Early Monday, Pakistan and Britain issued two separate read-outs on a telephone conversation their prime ministers had amid heightened tensions between India and Pakistan. Statements from both countries were nearly identical except for one crucial omission in the Pakistani read-out—it skipped the part where London called upon Islamabad to clamp down on terror groups.
“The leaders discussed the need to address the causes of this conflict. The prime minister (Theresa May) emphasised the importance of Pakistan taking action against all terrorist groups in support of global efforts to combat terrorism," said the lines in the British statement, which were missing from the Pakistani read-out.
The missing line is part of the propaganda war unleashed by Pakistan following the 26 February air strike on Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, according to Indian officials. The aim of this information warfare is to rally the domestic audience in Pakistan given that the support for the country in the international community is dwindling rapidly, said two people familiar with the matter.
This is not an isolated incident. Since the bombing by Indian Air Force (IAF) jets, Pakistan has put out a parallel narrative of events, including the downing of an IAF Sukhoi jet in addition to a MiG-21 Bison. India admits to having lost the latter in a dogfight between Indian and Pakistani jets on 27 February but two people familiar with the matter said separately that all Sukhoi jets were accounted for and no Indian pilot has been killed.
Pakistan also said on Tuesday that an Indian submarine was spotted off Karachi port and warned away.
The only possible objective of these acts of deception could be “to keep the population deluded and in a heightened sense of fear, otherwise they will start asking questions of the Pakistani leadership," said one of the persons cited above.
Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said the obfuscation is an old trick used by Pakistan even during the 1971 Bangladesh and 1999 Kargil wars.
“In every war, Pakistan has sketched out an alternative, one in which they are the victors. Its a self-protective, self-delusional. This has been the pattern with Pakistan," he said.
On Monday, Taiwan too exposed a claim made by Pakistan that parts of an Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAM) that India had displayed as evidence to prove Pakistan’s F-16 fighter jets fired it against Indian jets, were parts of a US-made weapon sold to Taiwan. The country did not use this kind of a weapon system, Taiwan said.
“The international community has made statements in favour of India following the 14 February Pulwama attack in which a suicide bomber killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel," said Harsh Pant, professor of South Asian Studies at London-based King’s College. The responsibility for the attack was claimed by Pakistan-based Jaish-e- Mohammed group. “There is tremendous pressure on Pakistan. In this situation, this kind of information warfare has been unleashed for their domestic consumption, to preserve the veneer of respectability that the (Pakistani) generals have," Pant said.
Pakistan also released an apparently doctored video of Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman just hours before he was handed over to Indian authorities on Friday. “I see peace in it...I am very impressed. The Indian media always belittles the army," the video shows Abhinandan as saying in references to the Pakistani army. Indian officials said they were surprised when several foreign embassies contacted the government a day after the air strikes seeking, clarification about India planning to launch missiles against Pakistan, Indian warships moving towards Karachi, and New Delhi ordering troops to the border with Pakistan.
“We told the foreign governments who had contacted us that these were all false. Some of the countries that contacted us have superior assets they can use to determine whether we are moving troops to the border or not, whether out warships are moving towards Karachi," said the other person mentioned above.
That Pakistan had indulged in attempts to create a war psychosis “actually strengthens our narrative that the Pakistani government could not be trusted," the person said.