07
February

Challenges in the Age of Digital Diplomacy!

Written By: Shakeel Ahmad Ramay

Digital diplomacy can be used to create chaos, confusion or unrest. Additionally it has the potential to sabotage country to country relations if not used appropriately. The digital front is as important as others for those who deal with national security. Pakistan is experiencing this new onslaught these days!

Twentieth century was supposed to be the age of diplomacy when the Soviet Union and the U.S. representing communist and capitalist blocs respectively, started developing relations with other countries through the diplomatic means. Both the superpowers used different diplomatic tools and dynamics to make themselves aligned with the states, especially the developing world, to keep their ideologies and interests intact. In the second and third decades of 20th century, public diplomacy came into prominence and the world redefined the term diplomacy.

 

 challengesintheage.jpgRadio was used actively to disseminate national messages and agenda to influence people of the target countries. It turned successful and policy influence started appearing at mass level. With the USA and UK at the forefront, they were later joined by the Germans, Russians, etc. Voice of America and BBC were established by U.S. and the UK respectively with the aim to enhance their influence in the public diplomacy domain. 20th century ended with the introduction of new tools of public diplomacy like the Internet/cyberspace.

 

With the dawn of 21st century, a totally new system of change and transformation was developed which was based on digital space, information revolution, and use of ICT. Information revolution and digital space altered the way of living, diplomacy and warfare. Till the end of 20th century, the governments were the only legitimate players and any breach from outside was considered a crime. Today, everybody is a stakeholder and has the right to share information and ideas. Diplomats cannot live in isolation. To share information and seek guidance from the wider community, they opted for newer techniques of communication. Currently, more than two billion people are connected through the digital space. It has increased the number of stakeholders.

 

Going further, it is essential to understand digital diplomacy, its different aspects and methods of implementation. Digital diplomacy refers to the methods of engagement, sharing data, information and other materials of national interest. However, there may be deviations on the basis of individual preferences and methods of communication. Secondly, it is not a formal or traditional negotiation rather it is a way of engagement at a wider scale for a two-way communication.

 

Precisely, digital diplomacy is a new form of public diplomacy to influence the opinions, propagate agendas, build narratives and communicate messages directly to the governments and people simultaneously, etc.

 

Twiplomacy 2017 pointed out that 92 percent of the world leaders, diplomats and UN officials are connected through twitter. Apart from its merits and demerits, digital diplomacy can be used for inclusive development objectives at global and national levels. There are examples when foreign missions used digital space to communicate with people in conflict-hit areas. During the Libyan War and Arab Spring, embassies remained in contact with their people by using social networking websites. Digital diplomacy can be used to create chaos, confusion or unrest. Additionally, it has the potential to sabotage country to country relations if not used appropriately. The digital front is as important as others for those who deal with national security. Pakistan is experiencing this new onslaught these days!

 

However, it is vital to mention that digital space is a tool to propagate message and agenda by applying different traditional indicators like culture, economy, education and self-interpreted values. Diplomatic communities across the world engage people by sharing brighter sides of their culture and values, might of their economic and military power and supremacy in education and technology. Cultural evasion is one of the most effective tools of digital diplomacy. Its impact on psychology of nations is more sustainable than kinetic warfare. It has different tools like film industry, life style, ideological evasion and education etc. The West has successfully applied these tools to strengthen their supremacy and influence. Now India is also using this against Pakistan, as once Ms. Sonia Gandhi mentioned in her speech.

 

Today, everybody is the stakeholder and has the right to share information and ideas. Diplomats cannot live in isolation. To share information and seek guidance from the wider community, they opted for newer techniques of communication. Currently, more than two billion people are connected through the digital space. It has increased the number of stakeholders.

A bird’s eye view of the activities of the diplomatic community would clearly support the argument. Similarly, digital space is also used to propagate and demoralize other countries by creating confusion, chaos and targeting values and norms of other countries. In recent times, digital space has emerged as a new way of warfare.

 

The current U.S. President, Donald Trump uses digital diplomacy to create fear and to pursue U.S. national interest. He has given new meanings to digital diplomacy and communication with diverse stakeholders. He tweets about each and every thing and even threatened the countries like North Korea, Iran and Pakistan through his tweets. North Korea went on a “Twitter War” with President Trump and both sides bypassed the established norms of diplomatic channels. Trump’s recent tweet about Pakistan created a huge fuss and rang alarm bells among the diplomatic lot and peace-loving people of both the countries. Although Pakistan showed restraint, it tried to reply in the most appropriate manner. Now, diplomats and military officials from both sides are engaged in damage control.

 

Pakistan is under target in digital space even for its purely development initiatives. Campaigns have been designed in the digital space to malign countries to create stumbling blocks for hindering the course of development. Best example for Pakistan is the undue criticism on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Most social websites and networks are flooded with disinformation and tempered statistics. These are being used to create misunderstanding and confusion among provinces and people. We can count the numerous times when wrong information and statistics were shared with people through social media and networks.

