ISLAMABAD (News Desk) – EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based disinformation watchdog, exposed a forum that promote India’s diplomatic interests to influence the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) with content critical of Pakistan.
After the shocking report of the disinformation watchdog, board of members of the fake forum South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF) have resigned after increasing pressure and calls for stepping down.
According to EU DisinfoLab, South Asia Democratic Forum was ambiguously created in 2011 by the Srivastava group. The news outlets were managed by Indian stakeholders, with ties to a large network of think tanks, NGOs, and companies from the Srivastava Group.
It is pertinent to mention here that in November, the non-governmental group, after carrying out investigation, in its initial findings had uncovered a nexus of 265 fake media outlets across 65 countries to influence the EU and the UN with content critical of Pakistan.
These platforms allegedly promote India’s geopolitical interests through republication of propaganda pieces and op-eds.
EU DisinfoLab uncovered links between zombie companies, dormant media outlets, and legally non-existent organisations, lobbying the EU and also the UN by constantly targeting Pakistan.
Questionable news portals mentioned in the investigation include Times of Los Angeles, Times of Portugal, EP Today, Times of Geneva, New Delhi Times, New York Journal American, and Times of North Korea. Most websites had Twitter presence as well.
EU DisinfoLab’s investigation demonstrates how this network of think tanks, NGOs, and media outlets has already translated into a set of EU parliamentarians visiting the Kashmir valley on Oct. 30. The visit was perceived by some as a sign of validation for the government’s move. It came amidst international attention on curbs on free speech and human rights violations in the Kashmir valley.
Who fuelled the network?
EU DisinfoLab’s probe goes back to October, when it found that “eptoday.com – the website of a self-proclaimed magazine for the European Parliament in Brussels – had been re-publishing a large amount of news directly from Russia Today and Voice of America.
“Among this syndicated content, we unexpectedly found that a large number of articles and op-eds related to minorities in Pakistan as well as other India-related matters,” EU DisinfoLab said on its website.
“This probe led EU DisinfoLab to conclude that EP Today was managed by Indian stakeholders, and had links with a vast interweb of think tanks, NGOs, and companies from one Srivastava Group.
“We also found that the IP address of the Srivastava Group is also home to the obscure online media ‘New Delhi Times’ and the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS), which are all based at the same address in New Delhi, India,” EU Disinfolab stated.
A few weeks after this, on Oct. 30, a group of 27 EU parliamentarians, mostly from right-wing political parties, visited the restive Kashmir Valley. This was perceived as a show of support for Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s big agenda for the newly created union territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.
Through shared phone numbers and an office address in Brussels, as well as shared web servers, EU Disinfo Lab found Srivastava Group to be at the heart of the network.
Srivastava Group is an Indian holding company which declares on its website that it has “interests in Natural resources, Clean energy, Airspace, Consulting services, Healthcare, Print Media and Publishing”.
The IINS is based at the same address in Delhi as Srivastava Group and an obscure media outlet called New Delhi Times.
BBC News Hindi reporter Kirti Dubey visited the address and was told by a security guard there was no office in the building. A neighbour who had lived in the area for 40 years told her he had never seen anyone in the house. Srivastava Group did not respond to the BBC’s attempts to request comment by phone and email.
The visit was reportedly organised by IINS, and facilitated by a lobbyist called Madi Sharma. India does not recognise lobbying.
Sharma soon came under scrutiny for her shady credentials, since her NGO, Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank, itself turned out to be a lobbying firm.