Is Farhan Khan Virk the Shoaib Ahmad Shaikh of Twitter?

Farhan Khan Virk

To say Farhan Khan Virk is a prolific Twitter user does not do justice. Even if you don’t follow him on Twitter, you’ve probably seen his work. Despite only joining Twitter less than three years ago, Farhan has managed to post over 187,000 Tweets. That’s over 170 per day on average! His subjects fall very much on the hyper-nationalist side of things, and a recent Tweet by Ali Salman Alvi revealed that as usual with this crowd there may be much more to the eye that what is admitted.

Apparently, before Farhan was Tweeting as himself, he was Tweeting as Dr AQ Khan. He is allegedly behind other fake Twitter accounts also, but what really caught my attention was this amazing screenshot:

Rather than feel any shame, however Farhan responsed to being outed as part of a Twitter propaganda ring with sheer arrogance.

I wrote a piece last year about the propaganda rings that seem to be rapidly spreading. I am not going to point fingers at Farhan as an ISI media operative because obviously I don’t have any evidence that he is. As far as I know, he’s just another cog in the hyper-nationalist media machine who has the time to not only post hundreds of Tweets every day but apparently to run multiple fake accounts and to coordinate with a team of other Twitter users to promote a hyper-nationalist message.

I don’t know if Farhan is paid to do this. Maybe he is just a wealthy young activist who chooses to spread hyper-nationalist propaganda instead of otherwise spending his time on school or a career. Axact may have been a diploma factory, but there also appears to be a propaganda factory also. Like Axact, it may be a matter of sheer arrogance that undoes it.

Who’s Afraid of Declan Walsh?

Declan Walsh

One of the more interesting sub-plots of the Axact thriller is the case of the New York Times reporter who broke the story. The reporter, Declan Walsh, was unceremoniously expelled from Pakistan two years ago, a fact belaboured by Axact’s defenders.

What exactly were these “activities against the state”? Well, like his report on Axact, they were investigative pieces that lifted the lid on some rather unsavoury dishes. When the Axact expose burst onto the scene, many were asking which piece it was that got the New York Times reporter expelled. There’s some disagreement about which was the ultimate sin, but what is more likely is that there was not one piece but a pattern in the reporting that was objected to.

In 2011, Mr Walsh wrote a long report titled ‘Pakistan’s secret dirty war‘ about what’s going on in Balochistan – a topic that some quarters would prefer not be discussed.

In 2012, he filed a report on Kamra Airbase attack that the target was “believed to be one of the locations where part of Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile” – a claim that was unwelcome for obvious reasons.

In 2013, Mr Walsh reported that American military officials believed Pakistan was lying about drone strikes to cover up our own airstrikes. A few days later, his visa was cancelled and Declan Walsh ordered to leave the country immediately.

For those of us whose perspective is molded by hyper-nationalist self-appointed ‘patriots’, that is to say all of us, this looks like a clear pattern of “anti-state activities” by the New York Times reporter. If we are willing to set aside our nationalist instinct towards defensiveness, though, another question emerges: Was any of his reporting actually wrong?

Whether or not these reports were factually incorrect is something that is not easy to answer. Those who know for certain are not interested in the truth coming out. But is this actually serving the country’s interests, or undermining them?

Questions about what is taking place in Balochistan are virtually unanswerable since the military has banned reporters from going there. The result of this is that all manner of allegations can be easily made but very difficult to disprove. Worse, if there are abuses taking place, they are not able to be exposed and corrected. This provides ready fuel to separatist propaganda and undermines the credibility of our own armed forces.

Army officials strongly denied that Kamra airbase was a nuclear site, but that doesn’t mean much. They would deny it even if it were true. Nuclear weapons sites are a carefully kept secret in order to keep them secure. But are they really more secure for being secret? When no one is sure where the weapons are kept, it’s hard to know if they’re really being targeted or not. We have to take Army’s word for it, and it does not serve Army’s interest for the public to know the details of such sensitive matters. Would our nuclear sites actually be more secure if they were public? Out of curiosity I did a quick Google search and discovered that America’s nuclear sites can be seen on Google Maps!