 

First, confusion was created on the route, then on SEZs (special economic zones) and now on repayment. Other example can be quoted from bilateral relations’ damage, which Pakistan is confronted with. If we analyze social media and networks, it seems that Afghanistan has the worst relation with Pakistan. However, the actual picture is altogether different. There are millions of Afghan who feel closely associated with Pakistan and the people of Pakistan.

 

This phenomenon does not stop here. Pakistan also faces problems at global level. Digital space is being used to malign Pakistan on different fronts. For example, Pakistan is being labeled as supporter of terrorists in Afghanistan and it is being propagated throughout the world. Although Pakistan has rendered great sacrifices both in term of lives and properties, the global community is not ready to acknowledge it because of the propaganda against it. This propaganda culminated at a very harsh and non-factual tweet by President Trump.

 

Apart from this, Pakistan is also targeted on charges of victimizing women, minorities, and marginalized groups. Fake news, videos and incidents are shared through social media and used to incite conflict against country. An old case of a video screening beating women by Taliban in Swat can be quoted as a classic example.

 

Data is another important area of digital space that is being collected and used without the permission of people. Facebook is one of the biggest social network website and it possesses individuals’ data whoever joins it. It is also true for other social network websites like twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Data is being used for economic, political and security purposes. In Europe and USA, political parties use this data to run their political campaigns. It is believed that it was used in Brexit and Donald Trump’s election campaign. Later, judiciary had to intervene to stop it.

 

Social network websites are also being used to propagate special messages and agendas. Pakistan has observed this in the past and is observing it so far as well. In recent past, some bloggers used these websites to spread material against Islamic and national values. These bloggers specifically targeted prominent personalities and Islamic beliefs, which created unrest among the people.

 

Digital space is also being used to instigate emotional outburst and violent protests by targeting sacred personalities. Few years back some controversial videos were uploaded on YouTube which targeted Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Islam. It caused protests and strong opposition by many Muslim countries. As a result Pakistan banned YouTube for a long time. Digital space has provided space for hidden messages and use of non-diplomatic communities to propagate national agenda. India is using some of the Baloch leaders and other people to portray a bad image of Pakistan.

 

In this context, Pakistan needs to pro-actively pursue innovations in the digital space and use it for public diplomacy–the most effective method to enhance its outreach and influence.

 

In order to devise a national strategy for digital diplomacy, there are a number of areas to focus on. Initially, the digital space can be used to highlight:

 

a.            Supreme sacrifices in the war on terror.

b.            Rich cultural heritage.

c.             Achievements in sports.

d.            Contributions in research and development.

 

To promote its soft image, Pakistan should develop a digital directory of the most ancient cultural sites, venues and activities. It is blessed with one of the oldest civilizations, which makes us distinct from the rest of world. Pakistan should promote these sites as venues of tourism and to create harmony among the people. We should also highlight our contribution to art, drama and music. Sports is another field, wherein the country has produced some of the finest players.

 

Pakistan is home to some ancient and new religions like Buddhism and Sikhism. It can attract international community, especially of these religions, in the light of religious tolerance and harmony.

Pakistan needs to formulate a comprehensive policy and strategy by applying matrix of DIMEC (Diplomatic, Informational, Military, Economics, Culture). Foreign Office can take the lead by setting up a portal to tackle these areas supported by the military and information, commerce & economic ministries. For this purpose, we also need to channelize the public diplomacy wing at the foreign office, as it is not well-equipped, both in terms of human resources and technical setup. On the other hand, a dedicated team of professionals from the field of digital world should be engaged. In a nutshell, we should take both active and passive measures to deal with this new dimension of diplomacy and warfare. On one hand we need to shield our masses from negative effects of digital space cleverly used by our enemies, and on the other hand we also take it as an opportunity and use the digital space to promote a soft and positive image of Pakistan.

 

The writer is a research scholar at SDPI with expertise in global diplomacy, climate change, Water-Food-Energy Nexus, and Track-II diplomacy. He teaches digital diplomacy, negotiation skills and conflict transformation at Foreign Services Academy.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 
07
February

Digital Platforms and their Likely Use for Espionage

Written By: Dr. Fateh-ud-din B. Mehmood

Gone are the days of traditional spying because the spy couple Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Mata Hari, Major John André, Virginia Hall, Shi Pei Pu and all top 100 spies in the history of espionage together cannot collect even a fraction of the intelligence that today’s digital platforms can (and do) gather every minute.

 

Most of these software, apps and services are either available free of cost or we happily opt to use the bought or pirated versions. It is said that "if you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold". This is an open secret that these service providers or apps collect and sell our browsing history, location data, trends, software usage details to advertising companies or to the players that pretend to be advertising companies.

