Fake News Strikes Again With ‘Saudi Slaves’ Rumour

The latest outrage this week has been over comments by Saudi Defence Minister Muhammad Bin Suleiman that Pakistanis are ‘Saudi slaves’. Only problem…

He never said it.

If the Saudi Defence Minister never called Pakistanis ‘Saudi slaves’ (or anyone’s slaves for that matter), why do so many of our fellow countrymen believe he did? The answer goes back to a ‘news report’ by Arabi21, a Lebanon-based news site.

Arabi21 News Report

Curiously, the story is not even from Lebanon, it is quoting an Iranian news agency. But that doesn’t really matter at all, because nowhere in the story does it say anything about the Saudi Defence Minister terming anyone as anyone else’s slave. So why do so many people believe that it does?

The answer comes down to two important facts. First, the media report being quoted is in Arabic, which most Pakistanis can’t read (disclosure: neither can I – I had to ask a friend to translate for me!) Second fact: A Pakistani ‘security analyst’ said so on social media:

The problems with this fake rumour were almost immediately noted by other journalists on Twitter

However even after several days since it was disproven, the original Tweet is still there and being passed around as ‘proof’. The fake rumour has received massive attention in large part because of controversies and worries about our role in the Saudi military alliance and the more recent crisis in Gulf over the isolation of Qatar. This has led to a spike in fake news stories over these issues meant to, in the trendy terminology, ‘shape perceptions’.

There is another issue at play, though, which is our sense of pride. After taking billions of dollars in foreign aid from Saudi, and watching millions of Pakistanis emigrating to KSA for jobs that bring billions more in remittances…why are we so quick to react to every piece of fake news that stings our pride a little bit?

We swing back and forth from one extreme to the other. First we fit our cars with number plates that refer to a fictional ‘al Bakistan‘ because we don’t actually know Arabic, then we get outraged over fake news – again, because we don’t know Arabic.

This outrage, like so many outrages over fake news, could easily be stopped before they start with one simple task: Fact checking. If you receive something on WhatsApp or even if someone tells you directly, why not ask for the facts. Where did they learn this information? Can you see the story? Where did it come from? Can you read it? If not, can you get a translation? Has it been verified by any other journalists or media agencies?

We are living in particularly sensitive times. There are forces at play that do not have our best interests in mind, and the internet and social media especially have made the spread of fake news so fast and so real looking that we cannot believe everything we hear or read. Thankfully, the same technology that makes fake news spread is also the antidote to the disease. Next time, before you get angry and quickly react, take the time to fact check.

Are Pakistan Elections Wikileaks Next Target?

Imran Khan

Wikileaks has returned to the headlines after tweeting a four years old story about US and UK ‘stealing‘ NADRA data. This is a serious report that deserves a complete explanation from the government, but it should also be a fair and reliable inquiry and we should not walk into a trap of becoming the next target of foreign political meddling.

There are a few problems with the NADRA story as it is being reported. The obvious problem is that what is being circulated is quoting an interview between Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and PTI chief Imran Khan and not a leaked document.

While Assange’s motivations are not known, there are some questions about his group’s meddling in political affairs not only of the US but France also. In the past, Wikileaks has also been accused of being an ‘psyop’ operation of some foreign agency. The truth is still unknown, but it would be wise to take precautions, especially when the contents are being presented in such an obvious political manner.

This is certainly the case with this story as the information in the Wikileaks cable is being discussed with the leader of an opposition political party. Whether or not you agree with him, it is undeniable that Imran Khan has a specific political agenda and is not a neutral party.

Instead of letting Imran Khan tell us what the document says, let us look at what the cable actually says:

NADRA —– 8. (S//NF) Both PM Gilani and Interior Minister Malik pointed out that the National Data Registration Agency (NADRA) already collects a wide spectrum of information on Pakistani citizens, from driving records to DNA. Malik offered to share NADRA-generated information on Pakistani citizens, within the constraints imposed by privacy concerns. NADRA is at the heart of what the GOP intends to be an integrated border management system, Malik said, and suggested that API/PNR sharing could be a subset of this larger system. The system is currently connected through passport data, but the GOP is adding voice and facial recognition capability and has installed a pilot biometrics system at the Chaman border crossing, where 30-35,000 people cross each day. Reiterating that he welcomed both USG assistance and the arrival of a DHS team to discuss PNR, Malik agreed to set up a joint U.S.-Pakistan task force to work out a way forward.

