Information Warfare and India’s Level of Preparedness

 By Namita Barthwal
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“Repeat a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth”, said Nazi Joseph Goebbels. This maxim is quite relevant for countries that are actively involved in information and psychological warfare. According to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Information Warfare is “an operation conducted in order to gain an information advantage over the opponent. It consists in controlling one’s own information space, protecting access to one’s own information, while acquiring and using the opponent’s information, destroying their information systems and disrupting the information flow.” [1] Information warfare is a type of non-kinetic warfare and has 4-Ds as its objectives: (1) “Dismiss the Critic”; (2) “Distort the facts”; (3) “Distract from the main issue”; and (4) “Dismay the audience”. [2] States have been involved in information warfare and psychological warfare since times immemorial. Even Kautilya, the military strategist in ancient India, had warned against the obvious use of disinformation during wars.[3] In present times, the internet has exacerbated the impact of information warfare on kinetic wars and conflicts, making the nature of war citizen-centric, with blurring lines between the combatants and non-combatants.

India’s strategic thinkers realise well that the intensity of the information war mounted against India is increasing. For instance, Stoke White, a UK-based firm, released a forty-one pages report, titled India’s War Crimes in Kashmir: Violence, Dissent and the War on Terror, on 14 January 2022.[4] The report claims to have gathered testimonies of two thousand residents of Jammu and Kashmir, primarily Kashmiri Muslims and alleges that the Indian state puts them under coercion time and again. The report has termed the United Nations listed terror groups like Jaish-E-Mohammad (JeM) and others like the United States and the European Union sanctioned Hizb-ul-Mujahideen as “non-state armed groups” and calls for the UK’s universal jurisdiction on “war crimes under the Geneva convention” to be invoked against Indian officials and Indian government functionaries. [5] Uncannily enough, the theme of the report aligns well with Pakistan’s long-standing narrative. Even the terms in use are akin to a 2021 dossier, released by Pakistan, titled Indian Human Rights Violations in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). [6] Interestingly, Stoke White has a link with Turkey, which, as one may be aware, has colluded with Pakistan in recent years and has been aggressively running a disinformation campaign against India. The two countries, with the assistance of their world-over network, roll out reports and documentaries containing fake information on a sustained regular basis. That they rigorously cite each other’s works, with the origin of information often being flaky, is a typical feature of information warfare. The objective is not hard to decipher here. Reports like these wish to authenticate the disinformation being spread, aimed at setting global perception against India. In 2021, Paul Antonopolous, an international relations researcher, analysed a Disinformation Lab Report titled The Unending War: From Proxy War to Info War, revealing that Pakistan and Turkey are aligned in their bid to create an anti-India image using the constructivist concept of ‘perception management’.[7] Perception is the key and its management a continuous work-in-progress, as propagators of Information Warfare understand only too well.

India is aware of disinformation campaigns against it and has recently begun confronting these on international diplomatic forums by presenting timely rebuttals and with the counter use of information technology. Also, the Ministry of Information and Broadcast, in coordination with intelligence agencies, has chosen to block channels on YouTube and other websites that are found to be spreading anti-India propaganda and false news. In December 2021, twenty YouTube.com channels and two websites belonging to a Pakistan-based disinformation network were blocked for posting divisive content on Kashmir, the Indian Army, minority communities in India, Ram Mandir, General Bipin Rawat and more. So far, India has responded to these smearing campaigns, primarily to defend itself. However, there is a dire need for a holistic approach to curb the adverse effects of these malign campaigns on India’s global image and its internal social and cultural fabric.

Key recommendations on how India can fight back Information Warfare.

Disinformation narratives should be watched out for, rather expected, in current times of robust information technology. Think of narratives as a stream of running water. The current never stops. Similarly, countering such narratives too should be a sustained effort, preferred over ad hoc and episodic forms of confrontation. The flow of information should be tracked, and possibly capped while in its initial stages. That way the disinformation narratives would not fructify for debates on national and international forums. Other times, a ‘wait and watch’ approach is advisable before the narrative takes its full form. This would help formulate the counter tactic to be employed. Tracing the origin of information would help, specifically for sensitive topics pertaining to India – Kashmir, the North-East, Human Rights and religious minorities to name a few. Additionally, field studies in sensitive areas should be undertaken by Indian think tanks, and the reports generated be widely publicised. Furthermore, research centres should be made operational in the said areas, these being of keen interest for the anti-India dissemination networks, thereby whetting the information being generated becomes of paramount importance.