Espionage is not a new term or technique at all. The technique has been in use for thousands of years and it is documented that even the monarchs (pharaohs) of early ancient Egypt (around 3000 BC) employed agents of espionage to root out the fickle subjects conspiring against the dynasty or to locate the tribes that could be conquered and enslaved. Joshua and Caleb are also well-known and well-admired in history for their spy work, sent by Moses to spy on Canaan. Sun Tzu in Chinese and Chandragupta Maurya in Indian history are also popular for putting emphasis on spying and intelligence gathering.

 

But gone are the days of traditional spying because the spy couple Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Mata Hari, Major John André, Virginia Hall, Shi Pei Pu and all top 100 spies in the history of espionage together cannot collect even a fraction of the intelligence that today’s digital platforms can (and do) gather every minute. No, I am not talking about the notorious spyware such as FinFisher, Galileo RCS or CIA's Vault7 that WikiLeaks have made infamous over the past decade. The subject of our attention are the common household digital platforms like Microsoft Windows, Google, Facebook and Apple that we cannot imagine to live without in the modern age.

 

When I was in school, the only electrical or electronic ‘gadgets’ we used to have and could afford were electric bulbs and ceiling fans. Although, some of our well-off neighbors also had black and white television sets whom all the neighboring children used to visit every night to watch PTV dramas. The clock kept ticking and times changed. The current period in human history that we are living in is unarguably called the digital age or information age owing to the prolific use of technology in almost all aspects of human activity such that digital interaction is one of the major characteristics of human activity and it is also characterized by the shift from traditional industry to information technology.

 

 digitalplatform.jpgNowadays, every single person I see has at least one smartphone running Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS, a Facebook ID (or even multiple), an email account, a variety of instant messaging apps such as Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, IMO, WeChat and many other free accounts and free apps to access various internet services. Every single house I visit has a plethora of electronic devices from computers to tablets to smart TVs to smart homes with hundreds of apps to support daily activities. I have not come across a single office that is still based on old-school papers and has not shifted to the information technology to some extent, if not fully. All the government, private, multinationals, financial, education, law enforcement or military offices today have at least Microsoft Windows and Office suite (genuine or pirated). This paradigm shift has increased the speed and breadth of knowledge turnover within the society and economy.

 

Most of these softwares, apps and services are either available free of cost or we happily opt to use the bought or pirated versions. It is said that "if you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold". This is an open secret that these service providers or apps collect and sell our browsing history, location data, trends, software usage details to advertising companies or to the players that pretend to be advertising companies. Most of us have no idea what information Microsoft and Google collect about us, or when Facebook app turns our camera and microphone on because during installation of the apps we merrily give them permission to access our microphone, camera, contacts, SMS, photos, etc.

 

A friend of mine who is a government officer proudly told me that in his office he has strictly precluded all pirated and shady softwares, ensured timely updates on the operating systems and other softwares, installed and updated antivirus software regularly and enforced the policy to not download any attachments in addition to using complex passwords because they have confidential documents and matters to work on. My question was: “Does it really ensure you are not spied on? What if those legitimate software and apps are collecting all the confidential information with your consent?”

 

It is important to talk about how and what all the big names including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. collect data and information from us which ‘legally’ does not even fall under spying because the definition of traditional espionage or spying is “to gather confidential information without the permission of the holder of the information" while in this case we allow them to take our data and information in the End-User-License-Agreement (EULA) or app permissions. We also do not have a choice because unless we give them permission to access information we cannot install and use that service, app or software.

 

Let’s have a look at the numbers of software and their users worldwide; Google has over 2 billion users with Android while Microsoft has claimed over 1.5 billion users for Windows. Apple's iOS and macOS combined claims to have over 1 billion users. Facebook has surpassed the figure of 2 billion monthly active users and their WhatsApp monthly users figure is around 1.5 billion as well. Gmail has claimed to have more than 1 billion monthly active users and there are tens of instant messaging (IM) apps that have crossed 100 million users. As this article has a length limitation, it is not possible to cover all the service providers’ information collection (not legally spying) details in one article; we will start with the mostly used software in office or business environments, which is undoubtedly Microsoft Windows. However, the intention is not to blame a particular company/software operating system but to create general awareness about the loss of privacy and possible data theft by using the modern gadgets particularly free downloadable apps. Therefore, the general conclusions in the article are applicable to all such companies/software operating systems.

