The Capriciousness of Hybrid Warfare in South Asia

There is a famous quote by Sun Tzu that ‘the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting’. This saying aptly describes the saga of on-going Indian induced Hybrid warfare against Pakistan. To define Hybrid warfare, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has comprehensively addressed this issue in their annual report titled ‘Hybrid Threats: A Strategic Communication Perspective’. In this report, NATO has defined hybrid warfare as a ‘type of warfare that combines conventional, irregular and asymmetric activities in time and space’.

Hybrid warfare is not a new phenomenon. It is as old as the history of mankind and has been prevalent in different forms and orientations. It is also known as Grey zone, Asymmetrical or New Generation warfare that aims to influence the diplomatic, political, military, economic, informational, intelligence and legal aspects of a state. In addition, it strives to control the narrative through the use of irregular militias, clandestine support to secessionist movements, and economic morass. This has also been associated with the use of cyber-attacks to delegitimize governments, defame the adversary’s leaders through well-organized malicious campaigns and the propagation of narrative construction through false information.

One of the longstanding narratives that have been constructed and spread through targeted miss-information has been that Pakistan is a terror sponsor state. This has been carried out to a large part by India that has alleged Pakistan of carrying out terrorism in various manifestations both internally and externally. It has been widely evident in the statements of its leaders, foreign diplomats and massive media industry all of which have employed the use of online Social Media to devastating effect.

 At the external level, Indian parliament bombing in 2001, Mumbai mayhem in 2008, Pathankot attack in 2016 and Pulwama incident of 2019 have all been blamed on Pakistan in a highly consistent and immediate mannerdespite these claims being based largely on circumstantial evidence. This narrative has been further reinforced using India’s diplomatic clout across the world to label Pakistan asa state that sponsors terrorismand to present itself as itsvictim as part of itsown hybrid warfare strategy.

At the internal level, India has supported various dissenting and disgruntled voices within Pakistan through the construction ofa number of false narratives. In this regard, the recent emergence of thePakhtunTahaffuz Movement (PTM) is being widely perceived as yet another instrument of hybrid warfare being used by Indian intelligence agenciesas an ironic response to Pakistanhighlighting the atrocities committed by Indian forces in Kashmir.

The nature of this threat is further evident in the seriousness with which the Pakistan military’s external relations wing, the Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR)has taken to addressing the narrative that is being propagated.In combating slogans such as ‘Yeh Jo Dehshat Gardi Hai, Iss Ke Peechhay Wardi Hai’(behind this terrorism, is the [military] uniform) the ISPR is well aware that the mis-information campaign being waged is a direct threat to its own efficacy and objectives. This is why the ISPR has repeatedly emphasized that these types of false slogans are intended to favor the Indian position vis-à-vis Pakistan. That it is tantamount to demoralizing the armed forces of Pakistan that are in fact responsible for defending the territorial integrity and independence of Pakistan.

As is evident in these developments,Social Media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been extensively used by the Indian intelligence agencies and PTM as a common public space to launch their sophisticated propaganda campaign and narrative against the armed forces of Pakistan.To this effect, Senator Mian Raza Rabbani on May 14, 2019, added that ‘this is a hybrid war which is taking place and we need to understand it correctly’ because in hybrid warfare the purpose is not to achieve the immediate defeat of the adversary but to demoralize it from all the fronts.

Since hybrid warfare is all about winning the hearts and minds of the people therefore, the government can be seen adopting an all-inclusive approach to deal with the PTM leadership and its followers to sort out their issues. The DG ISPR has also acknowledged that while there are certain issues, they need to be addressed adequately, via dialogue and inclusive engagement by all stakeholders.That theState should not leave its people to play in the hands of the enemy. Ahsan Iqbal former Minister for Interior has aptly described the situation in his words that ‘Fifth generation wars can’t be won by first-generation war [fare] tools. Battles of ideas can’t be won by bullets. Nations only become stronger with inclusivity, dialogue and understanding’.

Therefore, at this critical juncture of time, the use of force to shut the dissenting voices of PTM and its ilk can prove catastrophicif used indiscriminately.Similarly, ignoring the veracity of this threat and not giving it due attention is also dangerous, especially taking into consideration the wider geo-political scenario.Hence, in this New Generation warfare the government should exercise extreme care so that it maintains an adequate balance between upholding fundamental human rights on one hand while maintaining the legitimacy and the writ of the state at the other, keeping in view of this ranging battle over hearts and minds.

Musawar Sandhu
Musawar Sandhu
The author is a Research Affiliate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) Islamabad and can be reached at musawar[at]