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Monday, June 28, 1999 Published at 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK

World: South Asia

Kashmir's cyberwar

Indians are following the Kashmir conflict on the Internet

By the BBC's Charu Lata Joshi

There is a zone of conflict between India and Pakistan which has no casualties and no exchanges of fire.

The war is being fought in cyber-space and people from both countries are waging it from their computers.

This battle of electronic propaganda, or cyber-war, has become the latest mode of attack as an increasing number of people from both sides of the conflict churn out inflammatory e-mails and set up jingoistic web pages.

Kashmir Conflict
India is an Indian website which conducts opinion polls on issues that concern an Indian audience.

On 12 June, the question thrown open to web-surfers was: "After the barbaric act of Pakistan, what should India do now?"

Two days later, this was followed by another: "What in your opinion will be the most effective action to counter Pakistan's disinformation war?"

Graphic detail

The questions were intended to be provocative and achieved the desired result. Heated responses flew back to the site, as each person tried to be more nationalistic than the other.

[ image: Passions rise high over Kashmir]
Passions rise high over Kashmir
Across the border, web pages are just as fiery. One Pakistani web-page carries a series of photographic sites. But these are no pretty pictures of the Kashmir valley.

On the contrary, they are pictures of violence, blood-letting and armed conflict with the Indian forces. Some of these are called, "Pictures of the victims of Indian genocide". The pictures carry a warning for web-surfers: "Be Careful! Pictures might be disturbing!"

The creation of xenophobic web pages is not the only weapon in the cyber-arsenal. Nationalistic internet-enthusiasts have also churned out spam mails, which are high volume e-mails sent to recipients at random.

They carry emotionally-charged opinion on the conflict. More often than not, they contain lines like, "Stop dying like dogs by Indian oppressors".

Interactive wrangling

And then there are interactive notice boards, which function on internet chat sites, allowing the net-surfer to read anything anyone has written on the topic. The facility also allows surfers to make their own contribution to the Kashmir debate.

[ image: Young patriots at a rally]
Young patriots at a rally
Military strategists term this psychological warfare. But for millions of internet-users in India and Pakistan, it is perhaps putting new technology to new uses. The Internet has broken territorial boundaries and created closer bonds between people across the globe.

For the expanding, computer-literate, South Asian diaspora, the internet has created a forum for discussion, debate and opinion. And curiously enough, both sides mirror each others' opinions completely.

The web pages simply reflect attitudes which are shared by certain elements on both sides.

The tragedy is that, while many hardline attitudes can now easily be accessed on the Internet, there appear to be few sites which advocate a breaking down of the barriers that divide the two countries.

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