 

So, by looking at the privacy policy statement of Microsoft that comes with Windows 10 and is also available on their website one can get a general idea about their data privacy1:

 

Finally, we will access, transfer, disclose, and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails in Outlook.com, or files in private folders on OneDrive), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to:

 

1. comply with applicable law or respond to valid legal process, including from law enforcement or other government agencies;

2. protect our customers, for example to prevent spam or attempts to defraud users of our products, or to help prevent the loss of life or serious injury of anyone;

3. operate and maintain the security of our products, including to prevent or stop an attack on our computer systems or networks; or

4. protect the rights or property of Microsoft, including enforcing the terms governing the use of the services–however, if we receive information indicating that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property of Microsoft, we will not inspect a customer's private content ourselves, but we may refer the matter to law enforcement.

 

 digitalplatform1.jpgHere, we must keep in mind that “such as” is not a synonym to “limited to” and “applicable laws” are of any government especially where the data resides or in other words where the data centers are.

It is also worthy to read what Microsoft’s statement is about internet browsers:

 

“Some browsers have incorporated "Do Not Track" (DNT) features that can send a signal to the websites you visit indicating you do not wish to be tracked.” but... “Microsoft services do not currently respond to browser DNT signals.”

 

That, in simple words, means we will take your data no matter what you do and how much you want to protect your privacy.

 

When Microsoft started its Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP) in 2006 and the core purpose of CEIP was to “collect information about how our customers use Microsoft programs”, I, with my other co-researchers in information security become curious to know what data Microsoft is taking and we started to sniff and analyze the data and packets using network sniffer and packet analyzers such as Wireshark (back then it was called Ethereal) and the results were shocking2. Although Microsoft mostly uses SSL on port 443 to establish an encrypted link between the device and their server ensuring that all data passed between the server and device remain encrypted yet some connections use port 80 and clear text.

 

That was the Windows XP age and the information collection techniques and the size of data amplified exponentially over the period of a decade by the time Microsoft Windows 10 was launched. According to ZDNet, Windows 10 is now running on 500 million "monthly active devices"3. And, undeniably Windows 10 is the foremost pre-eminent operating system from data collection point of view that our digital age has ever experienced. You must be curious by now that what exactly Microsoft can and does collect (steal) from you. It collects almost each and every thing you can imagine through Cortana, telemetry and other features.

 

Apart from the PC usage and crash data, Microsoft collects and stores your location not only through the built-in GPS sensor but also through a user’s Internet Protocol (IP) address’ geolocation, which is the mapping of an IP address to the geographic location of the internet from the connected device.

 

Speech recognition is a convenient way to prevent typing stress and aid those with Carpel Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) by giving the user ability to speak while the program identifies your words and phrases and converts them to a text but for Microsoft this is a way to record and save the spoken words and phrases in your voice.

 

Microsoft can collect the entire content of a device’s memory (RAM) in the name of diagnostics. One may ask what’s the harm in it. If you don’t know yet, let me tell you that your computer’s RAM stores not only the current state of your computer but also your passwords. What’s more, being a researcher in digital forensic and cyber security, I can tell you that the RAM’s physical dump is also the place where we always look for the decryption keys to decrypt the encrypted data. So, if you have entered the decryption credentials to access the encrypted data, those keys might be lying in the RAM. You thought the 2048-bit encryption had saved your top-secret and confidential data? Voila! Microsoft has got it or any other software that one has been using.

 

Application/software history allows Microsoft to collect the data about both Microsoft software e.g., MS Word, MS Excel, MS PowerPoint and non-Microsoft software as well such as. [Oh, you want to know what non-Microsoft software data Microsoft can collect? Every piece of software you install and run on top of Windows.] As far as non-Microsoft software data is concerned, Microsoft can collect every piece of software a user installs and run on windows.

 

Windows 10 also comes with a personal assistant called Cortana that is always there, always listening, always ready to serve ‘you’ (or Microsoft). Your computer’s microphone is always actively listening to you, to your surroundings and might be sending the data for profiling. Your secret meeting with the red bulb on your office door is no more a secret to Microsoft, its partners and government agencies with “applicable laws” have the right to get that data, if a Windows device was turned-on in that meeting room.

 

A picture is worth a thousand words. Cameras have changed the world for us dramatically as well as for the espionage industry. Everything you or your device’s camera sees, can be seen by Microsoft and government agencies, too.

 

Microsoft also collects data on “Speech, Inking & Typing”. Do you think the keystroke logging through traditional spyware key-loggers is required anymore when agencies can receive much more than the mere keystroke data easily from Microsoft?

 

Usually, we consider contacts, call history, messaging, e-mails, calendar, tasks, etc. our personal data but according to Microsoft privacy statements this personal content is also Microsoft’s business and they are free to collect every byte of it in addition to the account information that we have with Microsoft such as Hotmail, Skype, MSN, Windows Live, Outlook, etc. with all the services we use including OneDrive.

 

If you are using Microsoft’s Edge (internet browser) you’re giving away your bookmarks, complete browsing history and even your passwords (if you saved them in the browser) for the advertisers, Microsoft partners and government agencies.