Many security advice-givers or academicians make the mistake of assuming that information-led techniques to counter disinformation networks (that float rumours and false news to instigate the civilians) can replace temporary internet shutdowns in affected areas. The two are mutually independent of each other. Shutting down internet services is a handy and short term tactic to quell frayed rumours arising from an unexpected event. Seemingly thrawting democratic rights, its advantages far outweigh the cons, one being its swiftness. On the other hand, countering rumours through the release of rebuttal information can be a time-consuming process requiring days and weeks before compete dissemination can take place. However, the Indian authority must think beyond internet shutdowns, especially when its use is prolonged, as happened after the abrogation of the provisions of articles 370 and 35A when the citizens in Jammu and Kashmir were debarred from using the internet for more than 145 days. [8] Such prolonged restrictions on the internet impact the economy. Also, it creates a persistent sense of alienation amongst the civilians. It is a known fact that internet penetration is higher in Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore, the government should utilise the internet, specifically the semantic part of it, i.e., Social Media.  Instead of internet shutdowns every time, the government must spread awareness.

For spreading awareness (including on Social Media platforms), a network of good samaritans must be stimulated. The perception of Kashmiris, who encourages development and integration, must be well-reflected on social media platforms. Likewise, India must create awareness and have a good slogan such as “India Against Disinformation” or “Stop the Fake News” – to facilitate our citizens to post correct information online.

There is no way India could stop disinformation flow, but through improving communication strategy in the international system, India can reduce the adverse outcomes of the disinformation. To be credible, India also needs to formulate narratives supported by videos, images, write-ups, etc., concise and detailed forms by having an independent team with specialists and professionals who will proactively ensure its projections. [10] This could be enhanced by creating fact-checking news portals of the international level alongwith this Indian statesmen should regularly contribute op-eds for widely read international newspapers. As well, in search engines such as Google and Yahoo, India must ensure the presence of counter-narratives using keywords that are used by adversaries in their offensive disinformation campaigns.

Conclusion

Information is power, disinformation is an abuse of power and there is no end to disinformation. Therefore, diligent repetition of correct information is the key to setting a perception. India is a democratic nation, therefore, it must value the advantages of the Internet and Information. However, it should not compromise its national security by giving free-way to disinformation and must reduce its propagation.

Endnotes:

[1]“Media – (Dis)Information – Security – NATO,” 2020, https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/2020/5/pdf/2005-deepportal4-information-warfare.pdf.

[2] P. W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking, in Likewar: The Weaponisation of Social Media.

[3] Roger Boesche, “Kautilya’s Arthasastra on War and Diplomacy in Ancient India,” The Journal of Military History (Society for Military History), accessed 8 February, 2022, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/40432.

[4] “India’s War Crimes in Kashmir: Violence, Dissent and the War on Terror,” SW Investigations, 20 January, 2022, https://www.swiunit.com/post/india-s-war-crimes-in-kashmir-violence-dissent-and-the-war-on-terror.

[5] Sidhant Sibal, “Turkey-Linked Law Firm Files ‘Motivated’ Application against Indian Officials in UK,” (WION, January 19, 2022), https://www.wionews.com/india-news/turkey-linked-law-firm-files-motivated-application-against-indian-officials-in-uk-446047.

[6] Dr. Jyoti M. Pathania and Namita Barthwal, “Pakistan Releases Dossier 2021: Propagandist Overtures”, Center For Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), 29 October, 2021, https://www.claws.in/publication/pakistan-releases-dossier-2021-propagandist-overtures/.

[7]“Pakistan, Turkey Waging Information War against India: Report” “Pakistan, Turkey Waging Information War against India: Report,” BW Businessworld (BW Businessworld).

[8] “145 Days of Internet Shutdown in Kashmir, No Word on Service Restoration,” The Economic Times, accessed February 9, 2022, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/145-days-of-internet-shutdown-in-kashmir-no-word-on-service-restoration/articleshow/72996839.cms?from=mdr.

 

[9] Dr. Jyoti M. Pathania and Namita Barthwal, “Pakistan Releases Dossier 2021: Propagandist Overtures”, Center For Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), 29 October, 2021, https://www.claws.in/publication/pakistan-releases-dossier-2021-propagandist-overtures/.