New Delhi: As union defence minister Rajnath Singh was being formally handed the delivery of the first of 36 Rafale jets in France on the foundation day of the Indian Air Force, Pakistan waged a propaganda war on social media by flooding platforms like Twitter with anti-India posts.
Seeking to show the Indian armed forces in a bad light, Pakistani cyber warriors and bot accounts posted more than 70,000 tweets with the hashtag #RunAwayForce_IAF in just one hour, making sure that it was one of the top trends in India too.
The bot accounts and the Pakistan-based propaganda accounts kept sharing and retweeting the same posts over and over again, confirming that it was an organised attempt at information warfare to discredit the Indian military. While Twitter did not show the hashtag as the top trend in India, it appeared as the top personalised trend for several users.
Most of the posts followed the same template: use of photos of old accidents that IAF planes suffered and claim that it has a track record of failure. Several posts referred to the MiG-21 as the “widow-maker” and the “flying coffin”, highlighting their safety record.
The posts also repeatedly referenced the capture of IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, and portrayed it as proof that the Pakistani Air Force is a more professional and well-trained force than their Indian counterparts. Training videos of the Pakistani Air Force were also used to prove this point.
Here is a sample of the kind of the tweets that were being shared:
#RunAwayForce_IAFHassan siddique, our Hero, in an interview asked the Nation not to worry about the country's security as PAF is fully awake to defend its air frontiers.pic.twitter.com/jY0uQIAn4T— Sohail Ahmed (@Sohailnice) October 8, 2019
Ever since the Balakot strikes, it has been found that a majority of ‘anti-India’ posts have originated from Pakistan and these cyber warriors have been given a clear mandate to malign India's image in the online sphere.
Recently, fake twitter handles of top serving and retired Army generals, including Indian Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat and other Army officers were also created by Pakistan to spread propaganda. At the Indian government’s request, Twitter had suspended 50 such accounts.
The latest attempt comes at a time when India is starting the induction of the Rafale fighter jet, which holds the potential to be a "game changer" for India in regional geopolitics of South Asia in so far as Pakistan is concerned.
Rafale, categorised as a 4.5 generation aircraft for its radar-evading stealth profile, will bolster the combat capability of the IAF since most of the aircraft in its inventory - including the Mirage 2000 and the Su-30 MkI - are classified as either third- or fourth-generation fighters.
Pakistan has the multi-role F-16 in its inventory. But experts say it is only as good as the Mirage 2000 of India. There is nothing equivalent to the Rafale in Pakistan.