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.
Please do not believe, or retweet on reflex, tweets of Pakistani journalists working in Indian media organisations.
— Anand Ranganathan (@ARanganathan72) February 27, 2019
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.
Indian aircrafts’ intrusion across LOC in Muzafarabad Sector within AJ&K was 3-4 miles.Under forced hasty withdrawal aircrafts released payload which had free fall in open area. No infrastructure got hit, no casualties. Technical details and other important information to follow.
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) February 26, 2019
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.
— Ajay Devgn (@ajaydevgn) February 26, 2019
Like Kumar, director Madhur Bhandarkar and Vivek Oberoi tweeted their support with the #IndiaStrikesBack hashtag, with #SurgicalStrike2 emerging as an equally popular rallying cry.
— Madhur Bhandarkar (@imbhandarkar) February 26, 2019
— Vivek Anand Oberoi (@vivekoberoi) February 26, 2019
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.
I salute the bravery of Indian Air Force pilots who have made us proud by striking terror targets in Pakistan
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) February 26, 2019
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.
Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it. #Surgicalstrike2 #IndianAirForce #IndiaStrikesBack #Balakot #FPAKAGAIN #howsthejosh pic.twitter.com/OyAxNy0oez
— BurgerSingh (@BurgerSinghs) February 26, 2019
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.
What Indian media wants its public to believe:
1) We hit a Pakistani madrasa but we dont have the visuals and no dead bodies to confirm it.
2) Our plane crashed, yes we accept it but even though the visuals are there it was a mechanical issue.
— Mansoor Ali Khan (@_Mansoor_Ali) February 27, 2019
No one wants war but your war mongering blood thirsty #modi and its blind followers, who believed that there was a cross border strike killing and successfully counting 300 imaginary bodies, without even slightest of proof. Your govt. is running its campaign thats it
— m. osama hassan (@MO_hasssan) February 27, 2019
Why thrs no proof of air strike, if casualties wer thr, how could they hide them so well, same thing happened during Uri Surgical strike, coincidence!#SurgicalStrikes2 #IndiaStrikeBack #UriTheSurgicalStrike #NarendraModi #IndianAirForce #IndianArmedForces
— Veer (@singhveer90) February 26, 2019
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.
Reports: Pakistani jet shot down in action but fell on the other side of the LoC, parachute observed.
The above is not, repeat not, confirmed yet.
— Manu Pubby (@manupubby) February 27, 2019
The fog of war. Contrary to reports thus far, all IAF pilots accounted for say some sources to me. A Pak F-16 has been lost on their side. Was it a case of friendly fire ? What happened to those pilots?
— Vishnu Som (@VishnuNDTV) February 27, 2019
Breaking :on account of notam and Lahore air space closure ai 102 and 126.. That's flights from new York and Chicago diverted.. Maybe be headed to Bombay instead of coming to Delhi #Balakot #IAFStrikes
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) February 27, 2019
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.
— deepak (@Deepaksd0) February 27, 2019
— Firstpost (@firstpost) February 27, 2019
Pak social media accounts share manufactured video of Indian air force jet being shot downhttps://t.co/hRsvTmVP8m
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) February 28, 2019
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.
This is apparently a video interview of the Wing Commander Abhinandan. He seems to be in good spirits and enjoying his tea. One must admire his composure in this situation. pic.twitter.com/twSvaiEuKk
— Ammara Ahmad (@ammarawrites) February 27, 2019
#BringBackAbhinandan was soon trending on Twitter, and users reacted with passion.
— That witch 😉 (@polysmind) February 27, 2019
— Komal Khatnani (@KhatnaniKomal) February 27, 2019
Dear @ImranKhanPTI, rather than let other countries get involved & claim the credit why don’t you send #WingCommanderAbhinandan back without it seeming to be done under international pressure. Statesmanship is better than brinkmanship for peace in the region.
