Pakistan must arm itself to deal with threats of a hybrid conflict

Pakistan must arm itself to deal with threats of a hybrid conflict


Pakistan, like many developing states, is vulnerable to a hybrid conflict due to the transforming nature of warfare. The government, on its part, is dealing with the prevailing security challenges in an effective manner. However, the state and society remain vulnerable to emerging, non-traditional security challenges, notably in the form of hybrid warfare. 

Realizing the threat of the new phenomenon, the army’s top commander, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, sounded an alarm when he said that Pakistan needs a comprehensive strategy to combat it. “We are now confronting [a] hybrid conflict where the focus is shifting to subversion on religious, sectarian, ethnic, and social issues. This needs a comprehensive national response,” he said last week.

Hybrid warfare is the new entrant in the lexicon of combat and is currently known as the fifth domain of war. It is a blend of ‘conventional/unconventional, regular/irregular, and information and cyber warfare”. American journalist John Mecklin opines that the new form of international conflict "can combine internet-enabled propaganda, a global “dark web” of encrypted communications, cyber-attacks, positive and negative economic pressure, espionage, irregular military action, and other efforts that aim to advance political interests without progressing to full-scale war. Perhaps, it’s an ‘ambiguous war’ or ‘grey area conflict’.” 

And while hybrid conflict on its own may seem like a contemporary feature in the globally-strategic environment, the phenomenon of hybrid warfare is not new. Similar subversive techniques and tools have been used in the past by states and their intelligence agencies. The Russians’ annexation of Crimea in 2014 made it even more attractive for modern policymakers. 

Theoretically speaking, an asymmetrical warfare strategy was the choice of a weaker actor, and thereby, it’s the weaker nations' or actors’ who adopt more hybrid warfare stratagems to avoid attribution and retribution. Interestingly, nowadays, the militarily-superior states are using hybrid warfare stratagems against their weaker opponents.

The current conflicts are no longer taking place on conventional battlefields alone, but they are being fought asymmetrically across the digital world, cyberspace, and on social media, to name a few. Indeed, the adversaries manipulate core values, motivational factors, cultural biases, ethnic dissimilarities, and sectarian differences to spoil the strategic, communicational, and critical infrastructure of a country.  

The rivals are making the best use of hybrid war tools in the exploitation of domestic fault lines in the political, economic and societal spheres to destabilize one another. Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz, a Prussian general and military theorist, once said that: “Every age has its kind of war, its limiting conditions, and its peculiar preconceptions.” The changing characteristics of warfare or aggression certainly require reformation in national security’s standard approaches.

Interestingly, nowadays, the militarily-superior states are using hybrid warfare stratagems against their weaker opponents.

Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

Pakistan’s adversaries are targeting and operating below the threshold of conventional warfare, using a blend of military and paramilitary tools, including proxy forces, such as radicalized militants and ethnic separatists, cyber instruments, and information operations to coerce and shape its policies to their advantage. They are using malicious propaganda to exploit religious and ethnic fissures of the society and are financing radicalized militants to conduct terrorist activities in the country. 

It is believed that India and like-minded states are using all the dimensions of the hybrid warfare to undermine Pakistan’s national security. These typically operate below the threshold of conventional warfare, using a blend of military and paramilitary tools to shape and coerce Pakistan to its advantage.

New Delhi has reportedly been providing material resources, intellectual and media support to dissidents in Balochistan and radicalized militant groups operating elsewhere in Pakistan. On March 3, 2016, Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav, a serving commander in the Indian Navy, who was involved in subversive activities inside Pakistan was arrested during a counter-intelligence operation in Balochistan. According to The First Information Report (FIR) registered by the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) in Karachi, India’s premier spy agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was involved in an attack on China’s consulate in Karachi, last Friday. 

Moreover, due to Afghanistan’s anarchical situation, several intelligence agencies and transnational terrorist organizations have been using Afghan territory to launch indirect sub-conventional warfare against Pakistan, too. 

Pakistan’s Armed Forces have undertaken synergetic national efforts such as the operation Zarb-e-Azb, which was launched in June 2014, to rid the country of terrorist groups located in the North Waziristan agency. Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, launched in February 2017, sought to eliminate secret terrorist sleeper cells across the country. Moreover, the National Action Plan adopted in 2015, is equally important to combat the adversaries' warfare onslaught in a comprehensive manner.

Islamabad has been struggling to thwart the risks of hybrid warfare. As General Bajwa rightly highlighted, we now have a greater responsibility “to ensure that our people, especially the youth, stay aware and steadfast against propaganda onslaught being launched through soft offensive”.

Taken overall, non-state actors have grown proficient in using hybrid-warfare tactics to pursue their objectives. Hence, Pakistan needs to revamp its national security strategy in order to improve and publicize its socio-religious narrative, which in turn will combat the radicalized organizations. The situation warrants the adoption of a compressive policy involving the entire nation to encounter any such conflict.   

• Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University. E-mail: [email protected]

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