The Quintessence of Hybrid Warfare: Pakistan at a Critical Juncture

War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale, an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will, directed by political motives and morality – Carl von Clausewitz

The art of war has gone through various changes over the period but as Clausewitz states, the political motive and exhorting the adversary to fulfil the attacker’s will shall remain persistent. Comparably, the concept of hybrid conflict is not a novel phenomenon but it dates back to centuries where actors employed it through different tactics and platforms. One can find the deep-rooted examples of hybrid warfare in history, such as, in the Battle of Uhud the infidels spread fake news of Prophet’s demise and spread panic; in the Napoleonic Wars Spanish guerrillas attacked the lines of communication; in the American Revolution militia forces fighting along with the George Washington’s Continental Army; the British Army’s employment of irregular forces in Palestine during Arab Revolt etc. In all these wars, hybrid tactics, such as information warfare or fake news, proxies and irregular forces, were employed for the achievement of a political objective and as an offset against adversaries. However, contemporarily there is a shift in the locality of war and the application of non-kinetic forms of technological warfare, which changes the nature of hybrid warfare and plays its role in the evolution of warfare itself, such as using cyberspace, advanced weapon systems and information channels against adversaries.

Warfare is studied as an evolving subject, changing over the period with the advancement in technologies. In the discourse of modern warfare, the evolution starts from the gunpowder revolution in 14th and 15th century and then with the advancement in the firepower and other technologies, the character of warfare changed into what we know as total war, industrial warfare, mechanized warfare, nuclear warfare, counter-insurgency or the rise of asymmetric warfare. According to William Lind, the proponent of fourth-generation warfare (4GW), the concept of generation of warfare or ‘the changing face of war’, the first generation warfare refers to the battles fought with manpower, second-generation warfare was the evolution from rifles to machine guns, third-generation as technology-derived tactics of leveraging the speed, stealth and surprise. While the fourth-generation warfare is, “a return to decentralized forms of warfare, blurring of the lines between war and politics, combatants and civilians. However, Fifth-generation warfare (5GW) is the battle of perceptions and information, also known as, cultural and moral war, which distorts the perception of the masses to give a manipulated view of the world and politics. 5GW is evolving with the technology and known as “the non-contact warfare” enabled through digitization and autonomous/semi-autonomous weapons.

The literature review of modern warfare shows that the idea of hybrid warfare overlaps the fourth and fifth generation of warfare. Although, with the advancement and proliferation of digital information communication technology (ICT), it is becoming more sophisticated in its approaches and maneuvering. The corresponding developments of the cyberspace and its use for information sharing and radicalization, along with the emergence of non-state actors, hybrid warfare is becoming synonymous with the fifth generation warfare in today’s context and it a linear response to counter these threats is becoming ineffective. The primary objective of hybrid war is to destabilize an adversary, internally and externally through a sophisticated mix of different conventional and non-conventional tactics, such as debilitating its economy, tearing its social cohesion apart, sabotaging its foreign relations, creating mistrust internally, engineering social resistance movements, and employing criminal or terrorist tactics etc. Americans call the containment strategy as ‘full spectrum deterrence’ to deter or dissuade such hybrid threats, while their Chinese counterparts label it as ‘unrestricted warfare’. Furthermore, in the hybrid conflicts, the states operate below the threshold of conventional and open war and maintain maximum possible deniability of involvement in the conflict. The Russian strategist, Gerasimove suggests that the cultural, economic, military, diplomatic, information and other means are to be used to achieve political and strategic goals in these hybrid conflicts.

“In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed to secure victory. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack – the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle – you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination? –Sun Tzu

Advancement in science and technology has significantly broadened the sphere of hybrid conflicts and changed the strategies of such conflicts. In last few decades, the Israel-Hezbollah War of 2006, Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, 2014 ISIL advance into Iraq, and Indian coercive maneuvers against Pakistan, such as the use of irregular forces and a global disinformation campaign, stand out as the prime examples of the modern hybrid warfare.

In the case of Pakistan, India is exploiting the national vulnerabilities across the political, economic, social and informational, and infrastructural spectrum of the country. There are myriad examples of this coercive involvement of India in the domestic affairs of Pakistan and from time to time, the country has provided a plethora of evidence of Indian aspersive involvement, such as the recent presentation of the dossier of evidence of India’s terrorist activities in Pakistan, provided by the ISPR and MOFA jointly in Nov 2020.

