07
February

New Intersecting Dimensions of Warfare

Published in Hilal English

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).

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

 

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

 
07
February

Hybrid Warfare Manifested!

Published in Hilal English

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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Twitter: @AmirZia1
 
07
February

ISIS—the New Menace

Published in Hilal English

Written By: S.M. Hali

It is no coincidence that Indian secret service Research & Analysis Wing, RAW’s senior operative and terror monger, Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav, in his confessional statement also admitted having orchestrated the Safoora Goth attack. This clearly proves the link between RAW and ISIS. It is noteworthy that according to Indian media reports, their National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Intelligence Bureau Director Asif Ibrahim and RAW Chief Alok Joshi traveled to Iraq between 23 and 25 June 2014 while Ajit Doval went onwards to Syria to negotiate with the ISIS, which was holding hundreds of Indians including 45 nurses hostage, to set them free. Indian media reports that no money was exchanged but other sources indicate that Ajit Doval befriended the ISIS leadership, convincing them that his sources would help Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men gain a foothold in Pakistan

Every few years, a new demon is created, which rocks the world till it is replaced by a fresh menace. The world has witnessed the emergence of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and now the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, Dáesh or IS) which is the latest menace. Having taken roots in Iraq and Syria, ISIS took a deadly toll on lives and yet held an attraction for not only Muslims as recruits from the Arab world but also from the Occident, Far East and Australia. After nearly a decade of ascendancy, the ISIS has nearly been routed from the Middle East. Its retreat signals trouble for both Central and South Asia. The latter may be a more lucrative hunting ground for ISIS since it is inhabited by 40 percent of the world’s Muslim population.

 

ISIS leader Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose current status is unclear (there are claims that he is dead, while yet others state that he is critically injured) had divided the world calling it the Islamic State, into various regions. Wilayat Khorasan (Khorasan Province) comprises Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and parts of India. Wilayat Khorasan was apparently leased as a franchise to defectors from Afghan Taliban, who were disgruntled after the declaration of the demise of Taliban leader Mullah Umar, and, members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Initially the footprints were in Afghanistan, from where leaflets, flags and propaganda materials in support of ISIS began getting distributed in parts of Pakistan, including a pamphlet written in Pashto and Dari that called on all Muslims to swear allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Members of TTP publicly swore allegiance to ISIS while in Afghanistan a struggle of supremacy between the Taliban and ISIS ensued.

 

 isisthenewmenance.jpgDisturbed by the defections of Taliban fighters to ISIS and the challenge the latter was posing to the Taliban, its then leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour wrote a letter in June 2015 to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to stop interfering in Afghanistan. He urged the ISIS there is room for only “one flag, one leadership” in their fight to re-establish strict Islamist rule. Adding that the Taliban “based on religious brotherhood asks for your goodwill and doesn’t want to see interference in its affairs”.

 

Taliban leadership’s plea fell on deaf ears and intense fighting broke out between the two groups in Nangarhar Province, where ISIS managed to gain a foothold for the first time. Trying to spread their wings, ISIS began to expand in other provinces of Afghanistan including Helmand and Farah. Emboldened and desperate for new recruits, by the end of 2015 ISIS began broadcasting Pashto language radio in Nangarhar Province, later adding content in Dari.

 

A fresh development heightened the morale of the ISIS in Khorasan Province in August 2015 when the Afghanistan-based militant group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), pledged allegiance to ISIS and declared they were now members of Wilayat Khorasan. Following the pledge, the Taliban and IMU clashed fiercely in Zabul Province. Readers may recall that in June 2015, IMU had claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on Karachi airport. The IMU may not have been formally an ally of ISIS then but they were definitely negotiating with them for gaining formal membership. It was this attack which acted as a catalyst for Pakistan to launch the Military Operation Zarb-e-Azb and destroyed the TTP, IMU and other miscreants in North Waziristan, albeit a few fled to Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban also launched an offensive against the Uzbeks, causing heavy casualties and eliminating its presence in the province by the end of 2015. The Afghan Taliban also succeeded in dislodging ISIS from Farah Province over the same period.

 

ISIS was ultimately rooted out by the Taliban in 2016, losing control of much of its territory in Nangarhar Province. It was driven out of Achin and Shinwar Districts following a military operation by Afghan Security Forces, while clashes with the Taliban caused them to be driven out from Batikot and Chaparhar districts. Following the loosening of targeting restrictions by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan earlier in the year, the U.S. Air Force began conducting scores of air strikes against ISIS targets. In April 2016 the Taliban reported that a number of senior and mid-level leaders of Wilayat Khorasan in Nangarhar Province had defected from ISIS and pledged allegiance to Taliban leader Akhtar Mansour. The defectors included members of the group's central council, judicial council, and prisoners’ council, as well as several field commanders and their fighters.

 

The Taliban received a setback around this time when on May 21, 2016 Mullah Akhtar Mansour was eliminated in a drone strike by USA in Pakistan while returning from Iran. On May 26, 2016 Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzada was promoted to the top position in the Taliban but there are reports of unrest within the group which the ISIS is trying to exploit.

 

In 2017, the U.S. decided to take major action against the ISIS in Afghanistan. On April 13, 2017 a GBU-43/B MOAB (mother of all bombs) was dropped in an airstrike on a cave complex in Achin District, Nangarhar Province. The devastating bomb attack killed 36 ISIS militants according to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and destroyed the tunnel complex including a cache of weapons.

