Transcripts showing firebrand Indian television anchor Arnab Goswami knew of the Narendra Modi government's plan to carry out a strike in Pakistan's Balakot area well in advance have "further exposed India’s sinister designs and vindicated Pakistan’s long-held position", the Foreign Office said on Sunday.
In a statement, the FO said Pakistan had in recent months presented the world community with "irrefutable evidence of India’s state-sponsorship of terrorism" against Pakistan and the anti-Pakistan disinformation campaign run by it globally.
"The latest revelations further confirm what Pakistan has consistently pointed out: The BJP government stages 'false-flag' operations; maligns Pakistan with terrorism-related allegations; stokes hyper-nationalism in the country; claims to have launched so-called 'surgical strike[s]'; and then deviously manipulates national sentiment in its bid to win elections. The pattern is unmistakable, and has been repeated to suit the RSS-BJP regime’s electoral calculations," the FO spokesperson added.
The statement comes a day after Indian media outlets reported that Goswami was aware of the Modi government's plan to stage a strike in Pakistan days before the February 26, 2019, Balakot episode between the two countries, according to evidence submitted by Mumbai police as part of an ongoing investigation into manipulation of television ratings.
Police have included purported WhatsApp conversations between Goswami, chief editor of Republic TV, and Pratho Dasgupta, the incarcerated head of ratings company Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), in a transcript that is part of a 3,400-page supplementary charge sheet filed as part of their investigation into the alleged ratings scam.
The FO recalled that Islamabad from the start had "rejected India’s malicious propaganda" against Pakistan and highlighted that the biggest beneficiary of the Pulwama attack in Indian-occupied Kashmir in Feb 2019 was the BJP government, as it secured a landslide victory in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections. "The transcripts provide further evidence of how this whole enterprise from ‘false-flag’ operation to massive electoral success was scripted and fully realised," it said.
"The transcripts also illustrate the unholy nexus between the ‘Hindutva’ regime and its cronies in the Indian media," the press release stated.
It said the revelations showed "how far and deeply" the extremist agenda of the RSS-BJP combine had permeated India’s institutions as well as how democratic values in the Indian society were being seriously jeopardised through "cynical manipulation".
"Equally important, they show how actions of this reckless [Indian] regime driven by considerations of domestic politics are gravely imperilling regional peace and security," the FO emphasised.
On Twitter, Information Minister Shibli Faraz also said the transcripts vindicated "Pakistan’s stance that Pulwama attack and Balakot crisis were false-flag operations planned to whip anti-Pakistan sentiment for Modi’s election victory".
The FO stressed that Pakistan for its part will continue to counter Indian falsehoods with truth and act "firmly and responsibly in the face of India’s provocations".
"We hope that the international community would take full cognisance of the situation and hold India accountable for its actions vitiating the regional environment and endangering peace and security in South Asia," it added.
'Something big will happen'
The Indian police investigation into the Television Rating Point (TRP) scam began in October last year after TV channels in the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, were accused of rigging the ratings system.
According to excerpts of the purported conversations published by Scroll.in, Goswami texted Dasgupta on Feb 23, 2019, saying: “On another note something big will happen.”
After a few messages on other matters, Dasgupta asked, “Dawood?”, referring to a notorious gangster who is wanted in several cases.
The conversation continued:
Arnab Goswami: “No sir Pakistan. Something major will be done this time.”
Partho Dasgupta: “Good.”
Partho Dasgupta: “It’s good for big man in this season.”
Partho Dasgupta: “He will sweep polls then.”
Partho Dasgupta: “Strike? Or bigger”
Arnab Goswami: “Bigger than a normal strike. And also on the same time something major on Kashmir. On Pakistan the government is confident of striking in a way that people will be elated. Exact words used.”
Three days after this purported conversation, on Feb 26, Indian jets trespassed into Pakistani territory and dropped their payload in Balakot, bringing the two nuclear-armed nations on the brink of war. Pakistan's response the next day led to the downing of two Indian jets and the capture of an Indian air force pilot whose fighter plane fell inside Pakistani territory after being struck.
Dasgupta was arrested last month and is currently under police remand. He was charged with "misuse of his official position to manipulate ratings of specific news channels [...] such as Republic Bharat Hindi and Republic TV English".
Police also arrested Vikas Khanchandani, the chief executive officer of Republic TV, last month on charges of rigging the ratings system. He was later released on bail.
But the latest reports are particularly damning for Goswami, who is known for aggressively backing up Modi and his Hindu nationalist policies during his nightly shows, often shouting down opponents.
Critics have long accused Republic TV of pandering to Modi's agenda at a time when other media channels say press freedom is under threat.