 

Now the question arises, how does Microsoft keep half a billion devices’ data from mixing up? Windows 10 assigns a Globally Unique Identifier (GUID) to each computer using the MAC address and other identifiers to save the data it collects from that particular device. Another question comes to mind, where is this collected data saved? The logical answer is that the data is saved to the nearest geographical data center. Microsoft already had a few global data centers spread over the planet but a year after Microsoft hired an Indian professional Satya Nadella as the Chief Executive, the company has opened three additional data centers in India, to be exact, in Pune, Mumbai and Chennai to provide faster services to the clients of this region. Every data center must comply with the local laws, regulations and government requirements and so do the Microsoft’s new data centers in India. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) for the Government of India announced that Microsoft is one of the first global cloud service providers to achieve MeitY’s provisional accreditation4. What data and access Microsoft has agreed to give to the Indian government to achieve the accreditation is unknown but keeping Indian mass surveillance projects and Indian National Cyber Coordination Centre (NCCC) we can safely assume that Microsoft would have to ‘lawfully’ provide data to these agencies in order to comply with local laws5.

 

Microsoft can surely deny they do not take this much data but they have also explicitly denied explanation of what data they take despite the thousands of security researchers’ requests. Microsoft, bi-annually publishes a Law Enforcement Requests Transparency Report that shows the number of legal demands for customer data that they receive from law enforcement agencies around the world. Only from January to July 2017, the total number of requests Microsoft received from law-enforcement agencies worldwide was 25,367 that include 44,831 accounts/users specified in requests. We must keep in mind that they clearly state on their website that “this report only covers law enforcement requests”, NOT the big brother’s requests6. And now that the U.S. government has passed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) two years ago, companies have zero liability when handling your personal data that they collect, not even under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The goal of CISA was purely to encourage companies to provide whatever data the government agencies want without declaring it anywhere and in return the companies got liability protections for sharing users’ data in the name of ‘cyber-threat information sharing’7.

 

If, after reading this dreadful information, you are thinking about how to prevent Microsoft and other operating systems from spying (oh sorry, technically that is not spying because you signed the EULA and read the privacy statements – let’s call it information collection as these operating systems force us to call it), actually, you cannot prevent this. Although, in response to public demands Microsoft gave some controls in Windows 10 anniversary update to disable the data collection but even turning off all the buttons won’t prevent them from stealing your data.

 

An experiment was carried out in which Windows 10 was installed on a computer and all the information collection buttons were set to ‘disable’ and a tool Disable Win Tracking was also installed to stop Windows 10 spying features but still the network sniffer results showed that Windows 10 was trying to communicate with Microsoft servers and send data8.

 

To remedy this privacy breach we can opt one approach and that is to blacklist those particular Microsoft IP addresses in the routers because blocking known domains and IP addresses in the Windows host files or in Windows firewall will still allow Windows 10 to reset and unblock them.

 

Second approach that can be taken is at the government level. A good example is that of France ordering Microsoft to stop tracking Windows 10 users and the data protection authority which gave Microsoft three months to comply with French privacy laws. I don’t know how long will our government/judiciary take to issue such orders, if at all.

 

Third proposed approach is to replace Windows with open source Linux, which, unlike Windows, is an open source operating system and we can analyze every single line of the code including its kernel. We can develop Pakistan’s own version of Linux to cater our needs and support the local languages.

(To be continued....)

 

The writer is an Information Security and Digital Forensic professional, a researcher and an entrepreneur.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

1. Microsoft Privacy Statement
https://privacy.microsoft.com/en-us/privacystatement/
2. Wireshark
https://www.wireshark.org/
3. Windows 10 is now running on 500 million "monthly active devices."
http://www.zdnet.com/article/windows-10-installed-base-hits-500-million/
4. Microsoft Cloud achieves Gov. of India’s provisional accreditation... in rare company
https://azure.microsoft.com/en-in/blog/microsoft-among-the-first-global-cloud-service-providers-to-achieve-government-of-india-s-provisional-accreditation/
5. Mass surveillance in India
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_surveillance_in_India
6. Law Enforcement Requests Transparency Report | Microsoft
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/about/corporate-responsibility/lerr
7. Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA)
https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/754
8. DisableWinTracking
https://github.com/10se1ucgo/DisableWinTracking/releases

 
07
February

New Intersecting Dimensions of Warfare

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).

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¹ Tarçın, L. G. (2015). Hybrid Warfare and Implications to Landcom. Land Power, p. 24.

 
07
February

Hybrid Warfare Manifested!

Written By: Amir Zia


While Pakistani security forces have done well in taking on the challenge of homegrown as well as foreign-sponsored terrorism and are capable of protecting our eastern and western frontiers, the real challenge is fighting and winning the battle of ideas.