The missiles and their command bunkers have been in the same place “for decades,” Air Force Capt. Edith Sakura of the 90th Missile Wing Office of Public Affairs wrote in an email. “They are near county and state roads that are public access to people. You need security clearances to access the sites; however, it would be hard to ‘hide’ such facilities.”

Moreover, as other commenters noted, the sites are already visited by foreign militaries. Russian officers regularly inspect U.S. missile silos to make sure America is adhering to international arms-control treaties. (And the U.S. sends its own observers to Russia.)

America does not worry about whether someone knows where their nukes are because America’s Army is certain that they are secure. What does it say, then, when we so defensively keep ours a secret?

As for lying about drones, perhaps the less is said the better.

Army will deny each of the claims made in Declan Walsh’s reports, and because they involve sensitive subjects, it would be virtually impossible to prove them. Actually, even if some secret evidence was leaked, it would simply be dismissed as a Western conspiracy against Muslims as has been done in the past. We will accept the denials because what other choice do we have? We will dismiss Declan Walsh as “anti-Pakistan”, and we will sincerely resent him, not because we really believe that he’s a foreign spy but because there is that sinking feeling in the back of our minds that makes us doubt what we have no choice but to believe.

In an important piece by one of Axact’s victims, respected journalist Wajahat S. Khan reflects on his regrets about his brief experience with Bol:

But arrogance has a tone. Denial has a deafening silence. And mirages are self-constructed. I contributed to all three, in my three months at Bol. And played along with the best of them, because of where they came from, who they are, and what it all meant.

Khan’s astoundingly open and honest words sparked an uncomfortable feeling, like they were hitting a bit too close to home.

Arrogance has a tone. Denial has a deafening silence. And mirages are self-constructed.

Wajahat S. Khan may have contributed to all three in his brief time at Bol, but each of us has contibuted to all three during our lives as well. The arrogant tone of our insistence that we are the fortress of Islam. Our silent denial that jihadi ideology is devouring our nation. And the mirage that we have self-constructed that tells us that the number one intelligence agency in the world and most accomplished military in the world will keep us safe and secure…just as long as we don’t ask any questions.

Manohar Parrikar: Diplomatic Equivalent of Internet Troll

Manohar Parrikar

Civil society activist Jibran Nasir recently noticed something on Twitter which understandably outraged him. Spokesperson ASWJ Hafiz Oneeb had posted the following Tweet:

Jibran Nasir was understandably upset and asked why Army was meeting with members of banned militant groups. The question could have been thought to be shouted into the wind, but thankfully it was actually heard and even responded by no less than the officer pictured:

Army was not “meeting” with ASWJ but warning them. ASWJ used the photo with a fake caption as part of their psychological operations to make people doubt their armed forces. It is a classic “divide and rule” strategy, but this time it was failed because the officer who was being defamed was alerted and able to give the correct view. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.

Could a similar strategy be taking place with Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s shocking statements last week that suggested that India is promoting terrorism in Pakistan?

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Why Varsity Students Are Vulnerable to Extremism and How To Change It

Saad AzizSaad Aziz is an unlikely poster boy for terrorism. The son of a good family, educated at some of the nation’s top schools, Aziz appeared to be everything that any parent would want for their child. Inside, though, a terrible storm was building. How did this promising young man turn into a monster? This is a question that must be dealt with because, as is finally coming to light, Aziz is not the only well-educated jihadi in our midst. We look for answers to this question not out of mere curiosity, but in hopes of finding a cure for the disease. Thankfully, it might be easier than we think.

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Axact Scandal: 007 Tie-In Only Makes the Plot More Thrilling

axact

The investigative report that exposed Axact’s alleged role in an alleged massive fake degree operation was described by many as ‘breaking the internet’. The embattled IT company has continued to dominate discussion like almost no other, and it’s no surprise. The story has all the elements of a blockbuster movie: Billions of dollars, a charismatic leader who little is really known about, and a network of successful businesses that some say don’t seem to actually produce anything. This is a winning formula on its own, but there is yet another sub-plot that has yet to really begin unfolding, and this one could make Axact the biggest blockbuster of all time: A 007 tie-in.

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