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Hybrid wars against Pakistan

Hybrid wars
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Saud Bin Ahsen |

War is the oldest of adventures of the human race since times that created human civilization. Although it has nothing to do with civility, yet it is fate accompli of all people, civilized or otherwise; either by choice, by design, or by an unavoidable sudden imperative that is imposed on a given set of people or nation. With the advancement in science and technology, passing through stone, bronze, iron, wheel, agriculture, and industrial ages, respectively, and now with the dawn of the era of knowledge economy, the war has witnessed equally deadly diversity in its ugly growth with ever increasing scale and scope of devastation and destruction.

Modern day world wars are not merely fighting battles by armies. These are the times when hybrid wars have become permanent feature of wars, with dimension of economic, trade, water (natural resources) including but not limited to, direct and proxy theatres that affect the capacity of a nation-state to maintain or attain professed objectives of its strategy, security, sovereignty, and existence. Thus, hybrid warfare can be defined as, “A conflict involving a combination of conventional (military), non-conventional (guerrillas, insurgents, terrorists), economic, trade/ media wars. It may include state/ non-state actors/ entities/ institutions/ organization, aimed at achieving a common political purpose.”

Hence, developing an institutional mechanism to keep on calibrating and generating response as per changing situations and challenges is a pre-requisite to counter the hybrid war being faced by Pakistan.

Hybrid threats, writes Frank Hoffman, blend the lethality of state conflict with the fanatical and protracted fervour of irregular warfare. Hybrid forces amplify their otherwise limited power and extend the conflict in both time and space thereby providing a chance to win a protracted contest of wills when they could not otherwise achieve a conventional military victory. While regular military conducts conventional operations against enemy armed forces, irregular forces strive to attain control over the population.

To a certain extent, all war includes a battle of narratives i.e. which side possesses the moral high ground or can convince the people of the justice of its cause. By bringing the population into the conflict, hybrid warfare highlights the significance of perceptions. Although wartime propaganda is a time-honoured tradition as far back as the ancient world, modern communication systems such as the Internet, social media, satellite television, and radio radically amplify the transmission rate of propaganda and public information. Insurgents realize that military actions are but a supplement to the information war, by which they try to sway perceptions of both their own people and enemy’s population.

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In the modern information environment of instantaneous communication and 24/7 news coverage, one must become more adept at engaging in the battle of narratives that can determine the difference between victory and defeat. Anyone with a laptop with Internet access can play havoc with the image of the entire nation. The advent of disruptive technologies, like that of Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp, have all pushed the traceability beyond facial recognition that can alter behaviours and response of masses in no time. The Arab Spring has been a glaring example of a meltdown organized by the help of technology.

In a nutshell, the historical lesson on hybrid war is more pronounced than ever. No single strategy works for different situations, and every situation requires its own mix of strategies.

The type of hybrid war the US launched against Russia and China through ‘curtailment’ and ‘constructive engagement’, respectively, proved its worth over time. The curtailment helped the dissolution of the Soviet Union through a series of multi-cut strategies, the latest being the Afghan Jihad and Iran Conflict. Whereas, constructive engagement, adopted in 1970’s with China created a catch 22 situation as China diversified its engagement so dexterously that a slowdown of the Chinese economy means a loss to the US investment and world economy in general.

In Pakistan, low-level insurgency in Balochistan is particularly induced by China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is not digestible for India, which has launched a hybrid war against Pakistan. Similarly, Karachi has been a victim of hybrid war by India and some other forces that helped perpetuate the disability by providing training to proxies and giving safe heavens to political mentors of proxies.

Read more: Can community building help end extremist violence in Pakistan?

The current security paradigm of Pakistan is a logical conclusion of global & Afghan factors, fully exploited by India in the form of a multi-dynamic proxy war it has staged against Pakistan from across multiple borders; now turned into an existential threat for Pakistan. Accordingly, the national internal security policy of Pakistan accordingly envisages to create a safe environment where life, property, civil liberties and socio-economic rights of the citizens are protected and the people of Pakistan are able to live and prosper in harmony, freedom, respect and dignity as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan while warding off all external threats having internal ramifications for peace and security.

The level of preparedness of Pakistan for countering a hybrid war is dismally low as all security paraphernalia were developed to launch hybrid wars outside of its borders.

Security of Pakistan is passing through its testing times as it simultaneously confronts serious external as well as internal threats. The external threats from India in the east and along Pak-Afghan border in the west have a direct and indirect bearing on the internal security situation of Pakistan. The internal threats are even more daunting as they impact on stability, progress, and national cohesion. The greatest challenges facing the nation today are extremism, terrorism, and organized crimes coupled with the political instability, lack of coordination, inadequate resources, illiteracy, and widening rich and poor divide. Both the law enforcement and justice system are overstretched and under-resourced which exacerbates the problem.  Though Pakistani state and society are grappling with internal security threats, with some degree of success, but a lot more is required in facing up to these challenges.

