Two leading Pakistani papers admitted on Friday they had been hoaxed by a fake account of the WikiLeaks cables that portrayed Indian generals as vain, “geeky” and engaged in a “genocide” against Muslims in Kashmir.
The News admitted the story “was dubious and may have been planted.” The left-leaning Express Tribune, which is published in co-operation with the International Herald Tribune, offered “profuse” apologies to readers.
The bogus story — a laundry list of Pakistani nationalist accusations against arch-rival India — may be the first use of the WikiLeaks revelations for propaganda purposes and underscores the depth of hostility between hardliners in the two countries.
According to the reports, US diplomats issued withering portrayals of top Indian generals, calling one “self-obsessed, petulant and idiosyncratic.”
There were also accounts of covert Indian intelligence funding for Islamist militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt and for Hindu extremists inside India.
The fake files also carried accounts of US officials heaping praise on Pakistan’s top generals and exonerating the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of any involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
A search of unpublished cables in the WikiLeaks database proved the claims to be entirely baseless and by Friday morning, two of the five papers that published the story hurriedly retracted it. The exact source of the claims is murky.
The News, a major English -language-newspaper, said the story had been written by Online, a small Islamabad-based news agency. The story quoted Online owner Mohsin Baig saying that his staff “were themselves unclear about the source of the story.”
Later the editor of Online, -Siddique Sajid, said his reporters had “lifted the news” following a Google search of WikiLeaks stories.
The absurdity of the fake story is heightened by the fact that the real WikiLeaks contradict some of the more outlandish claims.
The fake claims say the US believes that Hemant Karkare, a police investigator killed in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was secretly targeted by his own government to stop a probe of Hindu extremist groups.
But in late 2008 the US ambassador to New Delhi wrote that such a suggestion was “completely unsubstantiated,” “outrageous” and “outlandish.” In stiff criticism of a Congress party minister who supported the idea, then-US ambassador to India David Mulford accused the party of “pandering to Muslims’ fears.”
He wrote: “Crass political opportunism swayed the thinking of some Congress party leaders.”
An account of US diplomats describing the Indian army chief, General Deepak Kapoor, as an “incompetent combat leader” and “rather a geek,” is also unfounded.
The WikiLeaks files contain at least four references to Kapoor, none of which used such language. Instead they show the Indian general as an implacable opponent of Pakistan.
The fake files debacle provoked soul-searching in the usually vigorous Pakistan news media, which has exploded in size in recent years with the advent of dozens of new TV channels.
“This is a very sorry state of affairs,” said Afzal Khan, a former director of the state news service, Associated Press of Pakistan. “Any editor should have seen that this was very obviously a planted story.”
Addressing the papers caught out, media commentator Nadeem Farooq Paracha tweeted: “Sirs, your flies are open.”