Embellishing news: A hybrid warfare technique

Embellishing news: A hybrid warfare technique

Ikram Sehgal,

The use of technologies and media gimmicks to tarnish the image of a person or a country has been around for quite a while. Fake news – telling plain lies or repeating unchecked reports from other sources - is one way to destabilize, frighten or otherwise put an individual and/or a country on tenterhooks.

Such stories usually do not survive for long because the truth is found out quite quickly. But damage is done nevertheless, particularly if the population is not educated.

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Vested interests have come up with a new and more dangerous technique, namely, ‘embellished news’. In this case, the gist of the news item is true but it is blown out of proportion, generalised and the negativity maximised. It has the same damaging effect as fake news. It unsettles, destabilizes and sows doubts and distrust.

One has only to look at the reporting about one of the preferred targets –CPEC and China.

The terrorist attack at Pearl Continental Hotel Gwadar, was true. Reporting on it was not wrong, most newspapers gave the facts which the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) disseminated. However, one of our leading newspapers gave this news item half of its front page and in a box ran an article highlighting the other incidents that had taken place in Balochistan in the recent past. The message that was communicated by our “media champion” was that Balochistan is at the brink of war, people and projects there are in danger and one should keep away from the place.

Enemy Propaganda

That is pure and simple “enemy” propaganda. Why is the newspaper’s reporting about Kashmir minimal? It never questions why India does not allow media persons there or for that matter in 17 other Indian states?

One of the economic columnists of the same newspaper called CPEC a “figment of imagination” in a panel discussion in front IBA students at Karachi. The fact is that the so-called Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is a very much diminished entity which is kept alive by foreign-sponsors to defame and pressurize Pakistan, destabilize CPEC and create unrest close to Iran.

In an editorial, the newspaper followed the same theme, forgetting to mention that some of the dead terrorists were on the “missing list” (as were those who attacked the Chinese Consulate General in Karachi).

India not only blames Pakistan for fomenting terrorism but also seeks to define Pakistan as a country which is not a safe place to invest in.

Bride Trafficking

Another such recent embellished news item is the one about Sino-Pak trafficking in brides. The media started reporting that young Pakistani women mostly from the Christian community, were allegedly lured into fake marriages or sold by their parents into marriages with Chinese men and taken out of the country to be later pressed into prostitution or to have organs forcibly removed.

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There is certainly a grain of truth in it. Jameel Ahmad, a top official at Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), dealing with human trafficking, informed Reuters about arresting 12 suspected members of a prostitution ring taking young Pakistani women to China, as part of a growing human trafficking problem using “marriages” as a cover. Those arrested included eight Chinese nationals and four Pakistanis.

The story was picked up by international organizations like Human Rights Watch which warned Pakistan about trafficking of women and girls to China. Al Jazeera, The Telegraph and others jumped on the bandwagon to create doubts about the intentions of China in Pakistan –and elsewhere- under the cover of executing development projects.

Human Trafficking is a major problem that needs to be addressed. Having been on the Business Advisory Board (BAB) of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Geneva, I should know.

But everyone forgot to mention that among SAARC countries, trafficking from India is the highest, followed by Bangladesh and Nepal. In fact Pakistan comes after Sri Lanka.

CNN has done a report about detention camps in China where Uighur Muslims are detained in an effort to de-radicalize them and convince them that their religion should be a private affair. But one wonders why CNN is avoiding a much more violent and atrocious situation close by in Indian-held Kashmir?

It is indeed a major disappointment that such a credible media channel as the CNN is “deaf, dumb and blind” to the horrors being visited on innocent Kashmiris.

Refusal to highlight atrocities where it is inconvenient and highlighting them when it suits an ulterior purpose are tantamount to distorting news. It is another hybrid warfare technique.

Given Pakistan’s long-standing friendship and partnership with China and our new commitment to CPEC, Pakistan is together with the Chinese in the line of fire. Our relations with the US touching rock bottom doesn’t help the situation either. Maybe it will become better as the Afghan peace process unfolds.

The only way to deal with such situations successfully in the future is to go on the offensive and bring out the hidden information that had been avoided in news stories.

Never has Pakistan given proper attention to image building and propaganda as a tool. We lost in East Pakistan in 1971 not only on the political and military fronts but also on the propaganda front. The latter led to tremendous international pressure on Pakistan. Pakistan abdicated the entire media stage to India.

Our security analysts must look at what happened in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and decide whether the so-called “liberal” press is patriotic or motivated by our enemies to distort and embellish news to suit their purpose.

There is a dire need to curb the exuberance of some in our media to disseminate enemy propaganda under the camouflage of “freedom of expression”. Look at where the pursuit of “freedom of expression” has taken Libya, Syria, Yemen, Sudan (and nearly Egypt and Turkey) to!

Freedom must come with restraint and responsibility. The need of the hour is to carefully and skilfully explain to the world how Pakistan is under constant attack and train the population to retaliate with facts.

(The writer is a defence and security analyst).