By Atta Rasool Malik

CPEC invites hybrid warfare against Pakistan

January 8, 2019 - 14:8

ISLAMABAD - All wars are costly in lives and treasure. Through the ages, this fundamental truth has driven military strategists to search for a quick and inexpensive victory in battle. The ultimate aim of any contesting nation is to force an unwilling enemy government to accept peace on their terms. In democratic countries, generally the actions of that hostile government are based upon the will of the people, therefore no victory can be complete until that ‘will’ is reshaped or molded.

Liddell Hart argued that a man killed is merely one man less, whereas a man unnerved is a highly infectious carrier of fear, capable of spreading an epidemic of panic. Liddell Hart argued that the resulting psychological pressure on the government of a country may suffice to cancel all the resources at its command–so that the sword drops from a paralyzed hand. Therefore, a strategist should think in terms of paralysis, not killing.

The mechanism for inducing or coercing quick change in the government’s position can occur in at least three ways: First, key governmental leaders could be killed and replaced by a more sympathetic group; second, the government could be overthrown, either by popular revolt or from a faction within; or, third, the country’s leaders could be influenced to change their minds.

Every country enjoys at least four instruments of national power or influence. They are: Political, Economic, Military, and Informational. In the modern age, the preferred method is to selectively attack or threaten those strategic or national level targets that most directly support the enemy’s will to continue with her current behavior.

Hybrid Warfare, a relatively new term, is a multiple prong effort directed at the paralysis of enemy’s leadership through military and non-military clandestine activities. Economic subversion or propaganda dissemination, all of these techniques have already been around for ages, except incorporation of modern-day technologies and a perfect synergy of all efforts as mentioned earlier. Confusion and disorder follow when weaponised information aggravates the perception of insecurity in the populace as political, social, and cultural identities are pitted against one another.

A hybrid war takes place on three distinct battlefields: the conventional battlefield, the indigenous population of the conflict zone, and the international community. Sometimes, all that it takes is a small and dedicated group of provocateurs to spark clashes with the authorities, along with misleadingly reports that the security forces are attacking “hard-pressed peaceful protesters”. The whole point to engineering a completely false narrative of “democratic freedom fighters” resisting a “tyrannical, incompetent and corrupt dictatorship”.

 It serves the dual purposes of encouraging more citizens to join in the growing riot and to generate support from abroad. Therefore, hybrid war could mean a synergised effort of disinformation, terrorism, cyber-attacks on digitally dependent vital communication networks, criminal activities, sponsoring proxies, rebellion, insurgency, or anything like that.

The U.S. has a grand interest in disrupting, controlling, or influencing the Silk Roads and CPEC. Pakistan through CPEC guarantees China’s strategic freedom and flexibility in the face of the U.S.’ naval threats and nullifies all the trouble that it is causing along its southern maritime borderlands. Though Pakistan needs fast development of communication network so essential for its cohesion and economic prosperity. However, the country is rife with historical, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, and geographic differences, which could be manipulated by U.S. and arch-rival India to engineer violence and set a Hybrid War scenario in motion.

In today’s world, apart from traditional media, popular social media platforms, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube are the primary means of disinformation and propaganda. On these media platforms, various activities related to hybrid warfare are challenging to detect and defeat. It is most likely that the authorities will always be one step behind the Hybrid War agents unless government out-rightly ban these services. Closure of such services on a permanent basis is not a wise option as it will shatter the credibility of the democratic government. However, imposing restrictions/ banning is best employed for short periods during critical time that is few weeks before general elections and other similar situations.

It is also true that Information, fake or otherwise, home-grown or imported, will have no impact unless it is accepted as fact by the masses. Therefore, the timely provision of information and critical thinking is the antidote to ‘fake news and hostile propaganda’. The government should work to enhance online digital platforms ‘efficient and credible’ for timely provision of information for consumption of the masses and interest groups.

All institutions of Pakistan must work together to ensure that the top leadership of Pakistan both civil and military remain most credible. It will help us beat back hybrid assaults against the state of Pakistan.

Atta Rasool Malik hails from semi-tribal areas of Pakistan. He is a veteran and holds an MPhil degree in International Relations from National Defence University in Islamabad. His interests include politics of South Asia, the Middle East, and Islamic & Jewish theology