 

There are UN reports that after their expulsion from Syria and Iraq, 70 ISIS fighters entered Afghanistan to form the core group of ISIS in Wilayat Khorasan and enhanced their activities in the region. The Afghan government and the Allied Forces in Afghanistan are downplaying the presence of the ISIS on its soil, claiming that over 1,600 ISIS militants have been killed in Afghanistan in 2017. Captain Gresback, the Public Affairs Director of Resolute Support Mission, released the figure speaking to Tolo News of Afghanistan, and declared that ISIS was being targeted by the combined security forces of the United States and Afghanistan thus ISIS is active in only three provinces in the country and ruled out its further threat in Afghanistan. Notwithstanding, there is still a mystery about the sponsors of ISIS. Some fingers point at Israel while others at the U.S. It is apparent with the role of the U.S. in Syria being dubious as the Russians and Syrian have accused the USAF (United States Air Force) of deliberately targeting Syrian civilians rather than known ISIS locations despite the precision guided munitions, drones and satellite imagery available to USAF for accurate targeting.

 

Similarly, the ease with which ISIS occupied military installations in Iraq, guarded by special forces equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry and trained by the U.S. raised some eyebrows.

 

In Afghanistan too, the use of MOAB which caused a high collateral damage albeit denied by the U.S. and former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's insinuation of America tacit support of the menace of ISIS to keep the region embroiled in conflict should not be dismissed.

 

Meanwhile the ISIS conducted the Karachi Airport attack and prior to it, on May 13, 2015 eight gunmen attacked a bus travelling in Safoora Goth, Karachi. The shooting left at least 46 people dead. All of the victims were of the Ismaili Shia Muslim minority, suggesting the attack was a targeted killing of sectarian nature. The banned militant group Jundallah claimed responsibility for the shooting. The gunmen hailed from Afghanistan. Pamphlets supporting ISIS–with whom Jundallah has pledged allegiance to–were also found at the crime scene. However, the Pakistani government ruled out the connection of ISIS in the attack, stating that the group does not have a physical presence in the country.

 

It is no coincidence that Indian secret service Research & Analysis Wing, RAW’s senior operative and terror monger, Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav, in his confessional statement also admitted having orchestrated the Safoora Goth attack. This clearly proves the link between RAW and ISIS. It is noteworthy that according to Indian media reports, their National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Intelligence Bureau Director Asif Ibrahim and RAW Chief Alok Joshi traveled to Iraq between 23 and 25 June 2014 while Ajit Doval went onwards to Syria to negotiate with the ISIS, which was holding hundreds of Indians including 45 nurses hostage, to set them free. Indian media reports that no money was exchanged but other sources indicate that Ajit Doval befriended the ISIS leadership, convincing them that his sources would help Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men gain a foothold in Pakistan.

 

Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav, reportedly a relative of Ajit Doval and handpicked for his clandestine machinations in Pakistan, sang like a canary after his capture. It is evident that ISIS and RAW are working hand in glove to destabilize Pakistan.

 

The ISIS assailants are targeting Shia’s as well as moderate Sunni’s because they want to establish their firebrand extremism in Pakistan, too. Many Sufi shrines and personalities have come under attack. Even a cursory glance at the timeline of recent attacks in Pakistan signifies this emerging pattern of attacks by RAW. Besides the May 13, 2015 bus attack in Karachi mentioned earlier, on August 8, 2016 multiple attackers carried out suicide bombing and shooting at a government hospital in Quetta, where lawyers were gathered, resulting in 94 deaths and over 130 injured. On October 24, 2016 in an attack claimed by ISIS, an intelligence officer was shot dead. On October 24, 2016 three heavily armed terrorists carried out mass shooting at police cadets in Police Training College Quetta while they were asleep, killing 61 cadets. Besides the ISIS, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi also claimed credit for the attack. The latter have a common agenda of targeting Shias.

 

The attempts of ISIS to gain foothold in Pakistan is a clear and present danger. A document, allegedly belonging to ISIS was found in the tribal areas of Pakistan by the American Media Institute (AMI). According to reports, the document titled ‘A Brief History of the Islamic State Caliphate (ISC): The Caliphate According to the Prophet’, was discovered in the tribal areas of Pakistan, written in Urdu. Much like Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf, the 32-page document includes a graphic depiction of the six stages of the Islamic State. ISIS, in the document, conveniently declared that Pakistan and Afghanistan are set to be its next target areas for terror attacks.

 

Another extremist faction, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA), a Taliban faction that has pledged allegiance to ISIS, has collaborated with the ISIS for many terror attacks over the past two and a half years, including the attack at the Sufi shrine in Sehwan and a military truck in Quetta in August 2017.

 

The appeal of the ISIS is not only to existing hardcore militants or the impoverished and deprived but also to the educated and enlightened youth, including women. Taking cue from the promise of a life of adventure and action coupled with riding into the mainstream, they have joined the radical group.

 

Under the above mentioned emerging scenario, Pakistan has no choice but to ensure that the country stays on course of moderate pluralistic Islam, and must ensure that ISIS and their foreign sympathizers and financiers do not gain ascendency. The threat from ISIS (duly collaborated by RAW) cannot be wished away or brushed under the carpet; a concrete and proactive action is must to eliminate this emerging threat.

 

The National Action Plan (NAP) to eradicate extremism and terrorism, adopted in the wake of the heinous December 16, 2015 attack on Army Public School at Peshawar was a step in the right direction. Alas, apart from few articles of the NAP, to be executed by the armed forces of Pakistan, the others were allowed to slip through the cracks owing to political expediency or the political leadership choosing to remain oblivious to the threat. If Pakistan wishes to avoid the fate of Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen or Libya, it must eliminate this new menace. Emboldened by their power to exploit and even blackmail their way, few radical groups are paving the way for ISIS to gain influence and endanger the very existence of Pakistan, whose founding fathers envisaged it to be a moderate state where religious minorities were not subject to persecution and murder. The time to take cognizance of ISIS—the new menace–is now.

The writer is a former Group Captain from Pakistan Air Force who also served as Air and Naval Attaché at Riyadh (KSA).

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