ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan accused arch-rival India of funding a long running disinformation campaign against it on Friday and said it would raise the matter in global forums.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) office in Islamabad, Pakistan March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir/File Photo
In making its claim that India attempted to manipulate international bodies through fake news websites and organisations, Pakistan’s foreign minister cited a report by European non-government organisation EU Disinfo Lab.
The report highlighted a network of hundreds of fake media outlets and organisations that it said have pushed a pro-India agenda in the European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN) bodies to discredit the country’s rivals, in particular Pakistan.
EU DisinfoLab did not detail any direct links between the alleged network and the Indian government and Reuters has no independent evidence of them.
“Today, India is manipulating and misusing the international system for its own nefarious designs,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said at a press conference, adding that the Indian government was funding the network.
Qureshi called on the UN and UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to immediately investigate and de-list “10 fake NGOs created by India to malign Pakistan.”
He also asked the European Union Parliament to begin an investigation into what he termed to be the manipulation of the body and its legislative process by “fake organisations involved in anti-Pakistan propaganda under a fully funded disinformation and influence operation, run by India.”
New Delhi rejected the charges, saying it was Pakistan that was spreading disinformation.
“As a responsible democracy, India does not practice disinformation,” Anurag Srivastava, India’s foreign ministry spokesman, told a news conference.
The EU DisinfoLab report also said Indian press agency Asian News International (ANI) was the only press agency to extensively cover material from the disinformation network.
Qureshi accused ANI of amplifying propaganda against Pakistan, and he noted that the organisation had a partnership with Reuters, which, he said, was also being used to spread this information.
Reuters News, a unit of Thomson Reuters, has had a minority stake in ANI for more than two decades.
ANI editor Smita Prakash dismissed the allegation, saying in a Twitter post, “An attempt has been made by Pakistan and its proxies to hurt ANI’s credibility by hurling wild accusations of fake news.”
Reuters, in a statement responding to a request for comment, said it was “reviewing these allegations” in its capacity as a minority shareholder in ANI, but added that it has “no involvement” in ANI’s editorial operations.
“As is the case with all our editorial partners and suppliers, we review ANI’s raw, unedited video content shot within India, and exercise our own news judgment about what we distribute and publish,” the statement said.
The two nuclear-armed South Asian nations have fought three wars since they became free nations in 1947, and remain deeply distrustful of each other.
Tension has sharpened since August 2019 when India ended the autonomy of its only Muslim-majority region, Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan.
UNHRC spokesman Rolando Gomez said the organisation would look into these specific allegations, and that it was aware a number of accredited groups were pursuing their own political agenda or those of governments.
Delphine Colard, a European Parliament spokeswoman, said they were not aware of such a request made by Pakistan, but added: “We take very seriously any effort to misrepresent the positions of the European Parliament or its elected members.”
Reporting by Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad; Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Brussels and Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi; Editing by Daniel Wallis
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@By Reuters Staff