Written By: Lt Gen Shafaat Ullah Shah (R)
New times call for a new concept of warfare. In the ever evolving geopolitical environments and pre-eminence of trends like economy, media, civil society and, globalization, the scope of waging a sole conventional war is neither feasible nor cost effective. This notion has given rise to the concept of Hybrid Warfare with the accruing benefits of ambiguity, surprise, tempo and above all, cost efficiency. The combination of conventional and irregular methods is though not new and has been used throughout the history. Most, if not all, conflicts in the history of mankind have been defined by the use of asymmetries that exploit an opponent’s weaknesses thus leading to complex situations involving regular/irregular and conventional/unconventional tactics. An early example relates to the campaign waged by the Iberian leader Viriathus against the forces of the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries BC. One of the most recent and often quoted examples of the hybrid war is the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. The war featured about 3,000 Hezbollah fighters embedded in the local population attacked by 30,000 regular Israeli troops. Russian tactics in the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent civil war in eastern Ukraine in 2014 is also an example of manifestation of hybrid warfare.
India with the support of some other world players is fueling secessionist movements in Balochistan and has created a ‘second front’ with Afghanistan through its political, economic clout and support to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in carrying out terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. All this is being waged without resorting to a conventional conflict, while, Indian Armed Forces checkmate any conventional backlash through a force in being.
There is no universally accepted definition of hybrid warfare due to its abstract nature. In a recent event organized by NATO, 28 members alliance failed to agree on a single definition of the concept. This implies that it is often used as a catch-all term for all non-linear threats. In the light of foregoing, a rationale definition could be that, hybrid warfare is a military strategy that combines conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyber warfare to achieve end results. By combining kinetic operations with subversive effort, the aggressor intends to avoid attribution or retribution. In practice, any threat can be hybrid as long as it is not limited to a single form and dimension of warfare.¹ It is an emerging notion of 21st century conflict that combines four elements along the spectrum of warfare, namely conventional warfare, irregular warfare (terrorism and counter-insurgency), asymmetric warfare waged by resistance groups and compound warfare wherein irregular forces supplement a conventional force along with force multipliers like cyber warfare, economic pressures, media and diplomacy.
An authentic categorization is marred by the dichotomy that exits in the realm of international law between the concept of ‘war’ and the idea of cyber conflict, electronic warfare, and information warfare.
Thus, a rational classification of hybrid warfare needs to include following aspects:
a. A nonstandard, complex and a fluid adversary, which can be state or non-state actor. Instances can be found in the Israel-Hezbollah and the Syrian Civil War, wherein the main adversaries are non-state actors within the state system. These non-state actors can also act as proxies for countries but harbor independent agendas as well.
b. A hybrid adversary uses a combination of conventional and irregular methods like terrorist acts, violence and criminal activity.
c. A hybrid adversary is flexible and adapts quickly to changing environments.
d. Use of mass communication for propaganda and economic strangulation of the adversary.
e. A hybrid war takes place at multiple planes vis-a-vis the conventional battlefield, the indigenous population of the conflict zone and the international community.
In the recent times, Syrian civil war provides a classical example of hybrid warfare. In this conflict both the major players USA and Russia have waged hybrid warfare. Since the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising of 2011, the United States and a network of European and regional Sunni allies have applied instruments of coercion against Syria that collectively take on the charter of hybrid warfare. In this conflict, Washington and its allied partner states have undertaken a wide range of lethal and non-lethal covert operations, with heavy reliance placed upon those performed by regional Sunni allies. By empowering Jihadis as proxies, ex-U.S. President Obama has borrowed much from the Reagan administration’s Afghan playbook. As he signaled the launch of this campaign in August 2011, Obama served notice that the United Stated would be pressuring President Assad to step aside. But one year later, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report revealed a hitherto unacknowledged sectarian war goal: the establishment of a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria. Its geo-political function would be to break the Shiite crescent. As of today, this hybrid war has produced not just one, but a conglomeration of religiously cleansed Sunni Islamist principalities in northern and eastern Syria. Some are controlled by the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, while others are dominated by so-called moderate armies and militias.
By its intervention in Syria in 2015, Russia has also embarked upon hybrid warfare. Despite the fact that the future of the war in Syria is uncertain, Russia by combining its military, diplomatic and media capabilities is fighting a war to achieve its goals using limited armed engagement. Russia’s achievement, on the ground hinged mainly on the morale boost its intervention gave to the Syrian Army. This facilitated pro-regime forces to perform better in combat, while simultaneously weakening the resolve of rebel forces determined to depose the regime. Through air strikes, Russia has facilitated Syrian regime to capture Aleppo and its surrounding towns. Combining other elements of hybrid strategy, Russia has been instrumental in initiating Geneva Peace Talks, involving all the stakeholders, besides making itself key power broker in the Middle East.
