Only a bird’s-eye view of human history is enough to tell that war and peace are two sides of the same coin, and despite our best efforts, human race has never succeeded to uproot conflict from the power lexicon. However, war has evolved over centuries, and as it is said, no future war is a repetition of the past. Nation-states, standing firm over fire and smoldering ashes of WWI, WWII, Cold War and the War on Terror, are now fighting Fifth Generation War that is also know as Hybrid War. This modern-day war-octopus is multi-pronged and multifaceted. No effort is spared – be it diplomatic, economic, information, cultural and ideological invasion, propaganda to sabotage, and terrorism – to break the will of the opponent nation and state. These are the wars of 21st century that are also characterized by cutting-edge technologies and information revolution. In these times of multi-pronged deadly wars, Pakistani nation and state has to defeat its enemies and ensure survival, peace and progress.
The power dynamics of communication tools have changed considerably since the advent of social media outlets with the new tools spreading knowledge and information to a larger segment of the society. Apart from the psychological, economic and political means, hybrid warfare threats also come in the shape of digital technology that relies on the speed, volume, ubiquity and communicative abundance that characterizes the present information age, and equally target the leadership and the general public through weaponized information. The aim is to mold the state and public opinion towards the desired outcome by causing internal dissuasion and dissension.
The negative aspect of the digital society to spread misinformation and disinformation by elements who refuse to let go of prejudices and ignorance with a determined mind engenders an increase in hate speech and individuals seeking to polarize public opinion towards their own views or in the direction of their objectives. The ethno-sectarian disturbances and its funding is often fueled by the inimical forces that are meant to target the peaceful existence of major segments of the society in Pakistan where they wish for the conversion of normal state of affairs into a crisis situation.
The challenges Pakistan is confronted with were reflected in COAS’ speech at this year’s Passing Out Parade at PMA, “The enemies who plotted our doom and destruction are watching us with disdain. Having failed and feeling frustrated, they have now subjected us to a 24/7 hybrid war. This war is not fought in the battlefields but in the minds. In previous wars, soldiers were taking the brunt on the frontline; in this new war, however, leadership at all levels is the target. It is a huge challenge that you will be confronted with from the day one. Please keep in mind that not only you have to discern light from the darkness, but also protect your men from sedition. The best way to do it is to just follow the SOPs, traditions and time-tested ethos of the Army. Remember, we are all soldiers of Pakistan regardless of our caste, creed, sect and ethnicity and we will always stand together as one, as this is our strength.”
The propagation of misinformation and disinformation is employed as a well-established tactic of information warfare to sap the morale of the nation or their disorientation through continuous attrition. As COAS said: “The objective of hybrid war is to target the sense of hope in Pakistan and to perpetuate the perception of “Yahan kuch acha nahi ho sakta”. Let me tell you, “Yahan sub acha ho ga”. We Pakistanis always find a way, and that we will “In Sha Allah.”
As the challenges have grown in complexity with the employment of tools from third, fourth and fifth generation warfare – operating in the space between war and peace – the antidote has also become complicated, however, it isn’t insuperable. Therefore, while ensuring competitiveness in the modern world – highly dependent on web-based learning – that has shifted towards a knowledge economy, the need to promote social cohesion and better equip the population to deal with these platforms while knowing how to identify information warfare provocations and differentiate between opinions and facts is ever more imperative. Toting up the plusses and minuses of this new technology, it is needless to mention that the digital age is here to stay and its advantages far exceed the disadvantages. Therefore, to prevent the manipulation of internal fault lines, timely measures to promote a more digitally literate and tolerant society would prevent Pakistan from becoming a target in this age of information explosion.
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