Hybrid Threats: Policy options for Pakistan


The 5th generation hybrid warfare is basically a theory of military strategy. The origins of such kind of warfare can be traced back to Sun Tzu’s masterpiece ‘Art of War’. In simple words, hybrid warfare involves an interchange or combination of conventional and unconventional warfare and instruments of disruption. These tools are mixed in a systematic manner to exploit the weaknesses of the target state and achieve desired results.

One of the most important results of the Second World War was the creation of the United Nations, with a focus on minimizing conventional wars. Even before 5th generation hybrid warfare, India has been an arch-rival of Pakistan since its creation. Both countries fought their first wars on the Kashmir issue less than a year after independence.

The national security and sovereignty of Pakistan is continuously facing hybrid threats both internally and externally from different state and non-state actors.

According to Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), India is involved in a huge campaign of ‘fifth-generation warfare’ to block Pakistan’s road to peace and prosperity. It stated that India is very much focused on utilizing all the elements of its national power to destabilize Pakistan in certain domains. The target is Pakistan’s economy, information system, military, and international reputation. Since June 2018, Pakistan was continuously on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list. The Indian state has always been there to spread fake news and create propaganda against Pakistan. Furthermore, India is also lobbying some international actors to push Pakistan into the blacklist of FATF. The Indian Prime Minister even expressed in an interview that he wants to see Pakistan bankrupt and blacklisted by FATF. In Oct 2022, Pakistan was officially removed from the FATF grey list.

The EU DisinfoLab has unveiled a network of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and forgery media organizations connected to India that for a long time have been committed to anti-Pakistan propaganda. According to the report “Indian Chronicles”, it was the largest network ever exposed. As per Stanford Internet Observatory’s (SIO) recent report, the Indian government is found backing social media accounts involved in spreading fake news and propaganda against Pakistan on a prominent social media platform. It was published under the title, ‘My Heart Belongs to Kashmir: An Analysis of a Pro-Indian Army Covert Influence Ope­ration on Twitter’.

The report stated that on August 24, Twitter shared 15 datasets of information operations with researchers in the Twitter Moderation Research Consortium for the purpose of independent analysis. It consisted of the accounts it identified and removed from the platform. One of these datasets consisted of 1,198 accounts that tweeted about Pakistan. Twitter suspended this network for breaching its platform manipulation and spam conditions. As a matter of fact, it stated that the tentative country of origin was India.

Moreover, the network was involved to portray rallies in Balochistan as anti-Pakistan protests. They also blamed the Pakistan military for committing human rights violations. Additionally, Tweets insisted that Pakistan is unsafe for Hindus, and Pakistan neglected its citizens in China when the coronavirus pandemic began. It also targeted women’s rights in Pakistan.

Even in past, Pakistan has experienced two high-profile terrorist attacks on highly secured military sites. First on the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi on October 2009 and the second on the naval aviation base at PNS Mehran near Karachi on May 2011. Such incidents have given a chance to some rival states to do propaganda against Pakistan. They claimed that if such highly secured institutions are not secure in Pakistan, then there is a threat to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as well.

Furthermore, incidents like the 2009 attack on Sri Lanka’s national cricket team and the killing of Chinese citizens at Karachi University on April 26, 2022, were aimed to strain Pakistan’s relations with the respective states. Moreover, these events were used to create the image of Pakistan as an insecure country in the eyes of the international community.

On August 14, 2021, the FBR data center was attacked by hackers. All the official websites operated by the tax machinery were brought down for 72 hours. This event was also a part of 5th-generation hybrid warfare against Pakistan.

The National Security Policy of Pakistan 2022-2026 is very much clear regarding the present and future security threats faced by the country. For the first time, Pakistan is prepared to fight in five domains of war, as mentioned in the NSP: land, air, sea, cyber, and space. According to NSP, Pakistan will counter information-based cyber-attacks through the development of digital soldiers. While observing India’s investment in a variety of intrusive technologies, the NSP discusses Pakistan’s need to invest in advancing cyber security for protecting its infrastructure and securing its networks from intrusion.

Hybrid warfare has also been mentioned in the NSP, as a domain where the whole nation is needed to neutralize threats in unison.

As a foremost goal to counter the hybrid threats, the National security statement should be revised to bring all the stakeholders and state institutions such as PEMRA, PTA, NSCS & MCS on one page to decide the criteria for suspecting cybercriminals. Pakistan lacks advanced and sophisticated cybercrime control measures. For this reason, it requires massive economic investment into digital intelligence. Moreover, it needs to develop Artificial intelligence to perform successful undercover operations.

Most importantly, Pakistan needs to regulate its media properly. The role of media, particularly social media, has become very important in countering both internal and external hybrid threats. It has been an alarming situation that a major part of the country’s young population is falling prey to the bogus and anti-state propaganda that is being fabricated. Furthermore, educating the masses, and using propaganda as a counter tool can be helpful to fight hybrid warfare. In addition, promoting a sense of nationalism and democratic values among the citizens can also be crucial in countering the hybrid threat.

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