India has chosen to show its animosity towards Pakistan through hybrid conflicts and terrorism as a weapon of choice to destabilize the country internally and tarnish the image of Pakistan as a peace-loving country by furthering the narrative that the country is a terrorist sanctuary. The fact is that Pakistan remained a victim of terrorism during the peak of Global War on Terror started by the US in Afghanistan having its spillover effect in the country. India, using irregular forces and network of spies exploits the social and political fault lines of Pakistan and fuel insurgencies and separatist movements like allegedly backing the Baloch Liberation Army and Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). Then India through its network of news outlets, including mainstream electronic channels and social media channels present Pakistan as a rogue state and repressive regime. Indian swindling claims against Pakistan were proven false in 2016 when Pakistani security forces arrested Indian spy Kalbushan Yadav from Pakistani province Baluchistan, who confessed that he was involved in sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan and Baluchistan in particular. Similarly, the Indian belligerent leadership taints Pakistan as the sponsor of terrorism and insurgency in Indian Occupied Kashmir, however, the ground reality is contrary to the fact.

Similarly, through using these coercive tactics, India is marginalizing Pakistan in the economic arena, where India diplomatically manoeuvred to blacklist Pakistan through Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and label it as a terror financer. So far, India has been successful in convincing the authorities through manipulative narratives backed by the hoax media outlets that Pakistan is sponsoring terrorism in IIOJK however, the situation is contrary. Now, Pakistan has provided a plethora of evidence of Indian involvement and its illegal and brutal annexation of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. In the recent meeting of FATF, on October 23, 2020, it has been stated that Pakistan will remain on Grey List until February 2021. According to the reports, Pakistan has completed the 21 out of 27 tasks which were given by FATF and the officials of the government of Pakistan conceived this as a victory that Pakistan has not been blacklisted, because, India has been aggressively working to blacklist Pakistan by FATF.

However, the government of Pakistan provided irrefutable evidence to prove Indian state terrorism against Pakistan and the dossier of evidence has also been shared with the United Nations and other international organizations. It has been said that India is providing material and financial support to terrorist organizations even the UN-designated terrorist organization like TTP, BLA and JuA.

With the emergence of social media as a decisive power and an important tool for hybrid conflicts, India is using it against Pakistan to spread misinformation and create anti-state narratives. The enemies of Pakistan are effectively using social media against Pakistan to achieve their political and strategic objectives. It has become a challenging task for Pakistan to regulate social media. The exponential rise of fake media accounts in recent years has raised concerns among the governmental bodies and especially security institutions of Pakistan. These accounts claim to belong to Pakistanis and spread hate against Pakistan and its security forces. It influences the perception of the people inside Pakistan and foreign observers. In October 2020, renowned social media handlers and news websites of India spread fake news about a civil war in Pakistan. Though this campaign by Indian sites and social media soon turned into laughing stock, it raised serious concerns that there is need to combat fake news as it has a damaging impact not only on people inside Pakistan but also on the international image of the country. For this purpose, India used a vast network of fake news outlets, recently debunked by the EU Disinfo Lab in 2020, comprising of 250 plus news websites operating in more than 160 countries, to alter the perception of decision-makers of supranational organizations. Therefore, to curb fake propaganda against Pakistan, the government of Pakistan is working to regulate/monitor social media. Government of Pakistan approved the new rules for social media in January 2020 called “Citizens Protection Rules 2020”. The officials from the government have stated that these new rules will help to stop the fake news and remove the content that aimed to spread terrorism and terrorism and instigate people for violence.

These malicious activities like backing insurgencies, information propaganda etc., all-encompassing the part of hybrid warfare, are used by India against Pakistan to lose its stature in the international arena and corner Pakistan diplomatically, especially from the Muslim countries, whom Pakistan tacitly pledges to protect through its military muscle. It is also pertinent to mention that the report released by the Disinfo Lab exposed 15-year old Indian covert disinformation operation against Pakistan. According to the report, India has been using hundreds of fake media outlets to undermine and malign Pakistan at international level. It has been termed as the biggest network of fake media sites, which has been exposed, so far.

Moreover, there are implications of Indian hybrid war against Pakistan on the latter’s foreign relations with other global powers and its standing in the regional forums. Example of SAARC is relevant in this regard because the regional cooperation organization was established to promote trade and further ties between regional states, however, India tried to sabotage the forum only to restrict Pakistan from taking any material advantage from it. Using propaganda, especially the online medium and social media, India has been able to corner Pakistan in the international arena. Another prime example of India’s coercion in international relations of Pakistan is labelling Pakistani territory as a haven for terror groups and blacklisting the country through FATF. Along with this, India has been able to dissuade foreign powers, especially the Middle Eastern nations, to distance themselves from Pakistan, even though Pakistan provides them military support and a huge Pakistani diaspora helped those countries in their infrastructural development. It was in response to India’s stratagem that amid Pakistan’s strong bid to exclude Indian delegate from the OIC conference in 2019, the Middle Eastern counterparts invited the late Sushma Swaraj, India’s External Minister as the guest of honour to the conference. Similarly, the long-standing Middle Eastern partners of Pakistan backed out on the issue of Kashmir at international forums and took a softer approach towards India’s belligerency and oppression on Kashmiri Muslims. India also tried discouraging Iran from becoming part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) because it will ultimately strengthen Pakistan economically and CPEC, its transit corridor.

