While tensions on the border escalate, the war between India and Pakistan is being fought over Twitter
While tensions on the border escalate, the war between India and Pakistan is being fought over Twitter | Graphic by Arindam Mukherjee
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New Delhi: As India and Pakistan grapple with one of their most tense face-offs in recent times, citizens of the internet have found their own way to engage with the crisis — Twitter.

Whether it is celebrating “#IndiaStrikesBack”, “#SurgicalStrikes2”, or enthusiastically registering an anti-war stance with #SayNoToWar — Wednesday’s worldwide Number One trend — Twitter seems to have become a frenzied battleground of its own.

For example, Anand Ranganathan, consulting editor and columnist at Swarajya, tweeted that no Pakistani journalist could be trusted to accurately report the IAF strikes Tuesday on a terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot area.

He also suggested that journalists should “forget where wretched Balkot [sic] lies” and “first figure out where your heart does – this, or the other side of the LoC,” he tweeted.

The micro-blogging site, recently criticised by the Indian media for its failure to check hate speech, death threats and unsolicited dick-pics, has proved to be a fertile ground for unverified information and inflammatory pro-war vitriol amid the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan.

“I have never seen my country at peace with its neighbor,” Pakistani writer Fatima Bhutto wrote for The New York Times Thursday morning. “But never before have I seen a war played out between two nuclear-armed states with Twitter accounts.”

According to a report in The Economic Times, “Hashtags like India and Pakistan and F-16 had generated over 2.21 lakh tweets and 89,000 tweets till Wednesday evening.”

A digital re-cap

For those without internet for the past two days, here is a recap of the crisis as shared in Twitterverse.

In the small hours of Tuesday, Indian fighter planes crossed the LoC to strike Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camps in the Balakot area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The air strikes followed the 14 February attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, which killed 40 personnel.

Pakistan claims that there were zero casualties in the strike and no infrastructure got hit, while India places the terrorist death count at a “significant” number. Most people found out about the air strikes through Twitter, through posts by Pakistan military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor.

Shortly after the strikes, Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar was keen to express how “proud” he was, while actor-MP Paresh Rawal tweeted that Tuesday was “a truly beautiful good morning”.

Bollywood star Ajay Devgn was more succinct.

Like Kumar, director Madhur Bhandarkar and Vivek Oberoi tweeted their support with the #IndiaStrikesBack hashtag, with #SurgicalStrike2 emerging as an equally popular rallying cry.

From Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party to Rahul Gandhi of the Congress, even the staunchest of critics of the Narendra Modi government took to Twitter to praise the air strikes.

Fast-food joint Burger Singh, meanwhile, couldn’t resist capitalising on the move to offer its consumers a discount with the rather risqué code, FPAKAGAIN.

The understanding of the conflict, as with the surgical strikes in 2016, has continued to evolve on two completely disjointed frames, with India and Pakistan presenting two very different views of what happened.

Surgical strikes, take 2

The situation escalated Wednesday, when, according to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Pakistani fighter aircraft crossed into Kashmir to “target military installations on the Indian side”.

The Indian Air Force responded and “Pakistan’s attempts were foiled successfully”, the ministry said, adding that an Indian MiG-21 was lost and its pilot was “missing in action”.

However, people of Twitter seemed to already know everything before the MEA had made their statement at approximately 3 pm Wednesday.

Multiple #Breakingnews tweets flooded people’s timelines, with journalists and the general public scrambling alike for real news among the noise of “first-to-report” tweeting.

To add to the confusion, The Express Tribune of Pakistan posted an image of a 2015 IAF Hawk advanced jet trainer crash in Odisha to claim that it was one of the “two IAF jets shot down” by the Pakistan air force.

The video of a 2016 MiG-27MU fighter crash in Rajasthan was also circulated on social media and attributed to Wednesday’s dogfight.

Before the MEA briefing, viral videos online purported to show the captured IAF pilot in Pakistan’s custody, with the subject in focus identifying himself as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.

#BringBackAbhinandan was soon trending on Twitter, and users reacted with passion.

From across the border, the Pakistani media and its netizens were certain things had played out differently:

#PakistanStrikesBack and #SurgicalStrike2 were also top trends on Twitter during the day.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech in the afternoon set the tone for a further divide between those clamouring for war and those demanding a peaceful solution.

Ironically, some thought the best place to point out the futility of Twitter as a platform of engagement used the very same social media site to register their protest.

A quick scroll through journalist Kanchan Gupta’s time-line tells you that he barely paid heed to his own advice.

For ThePrint's smart analysis of how the rest of the media is doing its job, no holds barred, go to PluggedIn


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1 COMMENT

  1. Lagta hai bahut dare hue hain aap. Isiliye aapne 40 saal tak kuchh nahi kiya. Do you want the same situation for biriyani diplomacy.

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