In secret, Turkey assisted Pakistan in creating a cyber-army disguised under the bilateral agreement and utilized it to target the US and India, pursue internal political objectives, and disprove criticism directed at Pakistan’s leaders.
Nordic Monitor has uncovered that Turkey assisted Pakistan in creating a cyber-army to sway public opinion, sway the views of Muslims in Southeast Asia, target the US and India, and discredit criticism of the Pakistani leadership.
Imran Khan, the then-prime minister who also served as interior minister, approved the scheme at a meeting with Suleyman Soylu, the interior minister of Turkey, in 2018.
According to people acquainted with the initiative, the covert activity was disguised under the bilateral cooperation agreement against cybercrime when it was against suspected influence operations undertaken by the US, India, and other foreign countries. Nordic Monitor reported on this.
The idea to create such a unit was initially brought up in private discussions between the then-interior minister of state, Shehryar Khan Afridi, and the visiting Turkish interior minister Suleyman Soylu on December 17, 2018. According to Nordic Monitor, the interior ministry in Islamabad held a senior-level discussion on the problem while keeping it a secret from most of the workforce.
Soylu revealed this covert operation for the first time in public during an interview with a local TV station in Kahramanmaras on October 13, 2022.
He referred to a nation that was a five- or six-hour direct flight from Turkey, but he avoided naming it, making it evident that he was, in reality, speaking of Pakistan.
Unlike his predecessors, Soylu is well-known for leading troll and bot armies on behalf of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in cyberspace. Nordic Monitor noted that Soylu had been involved in such covert activities before he was appointed interior minister in September 2016.
The AKP organized groups to control social media for influence campaigns and assaults on detractors. In 2014, Soylu, who held the position of vice chairman of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and was in charge of research and development, secretly organized a sizable Twitter team to target and abusive language prominent social and political figures who did not embrace the AKP’s ideals and practices.
The legislative record states that he was in charge of a 6,000-person troll army at the time.
Ultimately, the newly reorganized cyber police agency was used as a tool to defame opposition critics and dissenters within the ruling party and harm public perception of the opposition, according to Nordic Monitor.
The teams in the cyber unit are occupied with hacking opponents’ emails and social media accounts, gathering personal information from mobile phones and computers they were given access to, and using the compromised material to harass and occasionally blackmail dissidents.