The high level of smog, risking people’s health and lives, is neither a new problem, nor one that came without warning. Globally, air pollution was responsible for 6.7 million deaths in 2019. Water pollution was responsible for 1.4 million deaths and lead pollution caused 900,000 premature deaths. In 2019, air pollution was the leading risk factor for deaths accounting for nearly 18% of all deaths (more than 1.67 million) in India while it was among the top five risk factors for mortality in Pakistan where smog has become a fifth season, mainly in Lahore and its surroundings. Pakistan and India always remained at odds with each other either over traditional (territorial conflict) or non-traditional security issues. Assessing the air quality and its risks on both sides of the border, the High levels of air pollution and worsening air quality have consistently been a source of lungs-related diseases and put the overall life at risk, especially during the crop season every year. In both countries crop burning is the leading cause of forming smog. But both sides always blame each other for the severe effects of toxic smog and air pollution. As India blames Pakistan for cross-border terrorism, Pakistan lay blame on India for the cross-border incursion of smoke and ash.
- WHAT HAPPENED?
Amid decades-long rivalry between India and Pakistan, both countries are tangled on a new front arguing who is more responsible for the choking air pollution that spans over their shared border. Air quality has been a relatively new dimension to Pakistan’s deteriorating environment. In 2019, Pakistani Minister of State for Climate Change Ms. Zartaj Gul blamed air pollution in cities such as Lahore on “stubble burning on the Indian side of the border.” On the other hand, Indian political leader from BJP, Vineet Agarwal Sharda, blamed Pakistan and China for air pollution in India, saying “poisonous air” could have been released by either country and was affecting the capital, Delhi. In this backdrop, an organized campaign began reinforcing the theory that India was responsible for pollution and smog in Pakistan.
- DELIBERATE DISINFORMATION
In 2019, former Minister of State for Climate Change, Zartaj Gul, turned down the news of intense smog in Lahore calling it a fake propaganda. She asserted that “80% of the pollution is caused by India whereas 20% is from our side”. The air quality data being shared online and from public initiatives is inauthentic. Referring to the team work to mitigate pollution sources and impact, she urged people to not rely on unauthenticated sources that are trying to instigate a turmoil for their own vested interest. She also shared a satellite image from NASA “showing the state of mass crop burning on the adjoining Indian side.” An expert on security, crisis and risk management, Norbert Almedia, claimed that the photo shared by federal minister is actually from November 2018. However, NASA released this picture in 2017.
The citizens were apprehensive of the federal minister’s remarks on smog in Lahore and attributing its cause to crop burning in India. The residents of Lahore blamed government for its flawed environmental policy and urged for a prompt action.
However, it is reported that crop burning – whether on the Indian or Pakistani side of the border – had not been a major contributor to air pollution in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The report underlined that the argument of crop burning in India causing smog in Lahore is statistically false with a very small correlation factor, elucidating the lack of scientific understanding. The report revealed the transport sector as the major contributor of air pollution. A Lahore based environmentalist said that over 60% of the city’s pollution is generated by vehicles. He aggrieved that government’s efforts in this regard are inadequate. Besides that, three teenage girls (residents of Lahore) filed a petition against Punjab government for the “violation of their fundamental right to a clean and healthy environment.” The girls challenged government’s Air Quality Index (AQI) measurement and accused it of “underreporting the severity of the situation.”
Social activist Ammar Ali Jan took to twitter to highlight the gravity of air pollution in Lahore and called a discussion on the environmental costs of the development models followed by the government.
The neitzens on Twitter criticized governmnet’s negligence to control the air pollution and urged to adopt some measures to address the issue.
Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization, had criticized Pakistan’s government scant response to smog in Lahore stating it has endangered the human rights (right to health). Rimmel Mohydin, a South Asia analyst at Amnesty International, urged the government to “stop downplaying the crisis and take urgent action to protect people’s health and lives,”. Human rights advocate Omar Waraich had endorsed the Amnesty’s plea to the government. In 2018, a federal medical research center of the United States of America (USA) highlighted that urbanization, industrialization and “lack of an active action plan” by the government have contributed to the deteriorating air quality of Lahore.
Journalist and human rights advocate Zia-ur-Rehman also endorsed narrative blaming government for smog in Lahore.
Nonetheless, as a result of this disinformation campaign, public attention was diverted from the more critical factors responsible for climate change and pollution, which prevented the governments in both countries from working on climate change policies and taking necessary measures to control and deter yearly smog in their respective countries.
