Bemused Pakistanis were perplexed by mainstream Indian media reports that a ‘civil war’ between the army and local police had broken out in the country’s commercial capital of Karachi.
A civil war has broken out in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi - that is if some sections of the Indian media are to be believed.
For the rest of the world, including millions of confused Pakistanis, life in the country’s commercial capital seems pretty much normal.
Major TV and online outlets including Times Now, Zee News, theprint.in and India.com, have been reporting a ‘civil-war like situation’ in which local police forces battled army battalions trying to overthrow the provincial government of Sindh, where Karachi is located.
Of course, no such thing is happening.
There has been some consternation at the army’s decision to briefly detain Sindh’s police chief Mushtaq Mehar in order to pressure him into arresting Mohammad Safdar, the son-in-law of fugitive former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Safdar’s arrest took place after large but event free protests against the administration of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
To voice their frustration at the arrest of Mehar, a number of police officers applied for leave on the same dates. The anger has been somewhat assuaged by Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s announcement of an inquiry into the behaviour of his officers.
A political scandal perhaps and another episode shedding light on the complex role Pakistan’s army plays in civilian politics but a far cry from the ‘civil war like situation’ being reported by Indian media outlets, some of which reported gun battles, violent protests, and deaths.
India is the world’s top purveyor of fake news.— Arif Rafiq (@ArifCRafiq) October 21, 2020
And its major disseminators are Indian “private” news outlets working in cahoots w/ the gov’t.
Facebook & @TwitterIndia play an enabling role.
Here’s a leading Indian news channel tweeting lies about a “civil war” in Pakistan. pic.twitter.com/jJoTOq6RRe
The reports have since been seized upon by the far-right Indian Twittersphere, which has added its own embellishments to the developing (and imaginary) situation.
According to verified Indian ultranationalist Prashant Patel Umrao, police in Sindh were demanding independence from the central government in Islamabad and that “many officers are died (sic).”
Umrao’s assertions were completely unsubstantiated, but nevertheless left untouched on Twitter, where they have been retweeted thousands of times.
Pakistani Twitter hits back
Bemused Pakistanis were quick to respond to the false reports after a presumably short glance outside the window confirmed there was no ongoing civil war in their biggest city.
On Twitter, those living in Karachi shared tongue-in-cheek images of the purported clashes, with many either photoshopped or taken from TV shows popular in the country.
BREAKING: Emergency declared by PM Khan in Pakistan. Sindh Police has put up Bat signal in Karachi. This Civil War is beyond control, only Batman can save us.— Aamna Hassan Fasihi (@AamnaFasihi) October 21, 2020
Chances are his Batmobile will fall into a ditch on Karachi’s roads (thanks to PPP) but still hopeful 🤞🏼 pic.twitter.com/1wSJ6Ylmdh
In one, an image of a submarine at the Pakistan Maritime Museum was shared with the explanation that Pakistan’s military had deployed the vessel to combat Sindhi police officers and children, who had taken “control of anti-aircraft guns”.
In another video, an apparent military helicopter hovering over the streets of Karachi is revealed to be a remote-controlled toy.
Scenes from the hit Turkish drama Ertugrul also appeared on Twitter, with battle scenes from the show set in medieval Anatolia purporting to be of clashes between the Pakistani army and police.
The satire contained in such facetious posts proved too much to grasp for some on the Indian far-right, who unironically shared images of a Pakistani soldier named Shafiqudin Siddiqui, who reportedly died in the clashes. The image turned out to be one of a music video made by Pakistani TV host and politician, Aamir Liaquat Hussain.
Brave police officer surprises an army machine gun position by deploying uchloo tactics pic.twitter.com/uRZzzjmU2V— Comrade Meme Sahab (@SastiComradron) October 21, 2020
A track record of fake news
While media inaccuracy is hardly an Indian phenomenon, over the past decade some Indian news outlets have developed a reputation for sensationalism, jingoism, and fabrication.
One instance of perhaps all three in action was during the aftermath of the 2019 strike on the Pakistani village of Balakot after a devastating suicide bomb attack on soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir.
India claimed it had destroyed terrorist training camps in the region, and grainy footage purported to be of the strike were widely published and celebrated among Indian journalists.
Inspection of the site targeted, however, found no evidence of a training camp and instead of scores of terrorists fatalities as per the Indian media, the sole casualty appeared to be a crow.
More unsubstantiated claims followed the downing of an Indian fighter plane by the Pakistani armed forces. In what was likely a face-saving measure, claims appeared in Indian outlets that a Pakistani F-16 was shot down.
The Indian media widely disseminated ‘proof’ of the allegedly destroyed plane, which turned out to be the wreckage of one of its own aircraft that crashed during non-combat operations.
No additional proof has ever been provided.
Breaking News: Latest Video of Pakistan Army Helicopter Landing on a Road during a clash with Sindh Police at Gulshan-e-Bagh in Karachi. pic.twitter.com/RKpARYQaGx— Taimoor Zaman (@taimoor_ze) October 21, 2020