Hybrid Warfare Threats for Pakistan: Security Dynamics and the Way Forward

In contemporary times, hybrid warfare threats are perceived as lethal as nuclear weapons and sophisticated missile technology. It is not wrong to say that hybrid warfare poses direct threats to states, thereby provoking disruption and destruction. With the changing nature of warfare and emerging technologies, countries have been increasingly engaged in the quest for state-of-the-art strategies and tactics against adversary states. However, in South Asia specifically, India has intensified its hybrid warfare campaign against Pakistan in recent times. The last couple of months witnessed Indian-backed terror attacks, information weaponization campaigns, and BJP troll farms disseminate well-orchestrated propaganda against Pakistan to disturb the country’s peace and besmirch its image within and abroad.

Unlike major wars that are fought on battlefields and where the contested parties can easily be classified as victors or losers, wars now have transformed into a multi-dimensional domain and are waged via diverse means. Hybrid warfare refers to “the synchronised use of multiple instruments of power tailored to specific vulnerabilities across the full spectrum of societal functions to achieve synergistic effects”. The term was first coined in 2006 by Frank G. Hoffman, a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Marine Corps, who took the term from Robert G Walker’s thesis pertinent to low-intensity operations conducted by the US Marine forces. Like the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, which is considered to be one of the prominent examples of hybrid warfare in the past.

Similarly, the case of India against Pakistan is well-thought-out. Its hybrid threats to Pakistan are considerable, to say the least. Owing to credible nuclear deterrence and Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), India does not want to indulge in a full-scale or a ‘limited war’ with Pakistan directly. Hence it rather chooses to use other fluid means to destabilise and demoralise Pakistan. New Delhi officially introduced Doval Doctrine (Offensive-Defensive Doctrine) in 2014 in this regard. At present, the purpose clearly seems to inflict damage on Pakistan through various clandestine measures like stocking terrorism or proxies, cyber-attacks and subversion, information operations (using fake news campaigns, policy and news articles as a means of propaganda and manipulation), and even economic coercion.

Likewise, India practices alternative means of warfare to undermine Pakistan’s economic, political, and social assets through covert actions. Decades earlier, during the 1971 war, India categorically propped up Mukti Bahini to enable the dismantling of Pakistan. The Kalbhushan Jadhav episode in March 2016, and the Indian collusion amid the Army Public School (APS), Peshawar attack in 2014 are supplemental instances of India’s malevolent attempts against Pakistan.

India has been supporting proxies or terror outfits across Pakistan. New Delhi’s assistance to some Baloch ethno-nationalist militant groups like Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Republican Army (BRA) has explicitly been admitted by some Indian newspapers.

These illicit activities can be evident from the records released by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Investigation Network (FinCEN) in September 2020. The records evince India’s probable involvement in financial assistance to terrorism.

As claimed by international organisations and Pakistan, India also promulgates extremism by propagating anti-state and anti-military narratives, thereby radicalising the masses. These illicit activities can be evident from the records released by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) in September 2020. The records evince India’s probable involvement in financial assistance to terrorism.

Hence, such sponsored terror attacks that took thousands of innocents’ lives have grave consequences for victims’ families, friends and relatives. The unbearable losses make them infuriated and the situation breeds hate. Today, anti-state sentiments and hatred have been instigated amongst the victims’ families and the general masses who either accuse their own state for supporting proxies or reproach the government for not halting such dreadful activities. This is how hate is being inculcated inside some Baloch, Pashtuns, and Sindhis against the armed forces and the state.

In a similar vein, information has been weaponised by the Indian government to mislead and provoke the Pakistani populace in several ways. India’s untrue and fallacious information attempts to discredit and calumniate Pakistan was unearthed by the Eu Disinfo Lab report titled “Indian Chronicles: Deep dive into a 15 years operations targeting the EU and the UN to serve Indian interest”. The report explicitly stated that India is operating one of the largest fake media networks, with over 750 fake media outlets, disseminating false news to serve Indian interests. This network clearly aimed at targeting Pakistani interests in the EU and the UN.

Furthermore, most recently, a freelance Indian journalist Aveek Sen also uncovered the connivance between the former Indian military Intelligence (MI) officer Colonel Dibya Satpathy, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) troll farms, machinating information operations against Pakistan.

Similarly, synchronised state-sponsored cyberattacks several times hacked Pakistan-based websites, pertinent to federal and provincial government institutions. In August 2020, over 25 government departments’ websites were defaced by Indian-sponsored hackers.

In the coming days, the hybrid security threats to Pakistan may increase. It is imperative to mention that the US troops’ pull out from Afghanistan could embolden the Afghan Taliban and intensify instability in its neighbourhood. Hence, the influence of the Afghan Taliban in the areas adjacent to Afghanistan e.g. erstwhile FATA could increase, which may boost probabilities of strong connection with the Pakistani Taliban. The Indian Intelligence agencies could take benefit of this development to exacerbate Pakistan’s security and economic problems.

Experts believe the uncertainty in Afghanistan has provided TTP with a window of opportunity to attack Pakistan. Therefore, it could spell doom for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects also.

Additionally, the Pakistan Air force’s (PAF) new airbase that is to be set up in Balochistan may invite Indian intelligence attacks as the Indian backing of the ethno-nationalist militants in Balochistan has not been eliminated yet. Pakistan should chalk out a strategy of prepare, deter, and defend accordingly.

The government of Pakistan should win the hearts and minds of those who live in backward and conflict-torn zones like FATA and Balochistan, providing them basic facilities and human rights for better livelihoods, so, these crisis-affected people would not go for illegitimate means to be in contradiction with the state’s writ.  If the government does not resolutely uplift the socio-economic conditions of those areas, New Delhi’s slight exertions may grab people’s hearts and minds, and pave the way for psychological operations (PSYOPs) against Pakistan.  Islamabad should take appropriate steps that strengthen democracy and the economy, which will be the most efficient way of building resilience against hybrid threats.

Sajad Ahmad

Sajjad Ahmad is working as a Communications Assistant at CSCR.

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