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) February 27, 2019
From across the border, the Pakistani media and its netizens were certain things had played out differently:
Pakistan Army has done an excellent job by drowning intruding Indian planes and proved that Pakistan's defence is in safe hands, aviation minister says in meeting with Prime Minister https://t.co/xGimnuCxjG @JawadSohrab
— Murtaza Ali Shah (@MurtazaViews) February 27, 2019
— Qaisar Abbasi (@qaisarabbasi036) February 28, 2019
#PakistanStrikesBack and #SurgicalStrike2 were also top trends on Twitter during the day.
The response to aggression is retaliation. A strong one as given by our brave soldiers. Salute to PAF & Pakistan Army.
I hope we reach an amicable solution. #PakistanZindabad #PakistanStrikesBack pic.twitter.com/xh24e7P6T8
— Shoaib Akhtar (@shoaib100mph) February 27, 2019
Cinema Exhibitors Association has boycotted Indian content, no Indian Movie ll be released in Pakistan. Also have instructed PEMRA to act against Made in India Advertisements. #PakistanTayarHai https://t.co/9BPo6LIsVB
— Ch Fawad Hussain (@fawadchaudhry) February 26, 2019
In the Pakistani media, there is a very strong Indian lobby…the traitors within our ranks….who hiss in sweat sounding tones…luring their pray with eloquent words….but are deeply sinister… treacherous….and venemous to the core….
At least we know them now…😎 pic.twitter.com/Qf6K4YoQu1
— Zaid Hamid (@ZaidZamanHamid) February 28, 2019
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.
Imran Khan: “Lets all sit down and talk reasonably like mature people over the issue of Kashmir. We want good relations and peace.”
Modi: “F*ck you and f*ck Pakistan. I’m killing all of you.”
*Khan shoots down Indian fighter jets invading Pak borders*
Khan: “We can still talk”
— Tallie Dar (@talliedar) February 27, 2019
I as a citizen of Pakistan request my govt to treat the “captive” Indian pilot well and send him back ASAP as a gesture of peace. Come on Pakistan you can do this #SayNoToWar
— Tooba Syed (@Tooba_Sd) February 27, 2019
#SayNoToWar is not cowardice. The father of the nation was opposed to any war and he certainly was no coward. In fact he was one of the bravest that humanity has ever seen. Social media jingoism and mindless warmongering should not be mistaken for bravery!!
— Prashant Kishor (@PrashantKishor) February 28, 2019
— Farrukh Shahzad ART (@FarrukhFL) February 28, 2019
It is pathetic that those who favour a do-nothing approach to terrorism have used the captivity of an IAF officer in combat to argue for a return to passivity. The war against terror is a war. If we don’t want to fight it, we may as well give in to the jihadis & 5th columnists.
— Swapan Dasgupta (@swapan55) February 28, 2019
2001 Parliament attack
2003, 2006 Mumbai trains
2007 Samjhauta + Hyderabad
2008 Mumbai 26/11
Did our Pak lovers say #SayNoToWar then? Only applies when India strikes back?
— Abhijit Majumder (@abhijitmajumder) February 27, 2019
India has waged a #WarAgainstTerrorism
— Vivek Agnihotri (@vivekagnihotri) February 28, 2019
Leftists in India have long had a peculiar love affair with jihadists. So they have subtly stayed on Pakistan’s side since the tensions began. Rightists believe seriously that Pakistan should be destroyed. Both nuts?
— Tavleen Singh (@tavleen_singh) February 28, 2019
An evolved statement from u, a victim of #Pak’s terror. Strangely, shouldn’t u hv raised ur voice against unprovoked barbaric Pak terror against #India on any of ur i’ntl platforms? This act of being a peace emissary seems like a well drafted PR stunt, which u hv mastered by now. https://t.co/RNl3ZisTMs
— Ashoke Pandit (@ashokepandit) February 28, 2019
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.
People, what you say here on Twitter or post on Facebook or shout in TV studios will have no bearing on what Government does or decides to do. Calm down. And that includes Ministers in Govt and honorary spokespersons of all parties. Let Govt take the right call. #IndiaStrikesBack
— Kanchan Gupta (@KanchanGupta) February 27, 2019
A quick scroll through journalist Kanchan Gupta’s time-line tells you that he barely paid heed to his own advice.
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