The role of diaspora and international community
The diaspora of both countries (The Wire 2019), particularly students, (India Today 2019) also uses international community peace messages and demonstrations on Facebook and Twitter. For instance, on March 12, 2019 an “Oxford South Asian Society” page on Facebook created an event titled “Filming: Indo- Pak Dialogue” to record a dialogue between Indian and Pakistani students at the University of Oxford and upload it to social media (Tyagi 2019). A post on Twitter showed the students with a note that they opposed war and conflict. This photo received more than 6000 likes, more than 1000 retweets and more than 300 quote tweets (Rajdeep 2019).
The United States (USA) appreciated Pakistan’s decision to release captured Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan from their custody and urged the relevant authorities of both the countries to exercise restraint. The USA urged both sides to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation through direct communication and dialogue because military confrontation will exacerbate the conflict between militaries of both countries (Iqbal 2019, March 1). This message of peace between India and Pakistan was shared and liked on Twitter for more than 400 times.
Potential impact of civil society activism on India-Pakistan relations
In April 2019, as a goodwill gesture Pakistan initiated the process of releasing the 360 Indian fishermen who were captured by Pakistani Navy forces while crossing the water boundary in the Arabian Sea, amid simmering tensions between the two countries after the Pulwama incident (Press Trust of India 2019a). The video of this gesture has been viewed more than 560,000 times, shared around more than 400 times, commented around 350 times and received more than 5000 “likes” on Facebook (Voice of America 2019).
The opening of worship spaces for religious minorities which had been closed since partition in 1947 might have a positive impact on civil society efforts to increase contact between people on both sides. Such religious developments at state level, such as the opening of Gurdwara Chowa Sahib in Jhelum district Punjab and Shawala Tcja Singh temple in Sialkot district in Pakistan after more than 70 years, have been seen by peace activists as being positive for peace (The Times of India 2019a). The activists also shared, liked and commented on this news on Facebook and Twitter.
False information shared on social media may increase hatred between people of India and Pakistan. Social media can also increase conflict by exposing people to online violent incidents—even true incidents of intercommunal violence. For example, spreading news on social media about a Hindu mob lynching of any Muslim in India over the slaughter of cows and attacks by Muslim mobs on any Hindu member in Pakistan over blasphemy allegations can be dangerous for peace between people of India and Pakistan.
In the post-Pulwama conflict escalation, Twitter removed some content from more than 200 Twitter accounts originating from Pakistan due to violation of its terms of reference. Pakistani authorities also announced the creation of a new taskforce to curtail the spread of “hate speech and violence” on social media (Jahangir 2019). Moreover, in May 2019, the government of Pakistan declared ten organisations as proscribed outfits mainly in heavily populated (more than 100 million population) Punjab province. This region of the country includes the affiliates of Jaish-e-Mohammad, the group which took responsibility for the Pulwama attack (for further details refer to the Introduction) (Qarar 2019). On the other side, Facebook and Twitter warned far-right Indian politicians to take down those posts on fake news and hate speech within 24 hours. In April 2018, more than 50 Indian politicians faced court cases for spreading hate speech and inciting communal—Hindu-Muslim—violence in India (Association for Democratic Reforms 2019).
Consequently, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Google introduced strict measures to contain politically motivated hate messages in India (Hickok 2019, May 14). For example, WhatsApp reported a 25%decrease in spread of such messages through forwarded option on WhatsApp (Perrigo 2019, January 25). Regarding Pakistan, in September 2020, Facebook suspended a Pakistan-based network of more than 100 pages, 78 groups, 453 Facebook accounts and 107 Instagram accounts that were being used to spread hate propaganda (Facebook 2020, September 1).