What the Wikileaks cable says is that the Interior Minister offered to “share NADRA-generated information…withing the contraints imposed by privacy concerns” and that he “agreed to set up a joint U.S.-Pakistan task force to work out a way forward”. As far as we know, no information was ever shared. Or if it was, it was in limited fashion that respected Pakistani laws and privacy concerns.

Nowhere does the Wikileaks document say anything about US or UK stealing any data. Nowhere does it say anything about a front company set up in the UK to steal any data. Those claims were made during the interview but till date there has been no evidence provided to back up these sensational claims. Until there is evidence, these are conspiracy theories only.

So what is the truth? The best way to know is for the government to provide a full explanation for what actually happened. As the present government is not from the same party as was in power during the alleged incident, it cannot be accused of covering up its tracks to protect itself. With elections coming up, Pakistan is in a sensitive position and there is no reason to believe that we will not be the next target of foreign meddling by anonymous and unknown actors.

ICJ Verdict: What it says, and what it doesn’t

Pakistan's legal teamThe International Court of Justice has responded to India’s case in the matter of alleged RAW spy Kulbushan Jadhav. India approached the ICJ after Jadhav was sentenced to death for his involvement in terrorist activities in Pakistan. The response has been celebrations in India, and outrage in Pakistan. Neither are warranted by the facts.

Here is the actual order of ICJ. Please read the contents carefully before going on.

ICJ order page 1ICJ order page 2ICJ order page 3 All the ICJ has declared at this point is that Jadhav should not be executed until the full proceedings are complete. He has not been acquitted, and he has not been freed. Obviously, we wanted the case not to be accepted, but this is not necessarily a defeat. Actually, the Court can still find completely in Pakistan’s favour after hearing all arguments which would be a much bigger defeat for India because it would leave no doubt. With that explained, it is worth revisiting some of the details of the case so that we can understand why there is so much confusion.

Let us be honest with ourselves. There have been questions about the way that Kulbushan Jadhav case was handled since day one. The surprise announcement of Jadhav’s death sentence may have been what the country wanted to hear, but it left more questions than answers. As I wrote at the time:

Why was the accused denied consular access per diplomatic norms? Does the fact that the weak ‘video confession’ is being promoted again mean that this is the only evidence we have? If the case against Jadhav was strong, why keep the evidence hidden away in secret military trials and classified ‘dossiers’?

None of these questions mean Jadhav was innocent or that he should be released. But as I warned at the time, the secret nature of the proceedings was going to haunt the proceedings. It is easy for us to accept the obvious, but that is because we have been conditioned to believe that RAW is responsible for terrorism in Pakistan by an endless media campaign by TV anchors, politicians, and military officers. The rest of the world, however, is not so certain.

We can blame the entire world’s inability to see things the way we do on a grand global conspiracy, or we can ask why we see things one way and the rest of the world sees them differently. Right now there is a debate about this going on as some are pointing out what we could have done better in the ICJ.

London-based Barrister Rashid Aslam says Pakistan was ill-prepared and did not utilise the 90 minutes it had to make its argument.

“Pakistan had 90 minutes of argument time but we wasted 40 minutes,” said Aslam. He added: “I was surprised why we finished our arguments in such little time. I think Khawar Qureshi didn’t consume all the time that was afforeded to him.”

He added: “Pakistan had the right to set up a judge there but we didn’t do that. I think Pakistan was grossly unprepared.”

Could part of the reason that we were grossly unprepared be that we believed it was an ‘open and shut’ case based on our own media narrative? If we prepared our case with the assumption that we would actually have to convince a sceptical audience, what would we have done differently? Exploring these questions could help us be better prepared for future global engagements including on issues like Kashmir.

Unfortunately, there is another more popular response that is being promoted. It is the one voiced by retired Justice Shaiq Usmani:

“It’s Pakistan’s mistake to have appeared there. They shouldn’t have attended.”

Rather than do the hard work of convincing someone who isn’t already convinced, we could just turn our backs on the rest of the world. We are already convinced, so why bother trying to convince anyone else. Who needs our critics to accuse us of being isolated when we have retired Justices suggesting that we isolate ourselves?

