Mohali: Noted American expert on terror and internal security, Dr Peter Chalk on Wednesday said that Pakistan could be harnessing the power of the social media to launch attacks on the Indian economy, even as he warned that the ISI “may well leverage encrypted social media sites, secure telecommunication platforms and online mapping technology to covertly facilitate jihadist recruitment drives or directly support terrorist strikes” in Kashmir, where it has a long history of backing anti-Indian outfits.
The best offensive mechanism to deal with Pakistan, suggested the US expert from RAND Corporation, was to work with friendly and partner countries to put pressure on Islamabad, and also to convince these nations that they could also not escape the wrath of terror outfits operating from Pak soil. He warned that the US was playing a double role with Pakistan because of its strategic interest in Afghanistan – the reason why it wasn’t taking a tougher stand against Islamabad.
In the context of the growing use of drones and lone wolves to launch attacks, the American expert called for compulsory registration of such technology and legislations to counter the threat. To ensure credibility in such counter-attacks, it was important to involve NGOs, human rights organisations and the community at large, he added, noting, in response to a question, that 100% radicalization could not take place online and human contact was a part of the process. Admitting that such groups become easy targets of extremists, Dr Chalk, however, asserted that they do not easily succumb to terrorist threats.
In an apparent reference to Referendum 2020, Dr Chalk observed that an intensive social media effort aimed at radicalizing young Sikhs was currently being waged by pro-Khalistani militants based in Pakistan and Diaspora groups operating out of the US, UK and Canada. “There are growing indications that the ISI is orchestrating much of this activity as part of a wider campaign to co-join instability in Punjab with unrest in Kashmir,” he further warned, while delivering the 2nd KPS Gill Memorial Lecture, on the contemporary subject of ‘Digitized Hate: Online Radicalism, Violent Extremism and Terrorism.’
Dr Chalk suggested that the state government identify vulnerable groups and engage with the community to counter the narrative and fight Pakistan’s proxy war.
In his keynote address, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh pointed out that in the globalised world of today, terror could easily straddle international geographical boundaries, with the use of Internet and social media further contributing to promoting terror and terror ideology for luring youth, spreading hatred and propaganda.
Pointing to the sensitive location of Punjab as a border state with a hostile neighbour, and the growing challenge of narco terrorism with linkages in Jammu & Kashmir, Captain Amarinder, who was presiding over the programme, stressed on the need for modern-day policing to thus remain technologically updated and professional in its approach. “We cannot ever allow the state to relive those horrible days it went through….we all know what is happening again now,” said the Chief Minister.
Captain Amarinder lauded the leadership of KPS Gill in Punjab Police and his contribution to bringing peace and normalcy to the state, calling upon the police force to let the late former DGP become a beacon of light to inspire them to become good leaders. Gill’s leadership had been acknowledged throughout India, he observed, telling the officers in the audience that “leadership begins with you.”
Dr Chalk, in his lecture, called for direct intervention in the process of radicalisation by bringing communication experts and civil society groups together, to develop and execute alternative messaging campaigns. The US expert noted that all the social media groups, such as Google, WhatsApp etc, were now realizing that the use of their platforms for subversive activities was affecting their credibility, he said in response to questions after the lecture. He, however, cautioned against over-reaction by the State, saying the counter terrorism response had to be proportionate to the attack to ensure that it does not become counter-productive.
According to Dr Chalk, the Internet had helped to fundamentally transform the perceived nature and character of the typical militant in Pakistan, while the Taliban also systematically moving, since being forced out of power 2001, to expand its leverage of information technology, increasingly viewing virtual platforms as a highly conducive forum from which to launch electronic propaganda warfare. The Taliban currently possesses several Internet domains, he disclosed.
These developments, said Dr Chalk, were of grave concern for India, in the light of the direct implications, on the country’s national security, of the use of Internet and online platforms by terrorists and violent extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “As noted, Twitter is already being used to promote riots and protests in Kashmir, and now that the province has been stripped of its special autonomous status groups such as LeT (acting through JuD), will doubtless seek to escalate the tempo of this unrest through other online mediums,” he added.
In another shocking disclosure, Dr Chalk said the IS has also leveraged the Internet and social media platforms to inspire, direct and authorize autonomous-cell and lone wolf attacks in the United States and the West. Because information technology has been so integral to the genesis of leaderless resistance – which as an organizational construct has as much relevance for extreme Islamist movements as the far right –“ it could also be effectively used to inspire and endorse militant strikes by lone or semi-independent actors in India,” he further warned.
“Working from its enclaves in Afghanistan, IS has been doing this for some time with regards to attacking the US and there is no reason why similar action could not be undertaken that targets prominent cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Ludhiana,” he added, pointing out that sniper attacks carried out by lone wolfs were difficult to counter.
Earlier, in his welcome address, DGP Dinkar Gupta briefly outlined the current security scenario and use of internet and online social media platforms. Gupta assured that the Punjab Police was continuously building its capacity to meet the twin challenges of radicalism and terrorism.
The Chief Minister, on the occasion, presented a memento to the Chief Guest. Officers of Punjab government and the Punjab Police, as well as members of the police, intelligence, and security community, attended the Lecture.
The Punjab Police had launched the Annual Lecture Series last year, in commemoration of the memory of the late KPS Gill, former Director General of Police, who led the Punjab Police bravely into its comprehensive victory over state-sponsored terrorism. The 1st KPS Gill Memorial Lecture was delivered by N N Vohra, the then Governor of J&K.