Defeating an enemy at the minimum human and financial cost, preferably without firing a single shot, should be the aim of all master military and political strategists. They create confusion, discord and division within the enemy country; nurture, exploit and stoke its ethnic, sectarian, religious and class contradictions; sponsor terrorists and subversive activities; target and damage its economy, and erode the national unity and cohesion of the enemy state by striking at its ideological foundations.

 

 hybridwarfaremanisfested.jpgPakistan experienced and suffered all this in the 1971 War when it was dismembered by India, which exploited the simmering political and economic contradictions between the two former wings of our country. Pakistan’s defeat was not because the enemy was too smart or too brave, it was basically the inability of our successive rulers, who failed to resolve the internal contradictions of the state, providing the enemy an opportunity to damage us from within.

 

Our rulers had placed Pakistan Armed Forces in a no-win situation much before the outbreak of the actual war. When open confrontation started, the result was foretold. Our isolated troops in the former East Pakistan were up against heavy odds; a hostile local population and the enemy forces, without any backup and no direct air or land link with their power center.

 

Our political failure led to the military failure. India manipulated the anger and resentment among Bengalis over their real or perceived exploitation by the western wing. Indians trained and armed the rebels and infiltrated agents in the former East Pakistan. However, much before fanning insurgency and declaring an all-out war, the Indian propaganda machine had penetrated various segments of the society, especially among students, teachers, opinion-makers, journalists, writers and intellectuals. In a nutshell, our mistakes offered a perfect dream victory to India.

 

Pakistan is the target of fourth generation and hybrid warfare, which has intensified during recent years as hostile countries are trying to redefine the balance of power and rules of the game in South and Central Asia by weakening and destabilizing the world’s lone Muslim nuclear power.

New Face of Warfare

The East Pakistan debacle happened more than four decades ago when the concepts of the fourth generation and hybrid warfare had yet to be introduced as doctrines or applied in a systematic manner anywhere in the world.

 

The term Fourth Generation Warfare–first used in 1989 by a group of American analysts–is being defined as blurring lines between war and politics and combatants and civilians. The hybrid war–a more recent phrase that first appeared in 2005–is abstract, yet holistic. It encompasses a strategy that blends conventional, unconventional and cyberwarfare as well as propaganda, diplomacy, subversion and strangulating or damaging the economy of the hostile state.

 

Both these concepts bank on the dynamism of decentralization and use sophisticated tactics of terrorism, psychological warfare through media manipulation, cultural invasion and propaganda to target the enemy’s ideology and core values. It is a complex, long-term low-intensity game, which can be transformed into a high-intensity and disastrous conflict for the enemy if not forcefully and effectively managed.

Fringe dissident elements – the shadowy nationalist militant groups to handful of social media activists, elements from academia, media and the NGOs – within Pakistan have been influenced to echo the enemy’s propaganda line. Our Armed Forces are the main target of this campaign as the enemy realizes that this is the only institution which stands between them and their designs against Pakistan.

 

Old Roots of the Game

However, the fourth generation and hybrid warfare in essence remain as old as the state and statecraft itself. The concept has been so aptly defined by Sun Tzu, a Chinese general and military theorist (544 BC 496 BC), in these words; “the skillful strategist defeats the enemy without going to battle.” (‘The Art of War’, Chapter 3,a translation by John Minford, Penguin Classics).

 

Subduing the enemy’s army without fighting war has been described as “the acme of skill” by Sun Tzu whose strategic and tactical doctrines are based on “deception, the creation of false appearances to mystify and delude the enemy, the indirect approach, ready adaptability to the enemy situation, flexible and coordinated maneuver of separate combat elements and speedy concentration against points of weakness.” (Introduction, ‘The Art of War’ by Samuel B. Griffith, Duncan Baird Publishers).

 

Today’s Challenge

Pakistan is the target of fourth generation and hybrid warfare, which has intensified during recent years as hostile countries are trying to redefine the balance of power and rules of the game in South and Central Asia by weakening and destabilizing the world’s lone Muslim nuclear power.

The weakness of our state and the regulatory and law enforcement institutions are responsible for this state of affairs, which allow bubbles of privileges to thrive and work against the state unchallenged and unchecked.

 

The Indian objectives of targeting Pakistan are:

a) To force Pakistan to abandon all moral, political and diplomatic support to Kashmir’s indigenous freedom movement.

b) Brand Kashmiri freedom fighters’ legitimate struggle against the Indian occupation as terrorism.

c)   Disrupt China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

d) Weaken Pakistan to an extent where India can establish its undisputed hegemony in the region.

