There cannot be any war without propaganda. Since the First World War, it is an accepted fact that propaganda is not only a tool of war — it is a weapon.
Today, in the modern world, any war between two nations is hybrid in nature, fought across numerous areas like the social, political, cyber zones, often with irregular contact between two armed forces.
Drumming up favourable public opinion at home is part of any war operation and the intellectuals of most countries seem to understand that very well. The only exception seems to be India, where intellectuals on this side of the border are happy to join the chorus emanating from that side of the world, which in my opinion, undermines the Indian narrative.
Before going into the topic, we should understand how propaganda works in warfare. During warfare, the citizens of the countries involved are generally on edge and very eager to hear news of the victory of their troops fighting at the borders. Any news of a defeat at the frontline will not only severely affect the citizens of a nation, but may also result in law and order problems because opposition and opposing forces might conceive the government as weak.
War has many versions. Troops on the ground is one. Propaganda in the air waves is another. (Photo: Reuters)
This is the reason why any country keeps up a brave face and often denies that they are suffering heavy losses in a war. In fact, modern history stands witness that most countries have persistently denied they are suffering huge losses at the battlefields. Instead, they have shifted goalposts and spun stories of an imminent victory in front of their citizens.
One of the biggest examples of a country claiming that they are victorious — despite being routed in a war — is the USA. In the Vietnam War, the US propaganda machinery kept claiming an American victory against the Vietnamese when the situation was dramatically different from what was happening on the ground. That was also the time when television sets were making an entry into the homes of Americans. It was unfavourable public opinion or the failure of the government propaganda machinery that literally forced President Richard Nixon to withdraw the troops from Vietnam. Many years later, thanks to the ever-loosening government leash over private TV media, Americans would finally learn that the Vietnam War was among the great American failures.
What America was doing though was a standard method of propaganda warfare — they were trying to keep up the morale of their people during times of war.
I will cite two more examples to drive home this point and show a pattern in propaganda warfare.
During the Iraq-USA war, Iraq's information minister Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf kept on claiming the victory of the Royal Guards of Saddam Hussein. He even thought the situation on the ground was radically different. 'Baghdad Bob', as he was popularly known, was seen on live television denying the situation on the ground after American troops marched into Saddam's Royal Palace and captured it.
Here is the video, where he is standing a few miles away from the palace — and saying with a straight face that American troops are failing and Iraq is winning the war.
'Baghdad Bob' would be soon captured, but he wouldn't be charged for the crimes committed by Saddam Hussain. In fact, Baghdad Bob received praise because Arabs perceived that he was doing his job professionally and sincerely.
Let's now look at Pakistan during the Indo-Pak war of 1971 — this lasted only 13 days and is known as one of the shortest wars of modern history. The war ended on the 16th of December 1971, after Pakistani Lieutenant-General AAK Niazi, Commander of the Pakistan Eastern Command, officially surrendered to the Indian army with 90,000 troops.
However, if you were reading the mainstream Pakistani newspapers, they were presenting a radically different picture.
Here is the front page of Pakistani newspaper Dawn on December 17, 1971. The newspaper's front page says that fighting will continue till victory and informs the readers in a very matter-of-fact tone that fighting in East Pakistan has ended. Have a look at the front page below to get a feeling of the propaganda.
And the 'Dawn' of a new lie? This is how propaganda works. (Photo: Dawn newspaper)
The pattern in all this is: Keep denying on-the-ground losses and project a soon-to-be-achieved victory in the minds of the common people. This is the standard operating procedure for any country facing challenges in war.
Now, look at what Pakistan has been doing in the face of India's onslaught on its state-sponsored terror bases.
The Pakistani army spokesperson has followed the standard operating protocols by denying any damage after the Indian Air Force attack at Balakot and even going to the extent of filing an eco-terrorism appeal against India at the UN for destroying pine trees!
The Pakistani army spokesperson has also come on record and declared that the army will be taking journalists from prominent foreign media houses to the exact place of the attack where the Indian bombs fell — but as reports have emerged, international media wasn't allowed to get even close to the exact point (the Jaish-e-Mohammed Madrassa) that the Indian Airforce has reportedly hit.
So, what is the Pakistani army doing here?
They are following the standard operating procedures of war propaganda from a country which is deeply affected.
Balakot Barred: No media has been allowed to go inside the camp or the madrassa which was struck by the IAF. (Photo: Reutes)
On the other hand, what are some Indian intellectuals doing? In my view, they are letting Pakistan win this propaganda war by continuously supporting their viewpoint and amplifying it through their platforms.
During a war, both sides will claim victory — only one of them is speaking the truth. History stands witness that the side that is losing will speak a false narrative in a much shriller tone, beating their drums and chests at the same time to drown out the narrative coming out from the victorious side.
It is time for us Indians to realise that propaganda is a necessary element in war and by supporting the Pakistani narrative, we are challenging the efforts of the Indian government to counter it and fight back.
The claims on the number of dead and the coordinates of the exact targets of the attack have not been officially released by the government. The Indian armed forces have confirmed in public that they have hit the target. Is this the time or opportunity to try and put the government on the mat on the number of bodies and the exact location of the bombing? The Indian government has sent out ample signals that it is trying to counter-narrate Pakistan's propaganda offensive at this time. Questioning the Indian government on its performance is our responsibility. But let me put it humbly forward that this is not the time on this particular issue. This is also not the time to give credence to the Pakistani propaganda offensive.
We Indians are letting Pakistan get a walk-over in this propaganda war.
It's time that we realised this simple fact.
Also Read: Where are the authentic ground reports from Balakot's JeM camp? Why does the media have no real access?