After the nuclearization of Pakistan, there has been a growing thinking in the Indian military that a conventional war could be both untenable and cost prohibitive. This notion gave rise to hybrid war under the rubric of nuclear weapons as the preferred strategy by India. There is growing evidence of hybrid warfare in the Indian strategy of pressuring Pakistan through media, subversion, cyber warfare and diplomatic maneuvers aimed at its isolation and possibly ‘Balkanization’. The stipulated objective is weakening of Pakistan to the extent that it accepts Indian hegemony in the region and abandons its principled stance on Kashmir and other key national policy issues. The hybrid war that has been waged is not merely Pakistan-specific but is embedded in the regional geo-political gimmickries. Simultaneously, India with the support of some other world players is fueling secessionist movements in Balochistan and has created a ‘second front’ with Afghanistan through its political, economic clout and support to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in carrying out terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. All this is being waged without resorting to a conventional conflict, while Indian Armed Forces checkmate any conventional backlash through a force in being. Pakistan has asserted that India abets and espouses terrorism in the country. This typifies the sub-conventional war that India has imposed on Pakistan. Sub-conventional means coupled with brinkmanship at the diplomatic and military levels have shaped up the contours of hybrid war. The capture of the self-confessed spy of the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Kulbhushan Jadhav, has provided further evidence of Indian attempts at sabotaging China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC has become the driver of China’s Belt and Road Initiation connectivity and the show window project for the emerging multipolar world order, thus making Pakistan the “zipper of pan-Eurasian integration” at the convergence of civilizations. Its disruption is being orchestrated somewhat overtly by India and other affected superpower, through multiple means which include using proxies to target the route and impede the LEAs (Law Enforcement Agencies). More lethal is India's aim to bolster the secessionist movements in Balochistan by helping, funding and arming Baloch militant organizations including Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and harboring its leaders. This support is further amplified through an active use of media in the nefarious spread of disinformation regarding the situation in Balochistan and to create a rift between LEAs and the local populace.
The Indian efforts are ably aided by elements inside Pakistan and also those stationed outside owing to their influence in lobbying groups of international reputes. The presence of educated Indian diaspora especially engaged in policy influencing institutions at Capitol Hill and other important think tanks in USA and Europe, gives India a structured cost effective modus operandi for a favorable disposition. The policy of investing in human resource in late 60s is now working as a force multiplier for India in international politics and businesses. There are reasons to believe that the hybrid war will exacerbate in the province of Balochistan, for it is an epicenter of the all-important CPEC. If analyses on U.S.’ regional aims are anything to go by, then one can anticipate an increase in this mode of warfare. This leads us to the logical question of how to counter the menace of hybrid warfare launched by multiple adversaries. As the nature of this warfare involves use of diverse means aimed at exploiting weaknesses and is flexible in nature, first and foremost, it calls for an excellent intelligence set up to collect, collate and coordinate intelligence, in consonance with the saying, ‘forewarned is forearmed’. A strong inner front, with inter-provincial harmony, an effective governance and democracy at grass root levels, wherein problems of people are addressed. Media has emerged as an important pillar of state and needs to be harnessed when it comes to guarding national interests. Almost, all first-world countries have an effective mechanism in place in pursuance of these core national interests, why should we then feel shy about pursuing our vital national interest? An effective counter to hybrid warfare is not possible without an efficient coordination mechanism at national and lower levels to use various elements of national power in foiling the adversary’s attempts. Finally, a strong diplomatic maneuver to expose involvement of country(s) in hybrid war inside Pakistan at all international fora and to make it cost prohibitive for the adversaries is required. The most effective response to an adversary waging hybrid warfare is to pay back in the same coin through a counter campaign.
The complex world that we live in has fundamentally altered the means that are utilized for the attainment of covert and overt ends. Hybrid warfare is most suited to attain policy ends in a cost effective manner through optimal combination of both conventional and unconventional means, regular and irregular, and information and cyber warfare. India as a policy imperative, keeping in view post-nuclear Pakistan and the recent reality of CPEC, has waged a hybrid war against Pakistan, supported by a superpower and other regional players. This calls for national cohesion, effective governance to alleviate genuine demands of the population, authentic intelligence setups and a coordination mechanism at a national level to harness all elements of national power.
The writer is presently serving as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He has also been Commander Lahore Corps and remained Military Secretary to the President. He is the author of 'Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan' (published 1983).
¹ Tarçın, L. G. (2015). Hybrid Warfare and Implications to Landcom. Land Power, p. 24.