Besides aforementioned disinformation campaign, the blame game between Pakistan and Indian on smog issue continued. Recently, a joint investigation report of Bahauddin Zakariya University and NUST University has said that the polluted air coming from India formed the toxic smog in Lahore. Last year, former federal minister of science and technology Chaudhry Fawad Hussain tweeted, “Primary reason for fog in Lahore is burning of agricultural waste in East Punjab (Indian Punjab.) “Evidence of this fact is meters show air at Wahga is much more polluted than Lahore city.”
On the other hand, last year, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government in India accused Pakistan for deteriorating air quality in National Capital Region (NCR). The UP government argued that UP industries have no role in the growing pollution in the NCR but it is polluted air from Pakistan worsening the situation. In response, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana asked “So you want to ban industries in Pakistan?”. He further referred case to the Commission for Air Quality Management to look into pollution situation.
Moreover, when an Indian female journalists shared the news on twitter that the UP government has blamed Pakistan for air pollution in India, netizens from India on Twitter ridiculed this in different ways some calling it pollution jihad.
|Primary actors: Pakistan and India’s ministers.||Transparency: the primary actors posted content and issued statements without hiding their identity||Harm: the content of this disinformation campaign has attempted to malign Pak-India bilateral relations and endangered the life of citizens||Audience: The targeted audiencewas the ordinary citizens||Human Rights: The content threatened the citizen’s right to health and right to life in a clean environment|
|Secondary actors: Ordinary users of socialmedia||Intent: The content and thebehavior of the primaryactors showed clear intentof misinformation, calumny about rival neighboring country and nuisance||Language(s): The language used by the main actors was accusatory||The Targeted: The content was not tailored or micro-targeted|
|Authenticity: the actors used legitimate means of communication||Expression: the content consisted of false and accusatory statements, hence does not come under freedom of expression and information||Platform: Social media platforms e.g. Twitter, YouTube were used to distribute the content|
|Dependency: Actors did not operate on behalf of any other party/entity||Truthfulness: The content wasdeceptive with false accusations which rejected by some investigation reports and experts||Virility: Mainstream media was used to amplify the false and accusatory narrative|
|Infrastructure: Backend coordination was evident from the coordinated tweets on social media||Synthetic: The content was manipulated and consisted of untrue claims||Scale: The scale of accusatory statements indicated it was not a single operation but was a part of an ongoing campaign|
|Narratives: The content was aligned with disinformationnarrative (blame-game)|
- ABCD FRAMEWORK ANALYSIS
The primary actors who were at the forefront of the disinformation campaign were serving federal ministers. They were neither part of proxy of a foreign actor, nor affiliated with non-governmental, corporate organizations. It is interesting to note that none of the TV channel took the lead in disseminating the disinformation.
It is noted that falsification and denunciation were the basis of the entire campaign. The primary actors appeared to be state’s representatives. They used illegitimate communication techniques and knowingly disseminated false information rejected and criticized by experts and investigation reports. The behavior of the actors exhibited clear intent of accusation.
The content, in line with the disinformation narrative, was verifiably untrue. It was consisted of manipulated, factually incorrect material, against the fundamental freedoms. The content affected state’s bilateral relations with India and put at risk the health of citizens.
The disinformation campaign, in this case, was targeted at citizens of Lahore and the neighboring state India. For this purpose, mainstream media, i.e., twitter and YouTube was used to disseminate the false narrative. This disinformation campaign was part of a strategy to malign the image of India in the ambit of climate change and environmental policies. The campaign is an ongoing operation as the dissemination of false narrative continued afterwards. Then the federal minister for information Fawad Chaudhary blamed India for smog in Lahore rather putting own house in order.
The content disseminated as part of this campaign had a serious impact on fundamental freedom to live in healthy environment. The hazardous air allegedly caused by India has threatened citizens lives and stirred blame game debate on both sides of the border.
The campaign was analyzed under all elements of the ABCDE framework, i.e., actor, behaviour, content, degree, and effect. originated a deliberate disinformation campaign. The federal ministers originated a deliberate disinformation campaign that has directly affected its citizens and indirectly accused the neighboring state i.e. India. With inauthentic behavior and untrue information, ministers on both sides of the border has accused each other for the smog causing hazardous impact on the health and environment. Based on aforementioned facts, this campaign has been identified as an ongoing ‘disinformation’.
The campaign has affected the citizens basic right to life in healthy environment via blame game operation. The government, rather working on climate and environmental policies, have deprived people of healthy atmosphere by launching disinformation campaign around smog in Lahore. This campaign had instigated strong reaction among the citizens who called government to act swiftly to address the climate issue. However, the government has been unaware of the fact that the climate change is real. It is rather laying blame on external factors than working on its own policy of environment to ensure the fundamental rights of its citizens. There is a dire need to fight this environmental issue for the safer future.