Pakistan's defence chief falls for fake news story

ISLAMABAD • Pakistan's defence chief has threatened to retaliate in kind against any Israeli nuclear strike after apparently being tricked by a fake news site into a confrontation on social media.

Mr Khawaja Asif was responding to an invented story published on the website AWDNews and headlined: "Israeli Defence Minister: If Pakistan send ground troops into Syria on any pretext, we will destroy this country with a nuclear attack."

Mr Asif tweeted last Friday: "Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too."

His missive prompted a response the next day from Israel's Ministry of Defence: "@KhawajaMAsif The statement attributed to fmr Def Min Yaalon re Pakistan was never said." It added: "KhawajaMAsif reports referred to by the Pakistani Def Min are entirely false."

Israel has a policy of ambiguity in relation to its nuclear arsenal, neither confirming nor denying its existence, but it is widely believed to be an atomic power.

NUCLEAR STAKES

Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh. Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too.

MR KHAWAJA ASIF, Pakistan's Defence Minister, tweeting in response to a news story that turned out to be fake. Daesh is another name for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Pakistan, which held its first nuclear test in 1998, is believed by analysts to have about 120 nuclear weapons and the fastest-growing stockpile. Mainly-Muslim Pakistan has no diplomatic ties with Israel.

Mr Asif was mocked for his blunder. "Our nuclear programme is too serious a business to be left to Twitter-addicted politicians," said prominent TV journalist Nusrat Javeed.

There is a rising tide of fake articles being widely shared on social media. Earlier this month, a rifle- wielding man entered a pizza restaurant in Washington, saying he wanted to investigate a news story that the establishment was a centre for child abduction linked to failed US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The story turned out to be fake.

Last week, Google said it was working to refine its algorithm to weed out "non-authoritative" information after a British news report showed a Holocaust denial website to be the top result when users asked "Did the Holocaust happen?"

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2016, with the headline 'Pakistan's defence chief falls for fake news story'. Print Edition | Subscribe