Associated Press of Pakistan, the official government news agency, reported on Monday that “a media report” has criticised Pakistan’s former Ambassador Husain Haqqani for speaking against the state. The “media report” APP is broadcasting comes from a website called “ZoneAsia-PK”. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t feel bad. Nobody else had either. Which is why I thought it was very strange that it was being quoted by APP. The author of the piece is noted as “Shehzad Malik…a Pakistani researcher based in the US with a Masters degree in International Relations”. I was curious about who this person was, so I decided to do a little checking. As it happens sometimes, one thing led to another, and I found myself looking at some very interesting information.
According to Internet regisration records, the website “ZoneAsia-PK.com” is registered to an address in Lahore Contonment, but the registration information is possibly fake.
The same email address “firstname.lastname@example.org” was also used to register the website “Tacstrat.com” to a different name at an address in Quetta.
It has also been used to register the website “Area148.com” under a different name, this time in Karachi.
Interestingly, Tacstrat.com is also connected to the email address of Managing Director Spearhead Research Faraz Karamat.
Spearhead Research is a “think tank” located in Lahore Cantonment that promotes a hyper-nationalist, pro-military narrative. They have called Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “a man of his abysmal intelligence” and former President Asif Zardari as “corruption-incarnate” while singing the praises of the military as Pakistan’s saviour. Spearhead Research also re-posts pieces from other groups including conspiracy theory blogs like “Veterans Today” website which was a project of Gen. Hamid Gul.
The other websites connected to Spearhead Research such as “Area 14/8” also post hyper-nationalist pro-military propaganda including pieces that accuse analysts who criticise the military of writing “a paranoid rant against the army when the focus should be on promoting institutional harmony to safeguard the interests of Pakistan”. Then all of these posts from these different websites get re-posted over and over again on other blogs who appear to exist only to re-post for them!
All of this begs the question why did a professional media group like APP choose to report a highly suspicious blog post? And why publish an attack against Husain Haqqani now? Especially one that is almost a year old? It’s all very strange.
Now that APP has reported it, though, the piece is being re-published by other media groups like Business Recorder where it is likely that unsuspecting readers will just accept the information placed before them without questioning where it came from. At a time when newspapers include giant blank spaces where news reports have been censored, it’s hard to know what is really going on.
Ironically, APP’s report has probably done more good than bad for Husain Haqqani by keeping him in the news. It’s also probably done more bad than good for APP, since many are now wondering how this report was allowed to happen. Whoever ordered this report, though, it will probably remain something of a mystery. One thing is less of a mystery, though, and that is what looks very much like a covert propaganda ring being run out of Lahore Cantonment.