 

The Afghan regime is playing ball with Indians in an attempt to put the blame of its own weaknesses and failures on Pakistan. The choices Kabul is making are based on narrow, self-interest of its foreign-backed puppet rulers, who cannot stay in power on their own even for a couple of months. Tensions with Pakistan suit the opportunistic mindset of the Kabul regime because:

 

a) It wants to keep away representatives of Afghanistan’s majority ethnic group–Pashtuns–out of power which the leadership of ethnic minorities currently enjoy the lion’s share.

b) Blame Pakistan for its own failure in establishing writ in Afghanistan.

c) Provoke tensions on the settled issue of Durand Line (de facto and de jure international border) to stoke Afghan nationalist sentiment and trouble in Pakistan’s tribal belt–as was done in the 1970s.

d) Keep the U.S.-led NATO alliance engaged in Afghanistan to ensure continued financial and military aid, without which the Kabul regime would collapse.

e) Provide India space to carryout anti-Pakistan activities in return of the overt and covert financial support.

 

The United States, which has a long history of working with Pakistan as an ally, has been bogged down in Afghanistan. The U.S. forces have failed to defeat the Afghan Taliban in the longest war of their history, spanning well over 16 years. After spending trillions of dollars, the victory appears nowhere in sight for the United States. Therefore, Washington also finds it convenient to blame Islamabad for its strategic failures. The U.S. objectives are:

 

a) To make Pakistan a scapegoat for its military failures in Afghanistan. The biggest victory for the ragtag Taliban remains that they are not letting the superpower win.

b) To drag Pakistan directly into the Afghan conflict with an aim to fight this war on the Pakistani soil.

c) To force Pakistan to submit to the Indian and Afghan demands.

d) To contain Pakistan’s nuclear programme in the short to mid-term and try to get it scrapped altogether in the long-run.

e) With United States’ growing strategic ties with India, Washington wants Pakistan to accept New Delhi’s dominant role in the region, which falls in line with Washington’s contain China policy.

 

These U.S. objectives are in sync with Indian and Afghan interests, but are against Pakistan’s core interests. These include an unyielding support to Kashmir freedom movement, safeguarding the country’s nuclear weapon programe and ensuring national unity and cohesion at every cost. This explains why Pakistan remains the target of multipronged attacks from the hostile powers, which are using hybrid and fourth generation warfare tactics to achieve their objectives.

 

Terrorism

Pakistan is fighting homegrown terrorism and violent extremism for the past several decades. But it would be living in self-denial if one fails to acknowledge that hostile countries–especially India and Afghanistan–are also sponsoring terrorist and subversive activities here.

 

The arrest of Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav and unearthing of his network is a proof of how India has been sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan, particularly, targeting parts of Balochistan and the commercial hub of Karachi.

 

The Afghan territory is being used to carryout terrorist attacks here as Indian and Afghan spy agencies provide support to Pakistan’s ethnic, narrow nationalist and so-called religious terror groups.

 

As India and Afghanistan are all out to destabilize Pakistan, the United States not only looks the other way, but accuses Islamabad of sponsoring the Taliban resistance in Afghanistan, where its NATO-led and Afghan troops have even failed to properly man the international border to check militants’ cross-border movement. Stopping militants at the border is considered the sole responsibility of Pakistan, which has started fencing the border and setting up new posts to prevent infiltration of terrorists into the country from Afghanistan. Pakistan has set up more than 1,500 check posts along the border compared to less than 150 that exist on the other side of the border. In a strange, twisted logic, Kabul stands opposed to any border management system because it does not believe in the sanctity of the international border. Yet, it wants our troops to check the alleged flow of militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan.    

 

It is indeed ironic that the country, which paid the biggest price fighting terrorism; arrested and killed the highest number of international terrorists, including those belonging to Al-Qaeda, and singlehandedly turned the tide of extremism through a series of military operations including Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, is being blamed for terrorism. 

 

Tensions on the Eastern Border

India has been resorting to unprovoked ceasefire violations on the Line of Control and the Working Boundary in the disputed Kashmir region with an aim to keep Islamabad’s attention divided, which is locked in the war against terrorism on the western front.

 

Indians have committed nearly 100 ceasefire violations just in January 2018, targeting both civilian and military personnel. In 2017, Indians committed more than 1,900 such violations, underlining how the enemy wants to keep pressure on Pakistan. Similarly, Afghan troops have also carried out attacks on the Pakistani posts on a number of occasions. Even the U.S.-led NATO forces have occasionally engaged Pakistani troops besides carrying out regular drone attacks on the Pakistani territory. All these are meant to pressurize Pakistan and force it to yield to their demands. 

 

Anti-Pakistan Propaganda

Demonizing an enemy first even before destroying it remains pivotal in this day and age of globalized world and instant communications. This is the most effective way to legitimize any overt or covert war aimed at subduing an enemy state or forcing a regime change as has been done in many other Muslim countries in recent years. A sustained propaganda, disinformation and misinformation, allegations and fake news are all parts and parcel of the propaganda war that serves as the vanguard in hybrid and fourth generation warfare.

