• Six-member team comprises four FIA officers, one each from ISI and IB
• PTI’s Asad Umar warns against targeting party

ISLAMABAD / KARACHI: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) team — formed to trace and arrest those running a negative social media campaign on the tragic army helicopter crash in Balochistan — has been reconstituted and converted into a joint investigation team (JIT) with representation from the premier intelligence bodies, besides the four FIA officials announced on Sunday.

According to a notification issued by the Interior Ministry on Monday, a copy of which is available with Dawn, the six-member JIT includes Lt Col Saad from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Intelli­gence Bureau (IB) Deputy Director Waqar Nisar Chaudhry.

The four FIA members on the team were Additional Director General (Cybercrime Wing) Muhammad Jaffar, Director (Cybercrime, North) Waqar­uddin Syed, Islamabad Addi­tional Director (Cybercrime Wing) Ayaz Khan and Assistant Director Imran Haider.

The JIT has been tasked with identifying and taking legal action against those involved in running a negative social media campaign on the helicopter crash. After the accident, some social media activists and political zealots launched the deplorable hate campaign online to advance their personal and political malice, which drew a strong reaction from the general public, political leadership and the state institutions.

While the FIA is said to have started putting in place a monitoring system to gather all relevant data, the PTI has warned that any attempts to malign the party under the cover of this malicious campaign would elicit a strong response.

The agency has apparently mobilised all its cybercrime centres in its north zone and deployed its experts, who in the first phase had started acquiring relevant data from social media platforms.

“The teams are using all necessary tools and software for result-oriented efforts,” said an FIA source. “There are known social media platforms, which were used for this negative campaign, and are being monitored. Even the negative posts that were later deleted after public outcry are being retrieved to get an idea of the origin of this content and the people behind their generation.”

PTI vows to prove lies

On the other hand, the PTI vowed that if it was attacked in the name of the FIA probe, it had all the due “capability, skills and human resources” of social media to prove the lies and bring forth the truth.

“We have all the skills and resources to carry out the forensic analysis of any social media campaign,” PTI Secretary General Asad Umar told Dawn. “It’s ridiculous to blame and target the PTI for this campaign. We have a very strong social media team, which has always worked for awareness and respect of the institutions. We have the capability to determine and trace who’s behind all this negative campaign.”

The former minister welcomed the move to penalise those who were running the negative campaign against the institutions, but demanded that any move should be in line with the defined rules and not intended for political vendetta.

He then referred to a youth, who was identified as one of those behind the smear campaign against the army and had later apologised in a video statement for the “objectionable” posts on his accounts.

“That particular boy didn’t have many followers nor was a known person,” he said. “But to make a case, his unnoticed tweets were used by some influencers and media professionals with hundreds of thousands of followers. This proves that it’s more to settle scores than showing respect for any institution.”

The PTI’s response comes in the wake of the ruling coalition in the Centre blaming the social media team of the party for launching the hate campaign at the behest of PTI Chairman Imran Khan. The PTI leadership was also accused of not attending the funeral of Lt Gen Sarfaraz Ali and other martyrs of the chopper crash. However, they attempted to negate the impression, as President Arif Alvi telephoned the families of the martyrs, while Mr Khan visited the residence of Lt Gen Ali.

President Alvi also came under sharp criticism for not attending the martyrs’ funeral being the supreme commander of the armed forces.

Some social media users had alleged the helicopter crash was ‘orchestrated through a conspiracy by the establishment’, however the Pakistan Army spokesperson condemned the negative online propaganda.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) director general had on Friday condemned the “highly unacceptable and regretful social media campaign” after the unfortunate incident. “The online campaign caused deep anguish and distress among the families of martyrs and rank and file of the armed forces,” the ISPR in a statement.

“While the whole nation stood with the institution in this difficult time, certain insensitive quarters resorted to hurtful & derogatory comments on social media,” it said.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2022

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