Pakistani papers duped by bogus WikiLeaks cables

Pakistani newspapers carried stunning claims yesterday about India, the country's long-time foe, wrongly sourced to the WikiLeaks data dump.

Khalid Tanveer/AP
Pakistani protesters hold flags of the United States and Britain before setting them on fire to condemn the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London, during a protest in Multan, Pakistan on Thursday.

Pakistani newspapers carried a series of scoops yesterday sourced to the WikiLeaks document dump of US diplomatic correspondence that would seem to have contained all that an India-hater – no shortage of those in Pakistan – could hope for.

One US diplomat is alleged to have determined India was carrying out "genocide" in Kashmir and called in his cable for the US to cut off military exercises with India – an important part of the two countries' deepening strategic relationship – as a sign of displeasure. Another cable is said to have a US diplomat reporting that senior Indian generals are working with Hindu extremists to carry out terror attacks against Muslims living both in India and Pakistan.

A third implies that a Pakistani policeman who was planning to blow the whistle on a senior officer's involvement with Hindu militants was assassinated as a consequence. Yet more contained US praise for the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence – an organization that many US officials believe supports Taliban attacks on US troops in Afghanistan – and over-the-top criticisms of senior Indian officers as vain incompetents.

There was only one problem. The cables don't exist, according to Britain's Guardian newspaper, one of a handful of news agencies that has access to the whole WikiLeaks dump of more than 250,000 State Department cables.

"An extensive search of the WikiLeaks database by the Guardian by date, name and keyword failed to locate any of the incendiary allegations," the paper wrote.

Instead what appears to have happened is the first deliberate misinformation campaign built around the WikiLeaks cables, something sure to happen again as the ever-swelling release of documents provides cover for those who have forged documents to peddle.

A number of papers including the Daily Mail and The News of Pakistan carried these reports, which were not signed. The source of the information? A Pakistani news wire called "Online News" that appears to be closely tied to the government.

The News, in apologizing to readers today, leaves the strong impression that the bogus reports were part of a government misinformation campaign. The paper writes that Mohsin Baig, the head of online news, said "he had just returned from Turkey where he had accompanied the prime minister on his official visit and was therefore in the dark about how the story was released."

Another editor at Online News said he didn't know the source of the fake cables and refused to contact an employee who might know the answer. Eventually The News "learnt from our sources that the story was dubious and may have been planted" and said the story first appeared in two local papers "known for their close connections with certain intelligence agencies."

In Pakistan, coverage of the military and intelligence services is tightly controlled by the state. Most Pakistani papers have said little concerning the real cables released by WikiLeaks that contain assessments of Pakistan's military.

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