It is important to remember that the ICJ has not acquitted or released Jadhav, nor is the case finished. Actually, it is only beginning. We still have a chance to present our arguments and evidence. If we want to convince the world that we are telling the truth, though, we need to start by giving up the clever narrative management operations that continue to create confusion when things don’t go the way we are conditioned to expect them to. After all, if we aren’t secure enough to allow tough questions at home, how will we ever be able to answer them in an international forum like ICJ?

Why Army’s ‘Withdrawal’ of ISPR’s Tweet Is Not A Victory For Democracy

ISPR’s announcement that Gen Ghafoor’s infamous Tweet ‘rejecting‘ PM’s notification on so-called ‘Dawn Leaks’ has been ‘withdrawn’ is being treated as a victory for democracy. It is not. Allow me to explain why.

Let us look at what the Army actually said in its latest release:

Rawalpindi – May 10, 2017:

The tweet on 29 April 2017 was not  aimed at any government office or person. Recommendations as contained in Para 18 of the Inquiry Committee Report, duly approved by the Prime Minister, have been implemented, which has settled the Dawn leaks issue. Accordingly, ISPR’s said Twitter post stands withdrawn and has become infructuous.

Pakistan Army reiterates its firm commitment and continued resolve to uphold the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and support the democratic process.

There are a few key items to note. First is that the statement begins with a completely ridiculous and unbelievable claim. Gen Ghafoor’s Tweet said ‘Notification on Dawn Leak is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the Inquiry Board’. That is a specific notification that was issued by a specific government office of a specific person, namely the Prime Minister. This is how it was understood by everyone, and to try to pretend otherwise only confirms the inappropriate and unprofessional nature of the original Tweet.

Most importantly, though is the beginning of the third sentence: ‘Accordingly’. This follows a recognition that PM implemented the Inquiry Committee’s recommendations (a committee that included representatives of ISI, MI, and IB). Army’s new statement says recommendations of the Inquiry Committee have been implemented, therefore Army is withdrawing its Tweet.

The reason Gen Ghafoor’s Tweet should have been withdrawn is that it was prima facie insubordinate as well as inappropriate and unprofessional and furthering suspicions and conflicts between arms of the state. Army’s new statement should have said, “The tweet on 29 April 2017 was inappropriate and is regretted. Accordingly, ISPR’s said Twitter post stands withdrawn.” Instead, Army said that it was withdrawn because PM implemented recommendations made by a committee including Army men. By doing so, Army has reserved the right to ‘reject’ future notifications by the PM if he fails to follow their orders.

The fact that Army’s ‘withdrawal’ is being treated as a victory for democracy and a set back for the military only shows just how firm the military’s grip on the state is. This is not a victory for democracy, it is only a sign of how far we are from it.

Iran Rejects Saudi Alliance, Now Border Heating Up. Coincidence?

jaish-al-adl

Security situation on the border with Iran is heating up. Ten Iranian border guards have been killed by militants from Pakistan side and Iranian government has issued a statement declaring that “the Pakistani government bears the ultimate responsibility of the attack”. This accusation can be understood in two ways: Either we do not control these areas as much as we claim to, or we do control these areas and the state is pursuing some strategy of using militant proxies to annoy Iran.

The possibility that we do not really have control of these areas is probably true. Despite media events showcasing surrender of hundreds of Baloch insurgents at a time, attacks against FC soldiers continue and jihadi literature is being openly distributed by state-approved militant groups posing as ‘relief’ organisations in areas controlled by Army. The spread of such extremist ideology is impossible to control, and Army’s tight controls on reporting from these areas means no one can be sure what is the actual security situation.

However there is another possibility, which is that the border attacks have heated up as a response to Iran’s rejection of Saudi military alliance led by ex-COAS Gen Raheel Sharif. FO has been trying to bring Iran on board with the Saudi military alliance despite their belief that there is a ‘hidden agenda‘ in the scheme. Foreign Office officials have rejected Iran’s claims, saying that the alliance is for good of all Muslims and is not against any country but terrorism. Could these attacks be orchestrated to pressurize Iran into joining the alliance? Or are certain quarters taking a page out of an old play book to send a warning about what can happen if preferred policies are not accepted?

Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua said last week that ‘We have no border issues with Iran and our border with Iran is friendly’. Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan has given a different view, warning that ‘we reserve the right to give a firm response to such acts of terror’.

We are already facing rising tension with Afghanistan and India. We cannot afford to open another front against Iran also.