21st century has brought changes to the nature and character of war and thus the warfare is not restricted to the battlefield alone, rather non-military instruments and a combination of conventional and unconventional methods of war, and use of information in particular is the highlight of the complicated contemporary security environment. From low yield, low intensity static First Generation Warfare to highly advanced, technologically modern and intense Fifth Generation Warfare, concepts are fast evolving. Sun Tzu once said, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”. Countries are reapplying those centuries-old tactics to generate the outcome they desire. This multi-modal or multi-variant conflict is no longer a simple black and white characterization of one form of warfare, rather it is a growing array of hybrid war capabilities—from the use of disinformation and propaganda to sow internal disorder and dissent within a country, to crippling cyber-attacks and psychological warfare, to conventional military power.
Today’s confrontation requires operating with a perpetual competition mindset. Hybrid war starts undeclared and continuously aims to influence public opinion and narratives, and spread manipulated public messages that are fabricated and promoted by adversaries. Furthermore, the use of modern information technology allows multiplication of the effect that brings with it dangerous consequences and novel nature of this phenomenon. Media–print, electronic and in particular social media–is the most used and effective manipulation instrument, nevertheless, fake news is only tip of the iceberg in the psychological warfare arena.
The attacker’s military operations are conducted covertly by irregular forces against the whole society and in particular, against its political structure, state authorities and local government, the economy, the morale of the population and against the Armed Forces. They are targeting the entire nation and our ideological foundations when they target our ethnic diversity, religion and culture. The confusion being created by the enemy is aimed at targeting self-belief and Pakistan’s desire to remain sovereign. The aim of such warfare could be to divide and weaken the target country so as to lay the ground for penetrating its politics in the future, resultantly affecting its foreign policy course, and even its strategic orientation.
This makes it incumbent upon the academicians, religious figures, politicians, artists and the entire nation to not let anyone discredit our ideology, identity and the very fabric. The possible schism lies in manipulated fault lines/narratives based on sectarianism, ethnic divide, languages, social classes, resource distribution and population imbalance. The attacks are coming through conventional front, and unconventional such as militant proxies, ideological subversion, economic traps, and, from information and cyber warfare to political manipulation to weaken us. These are ploys guised beautifully and thus necessitate extreme vigilance.
While we can’t actually stop the enemy from waging this war, we may be able to prevent it by correctly understanding and responding to the situation and by developing a national strategy and response to address the hybrid threats. An effective counter-hybrid warfare strategy requires political solidarity and agility along with well-tailored military capabilities. Our approach should be a comprehensive one, using a mix of military and civilian capabilities and institutions, at both the state and grass root level keeping in mind that the opponents are constantly working towards improving their methods. We must respond to the vulnerabilities at all levels to tackle the threats emerging from multiple angles.
A fight against an opponent that wages a hybrid war is a task for the entire society and therefore we must remain vigilant, be prepared for hybrid attacks in all areas and must remain resistant towards any disinformation campaigns directed by the opponents. The leaders and strategic thinkers must keep the nation hopeful and must not let the divisive elements or hostile identities to strengthen and encourage dissent and division.
We as a nation should remain committed to the protection of our freedom and stay united while keeping faith in the viability of the state.