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Avalanche of misinformation after the Taliban takeover

Welcome to Foreign Policy's South Asia Brief.

The highlights of this week: Misinformation accumulates in Afghanistan After the Taliban came to power, India's foreign minister strongly endorses the Four-way security dialogue, and Bangladesh wants to become the first South Asian state to do so world's largest trading bloc.

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Afghanistan's wave of misinformation

After the Taliban took over Afghanistan, there was an avalanche of misinformation. Some of this is sloppy: people share information and don't know it's wrong. But there seem to be deliberate efforts at play trying to shape the image of the Taliban, the resistance, US officials and the Pakistani military. The identities and motivations of those who share this misinformation are often not clear, but they could be part of organized propaganda campaigns.

Misinformation about Afghanistan has been published in many languages, including Urdu, Hindi, English and Korean. The Poynter Institute, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse have compiled many examples, including a Twitter thread by AFP fact-checker Uzair Rizvi.

US actions in Afghanistan have so far been the target of misinformation. Some social media posts include Photoshop images of Afghan evacuees carrying heavy weapons, suggesting Washington helped terrorists leave Afghanistan; these were published by Russian media. Others falsely accuse US President Joe Biden of giving the Taliban $ 80 billion in weapons and abandoning US military dogs.

In addition, much of the misinformation circulating in Afghanistan relates to Taliban's brutality and can be easily exposed. A picture of the Taliban allegedly auctioning women actually shows a protest against Islamic State in London in 2016, and a picture of a man chaining women is from a 2003 picture from Iraq digitally edited. Other posts mention a non-existent Al Jazeera investigation into women abducted by the Taliban and their non-existent plans to execute Christian missionaries.

The fighting between the Taliban and resistance fighters in Panjshir – the only province not captured by the group last month – has turned into a gold mine for fake news. The lack of credible local coverage in the province has resulted in a lack of information that could easily be exploited. Photos of alleged Taliban fighters in Panjshir actually showed French soldiers. Several Indian TV channels aired videos allegedly showing Pakistani planes attacking Panjshir. (In reality, the video showed American jets flying in Wales.)

What explains this surge in misinformation? The sudden surge of attention from a major news story, the power of social media, and information scarcity all play a role. In addition, actors with axes for grinding use misinformation as ammunition. Fake news about Biden's politics in Afghanistan was spread by his rivals, from the US Republican Party to Russian state media. Indian nationalist media try to portray Pakistan as an aggressor.

The information vacuum is critical. In recent years, Afghan and US officials have not disclosed any information about military casualties and the size of the territory under the control of the Taliban. As the security situation deteriorated in recent years, media coverage outside of Kabul became more difficult. It's hard now to know what's happening in areas far away. In Panjshir, for example, the lack of on-site reporting leads to competing narratives, fueling rumors and propaganda wars.

The spread of misinformation in Afghanistan is having worrying consequences. For one thing, fake stories about the Taliban could change the group's image outside of Afghanistan. While his brutality is evident in his actions in Kabul, where citizen journalists recently filmed the Taliban beating female protesters, this is harder to see elsewhere. Without independent reporting, reports of beatings, arrests and intimidation outside the capital cannot be confirmed, giving the group room to portray themselves as gentler and more moderate.

In addition, with so many fake messages, true accounts run the risk of being dismissed as false. Social media posts have already indicated that the images of U.S. planes taking off with Afghans, which began circulating on August 16, are fake. And with foreign offices evacuating their Afghan staff and local journalists facing Taliban threats, the lack of information is likely to worsen.

Unfortunately, the spread of misinformation works to the benefit of the Taliban. This could lead the militants to step up repressive activity in areas with little media exposure, knowing that many of them go unreported or unconfirmed.

Monday, September 13th: The United Nations is holding a fundraising conference in support of humanitarian aid operations in Afghanistan.

India's foreign minister wants quad. strengthen. Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar delivered a keynote address at the Australian National University addressing common issues: the importance of multilateralism and the need to articulate a new global order. But the speech was marked by her strong support for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or the Quad. The grouping of the United States, Australia, India and Japan has regained momentum due to each member's deep tensions with China.

The timing of the speech, which took place shortly after the US withdrew from Afghanistan, was also remarkable. Biden justified the decision in part by saying that he wanted to spend more time studying the China challenge. Washington sees the quad as a key tool to balance Beijing's power in Asia.

The twin crises of Sri Lanka. Earlier this year, Nepal faced the double blow of a devastating coronavirus surge and a crippling political crisis. Now Sri Lanka is facing two political emergencies: COVID-19 and increasing economic hardship. The number of new cases every day has risen continuously since the beginning of July, decreased last week and increased again in the last few days. At the same time, food prices are rising, the currency is depreciating and foreign exchange reserves are dwindling.

Colombo declared a state of emergency this week and ordered the army to oversee new rations for essentials. Experts attribute the crisis to reduced agricultural production as a result of a fertilizer ban and to the devastating effects of the pandemic on Sri Lanka's tourism industry, which accounts for more than 10 percent of GDP. The sector took another blow this week when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new recommendation urging against travel to Sri Lanka.

Army reshuffle in Pakistan. On Tuesday, the Pakistani army announced a major reshuffle and reassigned four three-star generals to new posts. Particularly noteworthy: Lieutenant General Azhar Abbas, who as corps commander in Rawalpindi was responsible for security on the border with India, becomes Chief of the General Staff, an influential position that oversees both the operational and intelligence departments of the army.

The reshuffle is important not only because the army is Pakistan's main political actor, but also because it takes place just over a year before Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa's term of office ends. These shifts could ultimately influence the deliberations on Bajwa's successor.

Under the radar

A textile worker is seen at a factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh on July 5th.Allison Joyce / Getty Images

Bangladesh has decided to seek membership in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a 15-strong trading bloc with more than 2 billion people and a combined GDP of nearly $ 30 trillion, which is expected to officially launch in early 2022 . Bangladesh would be the first South Asian country to join the group, which currently consists largely of East Asian countries.

According to the Business Standard, Dhaka aims to gain access to duty-free trading facilities in major economies – an advantage it will lose if it moves from underdeveloped country to developing country status as expected in 2026. Bangladeshi officials also hope that joining the RCEP would ensure that Bangladesh's strong textile industry remains strong in the face of increasing competition from China, Japan and Vietnam – all RCEP members.

Bangladesh's membership in the RCEP would deal a blow to India. New Delhi has chosen not to join, and now Dhaka – a major target of Chinese investment – wants to become part of a Beijing-led bloc.

“I've never met a foreigner. Well, a foreigner without a weapon. "

—A woman named Shakira, who lives in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, speaks to journalist Anand Gopal on a New Yorker story

The lawyer and author writes for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn Rafia Zakaria argues that the US anti-terror wars are over and that the coronavirus pandemic may have hastened its end. "An America suddenly crippled by COVID-19 had to devote even less to an amorphous war on terror, the goals of which seemed opaque and confused, at least in relation to the present," she writes.

Mahendra Dev, Director and Vice Chancellor of the Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research, sets out a vision for better Indian food security policy in the Indian Express. he argues.

In the Daily Star, Mostafiz Uddin, an executive in the garment industry in Bangladesh, writes on how ready-to-wear clothing (RMG) manufacturing can make better use of renewable energies. "For our RMG industry, which aims to be the world leader in sustainability and the use of renewable energies, the rewards will be plentiful and sustainable," he writes.

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