 

The mainstream media is being used to tarnish the image of the hostile power through stories and opinion pieces giving half or partial facts or dishing out complete lies. This is done by a propagandist country to win over the domestic public opinion in favor of the war as well as to influence the world.

 

The boom in communications and the power of social media and websites have made propaganda tools more effective and lethal. They also work wonderfully well in weakening the enemy from within by creating and sharpening dissent and orchestrating confusion and divide. These tools also help influence and recruit youngsters for anti-state activities in the name of various ethnic, sub-nationalist, religious and so-called ideological causes.

 

This kind of propaganda drive is in full swing in Pakistan, which is being accused of charges ranging from supporting and providing safe havens to terrorists to gross human rights violations. India, Afghanistan and the United States are echoing more or less the same allegations, aimed at tarnishing Pakistan’s image globally as well as to create division and discord among Pakistanis.

 

Fringe dissident elements–the shadowy nationalist militant groups to handful of social media activists, elements from academia, media and the NGOs–within Pakistan have been influenced to echo the enemy’s propaganda line. Our Armed Forces are the main target of this campaign as the enemy realizes that this is the only institution which stands between them and their designs against Pakistan.

 

Funding anti-Pakistan Agenda

A couple of our frenemies (Friend Enemies) spend millions of dollars annually on perception management in Pakistan in the name of promoting education, traditional and new media, culture and social work. The aim is to win over, influence and brainwash educated Pakistanis so that they can promote their narrative in the country.

 

Media and education institutions remain the main battlefield of this war. For starter, Pakistan needs to first focus on these fronts. We should not let foreign agenda drive our media and pollute minds of young journalists in the name of training with the help of few local partners. Foreigners should not be allowed to write the curriculum for our students and take our nation hostage through their ideas and ideals. Nor should the Indian content dominate our entertainment channels and cinemas.

 For example, at their sponsored or funded media programs, future and working journalists are fed with warped interpretation of history that paints the Pakistan Movement as a reactionary and politically incorrect struggle. Pakistan Army is being described as the mother of all ills and held responsible for tensions with India and Afghanistan. They are asked to cover those themes and stories that supplement their biases and propaganda against Pakistan.

 

Foreign-funded social media training sessions focus on tarnishing the image of the state and its institutions in the name of citizen journalism. Similarly, in the name of culture and literature, such events are funded which promote narrow ethnic agendas or provide platforms to promote anti-Pakistan sentiment and propaganda against its institutions.

 

The small, shadowy local militant groups and some dissident elements living abroad also align and integrate themselves into these activities, which become kosher because they are being carried in the name of education, cultural or literature, but in fact carry a sinister anti-Pakistan agenda.

 

The foreign-funded NGOs focus only on those programs which serve interests of donors rather than taking up genuine issues.

 

The Indian cultural invasion and influence through cinema and television channels–both entertainment and news–should also be the cause of concern for policy-makers. The Indian content is contaminating minds through the projection of a false and tantalizing perspective about India and promoting its worldview.       

 

The weakness of our state and the regulatory and law enforcement institutions are responsible for this state of affairs, which allow bubbles of privileges to thrive and work against the state unchallenged and unchecked.  

 

A politically polarized and divided Pakistan remains an easy target of this modern undeclared warfare that aims to widen and sharpen these very cracks to weaken and destroy us from within.

 

Therefore, the foremost challenge for the civil and military leadership is to restore political stability and order in the country at every cost. All institutions should be on the same page on key issues and working in the same direction. For this, tough decisions are needed, including that of resetting the system to make it more efficient, strong, united and pro-people so that it can thwart the enemy designs.

 

While Pakistani security forces have done well in taking on the challenge of homegrown as well as foreign-sponsored terrorism and are capable of protecting our eastern and western frontiers, the real challenge is fighting and winning the battle of ideas.

 

For this, Pakistan needs firstly to put in place an effective monitoring and regulatory framework to ensure that foreign funding is not being used by donors and their local partners against the state and its institutions as well as the promotion of ideas and values of the hostile powers.

 

Already, regulatory institutions exist in Pakistan, but they need to be freed from political interference and narrow vested interests so that they can do their job.

 

Media and education institutions remain the main battlefield of this war. For a start, Pakistan needs to first focus on these fronts. We should not let foreign agenda drive our media and pollute minds of young journalists in the name of training with the help of few local partners. Foreigners should not be allowed to write the curriculum for our students and take our nation hostage through their ideas and ideals, nor should the Indian content dominate our entertainment channels and cinemas.

 

Surely, Pakistanis are capable of funding and training journalists. They can develop their own syllabus. They can produce high quality music, movies and dramas. These are just the initial baby steps we must take to counter the new undeclared war that has been thrust upon us.

 

The writer is an eminent journalist who regularly contributes for print and electronic media.

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