Read more: Can technology ensure speedy justice in Pakistan?

In fact, the state and society of Pakistan is already fighting hybrid warfare launched by India for destabilizing Pakistan to push her to its terms on Kashmir, besides its professed hegemonic designs to have supremacy on Indian Ocean ring countries, which due to mere nomenclature India believes to have its natural sphere of influence. The enemy is targeting Pakistan from within through extremists and terrorists as proxies by inflicting multiple cut strategies. Unearthing of spying network after Kulbhushan Jadhav was captured by Pakistan shows that there has been no shift of tactics from India in continuing to wage a strategic hybrid war against Pakistan as a constant factor of its strategy to deal with Pakistan, who is proving too stubborn to be made docile through conventional military means.

Such a situation further deteriorates when there does not exist a clarity in the body politic of a nation-state regarding its true objectives and how it defines its security in the light of its supreme national interests.

The task of effectively winning wars of narratives in the arena of world opinion cannot be attained by formal diplomatic means alone. In post-truth era where reality is less influential in shaping opinion in comparison with repetitive assertion of given agenda points, even foreign policy has become a battlefield of competing narratives. Projecting a country’s view abroad has become increasingly challenging owing to a void of requisite intellectual constructs for helping sell Pakistan’s rationale of policies adopted.

The questions about Pakistan’s internal commitment in fighting extremism and terrorism often go unnoticed in academic, intelligentsia and media. Various policies in the past by ruling elite both civilian and military for furthering their individual or family rules has created a regression in the collective thinking of society where dissent is often muted through threats or actual use of violence.

Read more: Punjab leads using Information Technology to improve services

The shortcomings of requisite strategy in the very domain have proved highly deficient for countering the type of hybrid war we are continuously facing. Resultantly, Pakistan’s perspective of peace and security and its position viz. a viz. India, United States and even in the eyes its ‘permanent friends’, is highly under-represented.

Besides its professed hegemonic designs to have supremacy on Indian Ocean ring countries, which due to mere nomenclature India believes to have its natural sphere of influence.

Pakistan’s adversaries are exploiting the ideological and social differences among its body politic by simultaneously constructing alternative narratives about Pakistan’s state and security institutions for effectively harming Pakistan’s image abroad.

Accommodation of freedom of expression and Human Resource Development (HRD) are pre-requisite for neutralizing enemies’ hybrid war tactics used against Pakistan. Adverse narrative against Pakistan that feeds the opinion of policy makers abroad goes unchallenged. Quality HRD, especially intelligentsia, is necessary for effectively and institutionally calibrating and disseminating Pakistan’s perspective domestically and abroad.

In modern nation-states, armies are raised not solely for the security but for the strategy; they work as arms of politico-economic strategies of their respective countries. They help flex the political muscle of their nations and facilitate their states to create an environment on and beyond its borders, in which trade flourishes as per their advantage. When a state perennially fails to utilize its military power to elicit desired politico-economic strategic response in the international or regional arena to its benefit, it creates a vacuum that is destined to be filled by external interests. Such a situation further deteriorates when there does not exist a clarity in the body politic of a nation-state regarding its true objectives and how it defines its security in the light of its supreme national interests.

Resultantly, Pakistan’s perspective of peace and security and its position viz. a viz. India, United States and even in the eyes its ‘permanent friends’, is highly under-represented.

No state has ever, in human history, succeeded to overcome hybrid wars, types of which we are confronted with, with the help of its armed forces alone. Hence, the level of preparedness of Pakistan for countering a hybrid war is dismally low as all security paraphernalia were developed to launch hybrid wars outside of its borders. Now, hybrid wars encountered inside of its borders in the form of simmering low level insurgency with sporadic outburst of terrorists, coupled with ambiguous diplomatic response over current US presidential tweet row is something that needs to be attended to but through initiation of a process of institutional retrospection and development like Salala incident time.

Read more: Human resource development in Pakistan

In a nutshell, the historical lesson on hybrid war is more pronounced than ever. No single strategy works for different situations, and every situation requires its own mix of strategies. Hence, developing an institutional mechanism to keep on calibrating and generating response as per changing situations and challenges is a pre-requisite to counter the hybrid war being faced by Pakistan.

Saud Bin Ahsen is Post-Grad student of Public Administration at Institute of Administrative Sciences (IAS), University of the Punjab, Lahore and associated with a Think Tank Institute. He is interested in Comparative Public Administration, Post-Colonial Literature, and South Asian Politics. He can be reached at saudzafar5@gmail.com


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