Leading Pakistani newspapers on Saturday acknowledged they were hoaxed into publishing reports based on fake WikiLeaks cables containing stories of factionalism in Indian Army and accusing New Delhi of sponsoring militant groups.
The reports — carried prominently in several papers including The Express Tribune and The News, a partner of the International Herald Tribune — quoted alleged U.S. diplomatic cables confirming conspiracy theories about India, particularly about Jammu and Kashmir.
The two papers on Saturday carried prominent apologies on their front pages regarding the reports.
However, The Nation, a daily known for its anti-India views, showed no regret and printed an editorial titled “India's true face”.
Both The Express Tribune and The News blamed the fake cables on the Online news agency, an Islamabad-based wire service that often carries pro-Army reports.
However, inquiries by PTI have shown that the report on the fake cables first appeared on the website of Daily Mail, a little-known newspaper, on December 8.
Several Pakistani bloggers have written that the Daily Mail is noted for printing wild conspiracy theories. In a recent report, it claimed that India's external intelligence agency was involved in framing Pakistani cricketers in a spot-fixing scam.
In its apology, The Express Tribune said the report it had published with the headline “WikiLeaks: What U.S. officials think about the Indian Army” was “not authentic”.
“The Express Tribune deeply regrets publishing this story without due verification and apologises profusely for any inconvenience caused to our valued readers,” it said.
The News, in its apology, said it had run the Online news agency's report “with the confidence that it was a genuine report and must have been vetted before release”. It added: “However, several inquiries suggest that this was not the case.”
The News said Online's owner Mohsin Baig and some editorial staff “were themselves unclear about the source of the story and said they would investigate the matter at their end”. It added: “On further inquiries, we learnt from our sources that the story was dubious and may have been planted.”
Britain's Guardian newspaper, which has been provided the entire database of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, reported that an extensive search by “date, name and keyword failed to locate any of the incendiary allegations” about India. “It suggests this is the first case of WikiLeaks being exploited for propaganda purposes,” the paper reported.