Yes, there is a Pakistan hand: What Pak did on the eve of the first day of Indian elections

Three things Pakistan did just before the first phase of Indian elections. The move was clearly meant to have an impact on voters.

 |  7-minute read |   16-04-2019
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The Rafale controversy, the Balakot air-strikes and the Pakistani leadership’s unseen liking for Narendra Modi — what is common between all these three issues?

Apart from being the centre of political debates in the run-up to the General Elections, somebody made sure that these topics made a comeback to the headlines one day before the first phase of elections in India.

What is even more interesting is that the source and aggregator of these coordinated news items was our neighbouring country — Pakistan.

Earlier, an India Today report revealed how Pakistani intelligence agency ISI could try to influence the elections in India. Here are three things Pakistan did just before the first phase of Indian elections — and what this could mean:

Strike One: The Rafale Twist that wasn't

The Rafale deal has been the opposition’s weapon of choice against Prime Minister Modi who promised a corruption-free government. The fighter jet deal with France has been under constant media scrutiny and is also being heard by India’s top court. Yet, an unlikely angle surfaced on April 10 — only a day before elections. A two-month-old aviation blog suddenly resurfaced which claimed that a group of Pakistani pilots had already received training by the French government — on Rafale jets. 

This report was published in February and remained largely unnoticed until Pakistan-based online discussion forum, Defence.pk, republished it. 

A day before the first phase of polls in India, a thread of discussion started on the topic.

This thread made sure that this newly discovered Pakistani twist to the Rafale saga was reflected on the timelines of popular social media websites. One of the first few related posts published on Twitter came from Pakistani Twitter handles.

Another similar Pakistani forum — Siasat.pk — aggregated this post further.

Both these platforms are often used by the Pakistani army’s propaganda wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). Facebook, in a statement earlier this month, said that its investigation revealed several individuals running dubious Facebook pages and groups targeting India were employed by ISPR. 'Pak defence' and 'Siasat' forums are often used by ISPR supported groups to propagate the Pakistani national narrative.

As a result, soon this post spread across Twitter — and started to appear on the timelines of Indian journalists and politicians.

Even mainstream media published a story based on this article which had already been in the public domain over the last two months. 

Interestingly, the aviation website — which originally claimed that Pakistani pilots received training by French authorities — later retracted the controversial portion of its story and clarified that the source of its information was apparently an unofficial discussion forum and an Egyptian website.

Egypt and Qatar haven’t enjoyed a good relationship over the past few years and diplomatic ties between the two countries remain suspended. Hence, an Egypt-based less-known website cannot be trusted for Qatar news.

The French government officially termed this whole episode as fake news.

A Qatar government official, who was furious after reading the report, apparently said, “This report is completely false, we have our own academy and if we have to send Pakistani pilots then what’s the use of running our academy?” 

Yet, fake or not, the story had made inroads into people’s minds on the first voting day. 

main_gettyimages-142_041619011252.jpgIndian agencies tracked the recent Pakistan election to identify a system they believe could be used to target the 2019 Lok Sabha election. (Representational image: Getty)

Strike Two: The Imran Reverse Swing

As a cricketer, Imran Khan was famous for his reverse swing deliveries on the pitch — as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, what he did on April 9, however, was his best reverse swing on a geopolitical pitch. 

In an off-camera interaction with a select group of foreign journalists, Khan favoured Narendra Modi as the future Indian Prime Minister.

Modi, who is contesting the election on a hardcore nationalism and anti-Pakistan plank, was attacked by opposition leaders from different parties following this comment by his Pakistani counterpart.

Congress chief spokesperson RS Surjewala took to Twitter and quoted Khan, saying, "Pak has officially allied with Modi! A vote for Modi is a vote for Pakistan says Pak PM Imran Khan."

Later, when Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, was questioned by the Pakistani senate over this remark, he clarified that Khan’s comments were taken out of context. However, the damage had already been done in India.

Strike Three: The Balakot Equaliser

After using shadow wings to place the plot, it was now time for the real player to come out in the open.

Eight hours before the first vote was scheduled to be cast in India's elections, the ISPR released a video of the Balakot impact site.

This was 43 days after the Indian Air Force conducted airstrikes on the terrorist centre in Pakistan’s Balakot. The Pakistani army, after this considerable pause, took a group of select foreign journalists to the site, in its attempt to prove that the attacks had no impact on the infrastructure. 

Notably, PM Modi and the ruling BJP have been projecting the Balakot air-strikes as one of the biggest achievements of the current government. It is a murky coincidence (if at all) that the ISI chose this specific time to take foreign scribes to the impact site and release the footage.

Information warfare has been part of India-Pakistan relations for a very long time — however, this is probably the first time when the Pakistani deep state has apparently used all of its resources to make a mark on the very first day of polls in India, leaving its footprints all over.

Also read: Imran wants Modi back in power - seriously?

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