By now, the Afghan Taliban has officially disowned the claim that the group would declare jihad against India.
But close scrutiny of handles which promoted that fake but explosive statement shows it was amplified by Pakistan-based actors amid a deepening power struggle in Afghanistan.
That anti-India campaign used fake social-media accounts of Taliban political leaders, negotiators and spokespersons.
It was timed with the recently-concluded India visit of Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s special representative for Afghanistan, who advocated a larger role for New Delhi in the peace process between the Taliban and Kabul.
In an interview this month, Khalilzad also suggested India share its concerns on terrorism directly with the Taliban.
THE FAKE TALIBAN
A scrutiny by India Today’s Open-Source Intelligence Team (OSINT) found how multiple fake Taliban social-media accounts were used to circulate fictitious anti-India statements in Pashto and Urdu.
The same, the open-source probe found, were amplified in English by Pakistan-based handles.
All of them sought to generate a bogus narrative that the Afghan Taliban was unhappy with the Kashmir situation and has declared jihad against India.
For this purpose, a fake account of Zabihullah Mujahid, an official spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, was used.
The Pakistan-based fake handle of the Taliban spokesperson was originally created in July 2019, the OSINT found.
The Taliban impersonator handle posted multiple messages announcing that the Afghan Taliban’s next mission is to attack India.
The English message read: “Muslims cannot be friends with kuffar. Until the Kashmir matter is not resolved; we will not be friends with #India After fath of #kabul; we will fath #kashmir as well and then India will be given a chance to surrender to Islamic rule or get destroyed in ghazwa-e-hind.”
It was then promoted by thousands of Pakistan-based handles.
Another fake Twitter account of the Afghan Taliban’s chief political negotiator, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, was used in a bid to lend some credibility to the false narrative.
“It’s the Islamic Emirates duty to Conquer the #Kashmir from Kafir #India. After the Fath of #Kabul our next target will be Kashmir. We will continue our #Jihad with #India until we Fath Kashmir and bring justice for our Kasmirian Brothers. #Kashmir will get freedom Inshallah,” read a post from the fake handle of the Taliban’s political leadership.
For the record, Taliban leader Stanikzai doesn’t have a Twitter account of his own in the first place and Twitter has temporarily restricted his fake handle.
The amplification of fake messages on social media by Pakistan-based actors soon reached mainstream Pakistan media, which mixed a recent interview of Stanikzai in an attempt to attribute the fake message to the Taliban leadership.
The story was published in mainstream publications such as Daily Times which wrote, “Taliban have announced open revenge against Indians.”
But in fact, the Taliban leader had merely said he was open to talks with India and other countries, pointing out that India has historically dealt with their local opponents.
These anti-India media reports were later officially denied by the political office of Afghan Taliban.
On Monday, the official spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban, Suhail Shaheen, issued a statement clarifying that the recently published media stories regarding the group’s role in Kashmir were incorrect.
“Statement that has been published in some media about India is not relevant to the Islamic Emirate, the policy of the Islamic Emirate is clear that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries,” the Taliban spokesperson said in the statement.
The Pakistani disinformation campaign was evidently intended to create a false perception of a religion-based rift between the Afghan Taliban and the Indian state.
AFGHAN PEACE PROCESS
The United States has stepped up efforts to encourage the Taliban and the Afghan government to open peace talks.
The negotiations broke down last month over a prisoner swap agreement between the United States and the Taliban.
In April, the Taliban walked out of the talks, accusing Afghan officials of delaying the release of prisoners.