An example of India’s hostility towards Pakistan is evident from the statement of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who vowed that India would mount a global campaign to isolate Pakistan in the world.

Apart from straining Pakistan’s foreign relations, India is resorting to hybrid warfare to create a surfeit Pakistan’ national security challenges. It is a fact that India’s military budget is five times to that of Pakistan and in order to meet the national security challenges, primarily instigated by India, Pakistan has to use a major portion of its GDP for the national security, affecting the overall socio-economic development of Pakistan. This increased military spending it to survive against the hostile India, which is nuclear-armed arch-rival of Pakistan. India is exploiting Pakistan’s vulnerabilities through using hybrid tactics, such as sabotaging CPEC through creating an unfavourable atmosphere in Pakistan for foreign investments and Kulbushan Yadav’s confession proves this. Using hybrid tactics, India is furthering the ethnic and sectarian divide in Pakistan leading the country to the same situation as Syria, where ISIL exploited the fault lines for their strategic objectives. However, the non-traditional challenges India is creating for Pakistan’s national security includes the spread of misinformation in the country and data breaches of its civil-military leadership. This will spiral into a digital dilemma in the near future where India can leverage from the data of civilians and exploit it for its advantage. Another challenge for Pakistan is India’s mega infrastructural attempt to build dams on the Indus River at Indian side. This will ultimately lead to economic challenges and create water scarcity in Pakistan. All these challenges, along with myriad others, spiral into a larger dilemma for Pakistan and will further the asymmetry between both archenemies. However, if timely action has not been taken by both nations, and the global powers, these skirmishes and limited war can escalate into a full-fledged war or a nuclear face-off.

So far, Pakistan had embraced a conciliatory approach towards India and to overcome the crises of hybrid threat, the country beefed up its national security apparatus, provided irrefutable evidence to the regional and global organizations, and urged to mediate the conflict. In the case of Kashmir, not only the government of Pakistan but also the international NGOs and human rights activists have risen their voices to unmask the Indian belligerency and oppression. However, the statements and actions of incumbent Hindutva regime do not seem to fall in line with a peace-loving nation-state.

“Throughout the ages, effective results in war have rarely been attained unless the approach has had such indirectness as to ensure the opponent’s unreadiness to meet it. In strategy, the longest way round is often the shortest way home.” –Liddell Hart

In order to rise above these hybrid threats of India, Pakistan will have to adopt a comprehensive and all-inclusive approach, involving its civil polity, governmental and non-governmental bodies and military institutions.

Primarily, there is a need for comprehensive analysis and self-assessment of the entire political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure spectrum and spot the vulnerabilities and critical points. A thorough understanding of the hybrid warfare and its threats suggests that a nation-state should attempt to create a foolproof national security architecture comprising of civil and military threats and it requires cooperation between both. It also necessitates the establishment of a joint platform where coordination between private, public and military institutions occur regularly and information sharing should be a central part of this platform. It will lead to regular monitoring of the changes, amplify the situational awareness, and enhance the early warning and response mechanisms. The responsibility lies on the shoulders of the warfare threat analysts of the country who should devise scenarios of how an adversary may tailor attacks and intend to target the country through conventional and non-conventional means.

As we have seen a nascent development in the regulation of social media in 2020, there is a dire need to promote effective media policy for the promotion of only credible information. This will require revisiting the prevalent electronic and social media regulations and adopt stern measures to avoid the proliferation of fake news and disinformation. The government can learn from the social media giants like Facebook and Twitter who are employing algorithms for countering the spread of disinformation and fake news. There is a need for partnership between social media companies and national electronic and social media regulatory bodies.

Similarly, it is pertinent to understand that in a hybrid war, enemies tend to exploit the vulnerabilities and in case of Pakistan, a developing nation, we have to focus on overcoming our vulnerabilities like developing our natural resources, fulfilling the socio-economic needs of marginalized communities by fostering inclusive development, and efficient use of technology.

Hybrid threats are becoming an international issue and they require an international response as well. To outweigh the hybrid challenges, there is a need to replicate the aforementioned model and mechanism at the regional and international level.

It is manifested in the history of Pakistan that we are one of the most resilient nations and our armed forces are the most vigilant ones. Any external threat or a bolt from the blue cannot outdo Pakistan.


Quote: An example of India’s hostility towards Pakistan is the statement of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who vowed that India would mount a global campaign to isolate Pakistan in the world. 

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About Amna Malik 61 Articles
Author is the President, Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR) and Editor-in-Chief of ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’ and ‘ The Asian Telegraph’.