Bangladesh media and Twitterati have exposed Pakistan intelligence’s social media operations aimed at destabilising the Hasina government in Dhaka.
The country’s leading Bengali daily, Prothom Alo, ran a detailed investigation on these operations.
Twitter handles of leading pro-Awami League groups have followed up on this expose with more details including instruction given to their social media assets by Pakistani handlers, some based in their embassy in Dhaka.
Pakistan’s press secretary Aurangzeb Haral’s WhatsApp group, used for spreading vitriol against India, has been exposed. Detailed messages Aurangzeb sent in the group for replication with minor tweaks in social media have been revealed.
The focus of these black ops were discrediting Hasina and her government, whipping up unrest against the regime, aggravating communal tensions and boosting local sentiments against India.
Demands for declaring Haral persona non grata has mounted. Since Hasina took charge as Bangladesh PM, three Pakistani diplomats have been expelled for backing terrorists or conducting espionage on Bangladesh soil.
The most startling case was that of assistant visa officer Mohamed Mazhar Khan was arrested six years ago by the Bangladeshi authorities for his role in the syndicate that is said to have been pushing fake Indian currency notes (FICN) through the Assam and West Bengal border.
Khan, who was arrested along with a local accomplice in Dhaka, had to be released owing to his diplomatic immunity but the diplomat was expelled at the directive of the Bangladesh foreign office. Pakistan expelled a Bangladesh diplomat, Moushumi Rahman in a tit for tat gesture.
The spotlight is now firmly on fresh Pakistani destabilisation moves as also on some offshore Bangladeshi media figures who are spreading fake news at the behest of the Pakistan-backed Opposition parties.
One of the social media activists, Kanak Sarowar was recently exposed for ‘seeking funds’ from the BNP.
His telephone communication with a BNP leader was leaked by Dhaka Post. Sarowar, whose YouTube channel shot into the limelight with a controversial interview of former Lt Gen HS Suhrawardy attacking the Hasina government, was admonished by the BNP leader for “always asking for more.”
Sarowar has predicted the ouster of former army chief Gen Aziz Ahmed and an imminent military uprising, but his free media facade was blasted by this leak that revealed he was on BNP’s payroll and that the Opposition party’s acting chairman Tarique Rahman was “rather fond” of him.
Another Youtuber Captain Shaheed has recently circulated fake reports about PM Sheikh Hasina carrying 33 bags full of foreign currency to Finland, where she stopped over on way to the UNGA session in New York last week.
Captain Shaheed took to YouTube in a setup interview raising questions about what the bags contained but with no clue to what they actually contained.
There were more than sixty persons in PM’s Hasina entourage with almost two bags each on the special VVIP Bangladesh Biman aircraft. The PM was also carrying quite a few bags loaded with gifts meant for many VIPs she was likely to meet in New York.
“This was a calculated and baseless post meant to discredit her and paint her in the same vein as Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. The stopover was only to meet her nephew’s wife and her family because they are Finnish. Facebook which prevents posts on Pakistani atrocities during the 1971 liberation war on grounds they depict violence ran these posts without any fact check which they boast off,” said Awami League women wing leader Ayesha Zaman Shimu.
Several of Bangladesh’s leading journalists like Masuda Bhatti and Sumi Khan have had their Facebook accounts blocked for posts on the 1971 Liberation War in which they highlighted unspeakable atrocities. Facebook cited violation of their Community standards and said hate speech could not be allowed.
Awami League alleges some of the Facebook employees handling Bangladesh, where it has 47 million users, are “from radical Islamist political background”.
“Unless Facebook employs fair people with due background checks, this bias will not be corrected,” it said.
“What kind of fact check did Facebook run on the post alleging Hasina carried 32 suitcases full of foreign currency / I dare Facebook to prove the allegation or just ban the man posting this after removal of the post,” said Awami leader Ayesha Zaman Shimu.
Facebook and YouTube have been used by Bangladesh ‘ regime change’ driven offshore media outlets like Netranews and some shrill Youtubers who have speculated imminent military coups and ouster of top functionaries like former army chief Gen Aziz Ahmed. None of these Doomsday speculations materialised.
Netranews had also speculated tens of thousands of Covid deaths in Bangladesh when the pandemic first hit the country. None of them materialised.
That has led one of the frustrated Youtuber Gholam Maula Rony to run an episode that India was planning to keep Hasina in power ” forever” (until Kiyamat).
He cited an unnamed US intelligence document without being able to say which US intelligence agency had come up with this document. He starts the show citing an unnamed US diplomat who worked in Bangladesh in the 1980s and then starts talking of a current US intelligence document that reportedly observes Indian plans to keep Hasina in power forever.
For the Awami League, this offshore media figures, mostly operating on Youtube and Facebook, have become a major irritant. What worries them most is the steady funding of these ‘media’ persons from some foreign sources, including the National Endowment for Democracy in US.