an investigation by the EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based NGO, a coordinated influence operation, to malign Pakistan’s reputation, is being led by the New-Delhi-based Srivastava Group and amplified by Asia News International (ANI), an Indian news agency.
Hundreds of fake news websites and NGOs linked to Indian entities were used to spread propaganda against Pakistan internationally.
For years Pakistan has accused its archrival India of engaging in hybrid warfare which relies on a disinformation campaign to undermine Islamabad at international forums. Now it seems much of that is true.
The EU DisinfoLab has uncovered a network of NGOs and fake media organisations linked to India that for more than a decade have been engaged in anti-Pakistan propaganda.
“It is the largest network we have exposed,” Alexandre Alaphilippe, executive director of EU DisinfoLab told the BBC after the report “Indian Chronicles” was published on Wednesday.
The operation’s mission is to discredit nations in conflict with India in the region, in particular Pakistan and also China to a certain extent. In the long run, the campaign is aimed at bolstering India’s global perception, which will ultimately allow New Delhi to bag more support from international institutions such as the EU and the UN.
DisinfoLab researchers believe the operation, which has been running for the past 15 years, has employed more than 750 fake media outlets, and more than 550 domain names in 119 countries to reinforce pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan feelings.
Following a preliminary investigation published last year, the EU DisinfoLab uncovered another extensive and manipulative campaign targeting international institutions and serving Indian interests. Back then, the operation was named “Indian Chronicles” by the DisinfoLab researchers.
In a report published by Politico’s Europe-focused site, DisinfoLab’s managing director explained the website’s aim was to amplify pro-India comments by Members of European Parliament (MEP).
EU Chronicle is the latest addition to the long list of websites that have sprinkled anti-Pakistan content online while constantly lobbying India’s interests.
DisinfoLab investigators said EU Chronicle is a “new fake media site with fake journalists supposedly covering European affairs, which offers a platform for MEPs to sign pro-Indian articles.”
According to Euractiv’s report, 11 MEPs across a range of Parliamentary groups have penned or endorsed op-eds on the platform.
The dead professor and the vast pro-India disinformation campaign
Commenting on the development from the Quincy Institute, a newly formed public policy think tank in Washington, D.C., Adam N Weinstein said: “At the very least the EU should open its own investigation and determine whether this misinformation campaign was supported by New Delhi. If not, then India should work with the EU to report misinformation.”
Referring to similar cases in the past, the Washington D.C-based researcher said: “Unfortunately, past reporting has previously revealed this phenomenon of India-based misinformation campaigns without much consequence.”
While DisinfoLab has not associated the campaign with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in India, the messaging, Weinstein said, reflects the Modi administration’s position.
On the campaign and its credibility, Weinstein said: “It is particularly disheartening that some of these disinformation accounts appropriated human rights causes inside Pakistan.
However, it is also unfortunate that events inside Pakistan have enabled such a campaign to appear authentic.”
In Pakistan, Dr. Wizarat, a noted scholar and expert on international affairs, assesses the situation differently. India, she said, has been directly involved in such activities for decades.
“Pakistan and other regional victims of India’s policies must band together to expose the regime in New Delhi.”
When asked about the impact of DisinfoLab’s exposé on India’s global image, Dr. Wizarat bluntly said: “The revelation hammers India’s image as the self-proclaimed largest democracy.
“Democratic regimes don’t indulge in such actives. All indicators, including the spread of disinformation show that India is not a democracy.”
A long list of websites, DisinfoLab said, were used over a period of 15 years to discredit Pakistan. These websites and their social media handles were used to publish videos and articles highlighting human rights abuses in Pakistan. At the same time, these platforms published positive reports about India.
DisinfoLab’s investigation reveals that the names of these website staffers were ‘probably not real’. Some articles, the Brussels-based NGO said were also published anonymously.
According to DisinfoLab, the pro-India operation is busy creating informal working groups inside the Parliament, establishing fake newsgroups, as well as influencing parliamentary questions to the European Commission. All such efforts, the investigators at DisinfoLab said were aimed at portraying Pakistan as the villain and India as a defender of globally accepted values.
Named as ‘zombie sites’ primarily because they were resurrected from dead media outlets, these platforms were constantly used to promote content that was against Pakistan.
Many of these fake websites also used names similar to active and defunct news outlets to provide a veneer or credibility.
Reacting to the report, Syed Hassan Akbar, Senior policy specialist at the national security division said “This is one of the most serious expose of India run, managed and funded FAKE news, NGO and think-tank networks created since 2005 to malign Pakistan internationally, especially at the UN and EU. The world needs to be talking about this.”
When asked about how Pakistan should deal with Indian efforts to discredit it on the global stage, Dr. Wizarat unequivocally condemned the actions. “It’s about time Pakistan gets aggressive about this. We need to expose India on every international platform,” the Karachi-based scholar said.
The long list of fictitious NGOs and think tanks, DisinfoLab reported were weaving an alternative narrative. Particularly on issues close to the Indian State’s interest, DisinfoLab said the think tanks and publications were very active.
According to the Brussels-based NGO, 11 MEPs took part in an October 2019 trip to Jammu and Kashmir, sponsored by the New Delhi-based Srivastava Group.
Moreover, DisinfoLab researchers also revealed that several informal European parliamentary groups, including the South Asia Peace Forum, friends of Gilgit Baltistan, and Friends of Balochistan, were set up or chaired by MEPs who were actively involved in events organized by Indian Chronicles.
Commenting on the use of such platforms to modify global discourse on issues like Kashmir and Palestine, CJ Werleman, a journalist and analyst on conflict said:
During its investigation, the DisinfoLab also uncovered an entire network of coordinated UN-accredited NGOs promoting Indian interests and criticizing Pakistan repeatedly. At least 10 of them directly to the Srivastava family, with several other dubious NGOs pushing the same messages.
The deeper dive by DisinfoLab revealed a US-based NGO – accredited to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – which had become inactive in the late 1970s was resurrected in 2005.
Not only that, the organization’s former chairman Louis B. Sohn, attended a UN Human Rights Council meeting in 2007 and participated in an event organized by “Friends of Gilgit-Baltistan” in Washington D.C. in 2011 – that too after several years of his passing.
Most of these UN-accredited NGOs, DisinfoLab said work in coordination with non-accredited think-tanks in Brussels and Geneva. Several of them, including the European Organization for Pakistani Minorities, Balochistan House and the South Asia Democratic Forum were ambiguously created by the Srivastava group.
According to DisinfoLab, Indian Chronicles effectively benefited from the track record of these organizations while pursuing their own agenda: discrediting Pakistan and promoting Indian interests at UN conferences and hearings. While these organizations were fronting as NGOs, they were primarily working to manipulate the EU Parliament.
Source: Tribune | EU DisinfoLab
About EU DisinfoLab
EU DisinfoLab is a young independent NGO focused on researching and tackling sophisticated disinformation campaigns targeting the EU, its member states, core institutions, and core values