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Covid-19: Impacts on Pakistan’s Cybersecurity

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The Covid-19 pandemic still remains the most dominant factor affecting global scenario. Neither the superpowers nor the developing countries are spared of its curse. Whole world is in a crisis like situation whether it’s a super power or state like Pakistan, which has already been facing external threat and internal instabilities. Like every other state in the world to continue the routine activities, Pakistan has shifted its workload to online databases. The shift to online forum has increased dependence on internet making the country equally concerned about safeguarding its cyber security  – as safeguards and security systems of our cyber infrastructure are not so protective keeping in view the dynamic nature of cyber security. The government has recently launched its Digital Pakistan Policy which has acquired renewed significance in the current pandemic. Although it is a good initiative to facilitate the public but there are some loopholes that need to be addressed as Covid crisis seems to have prolonged indefinitely. There is a need to adopt effective measures so the weakness in the system can be effectively resolved on priority bases.

The current crisis situation has adversely impacted the educational hubs and other academic institutes which almost stopped functioning for a while. The government encourages the online classes and examination system. This not only helped schools and universities, but the research thinks thanks and other organizations were also able to resume their functions by utilizing online forum. Here the challenge for a country like Pakistan is the provision of fast and smooth internet connections in all the districts of country.  But now days, students of KPK, Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan and even in some districts of Punjab are facing connectivity issues. Students have raised their voices through social media forum and student Unions. Other than smooth provision of internet facility, state need to have a robust independent network security systems during Covid-19 because of more dependence on computer and internet networks and keep up with the rapidly changing cyber technologies. Dependence on foreign developed applications like ‘Zoom’ can be harmful in the longer term for privacy. Recently, an intrusion occurred during the webinar of Institute of  Strategic Studies (ISSI) due to non-encrypted internet connection. In encrypted connection the risk factor still exists as the de-encrypted data is retained with the developers who can use it for their self-interest to harm the security of any state especially the states like Pakistan which is still in the nascent stage of acquiring and developing advanced cyber technology related tools. Another such incident occurred wherein the official website of Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission was attacked by scammers but later on it was clarified by HEC that it was just that someone just took the screenshot and make changes in its HTML coding and uploads it , which seems to be , that website is hacked . Although this scam   carried out in anger by internal rudiments was not so harmful and serious, but still it’s an alarm to be prepared for the rising threats and technological challenges that could be hazardous. It is, thus a big question mark on the Pakistan’s preparedness to face such challenges in future that could be serious in their nature. 

Covid-19 has quarantined the people inside their homes; activities are limited to internet and computers. This has provided the cyber-criminals with the opportunity to breach the privacy and use it for their own interests. During this quarantine, people to kill boredom are downloading different kind of applications in their mobile phones and PCs and agreeing to give that application access to mobile data. This can be harmful and data of people can be used to cause damage to personal as well as national security, because this is an era of information warfare and any entity or state can take advantage of the data provided to them unknowingly. Cyber criminals and hackers whether they are from within the state or outside; sponsored by rival states can easily exploit the loophole of the existing cyber infrastructure as previously before Covid-19 crises, Pakistani infrastructure has been attacked several times which includes the banking sector as well as armed forces infrastructure. For instance cyber-attacks carried out by Indian organization   Rattle snake on Navy’s Public relations Branch tried to manipulate the statements released by Public relations Branch. Above mentioned attacks carried out by India before Covid-19 were very alarming and threatening to national security. One can gauge the level of threat during Covid-19 when the whole country is working online. There have been efforts to digitize all the sectors of Pakistan with which whole data will be shifted to data clouds. This may lead to losing control over the data because once data is placed online, it will be available to everyone who can then penetrate easily and will be hazardous for national security.

To address the threats to data and preserve its national security, Pakistan needs a workable solution to protect its servers to store such huge bulks of national data. It also needs to maintain backup of the data to be on safer side. It needs to develop its own strong firewall security software against online viruses and Trojan horses to protect the data rather than being dependent on borrowed technologies and software because dependency in such domains in the longer runs can be harmful. So keeping in view the upcoming technological era and Covid-19 has to some added acceleration in the process of doing so. At this very moment, Pakistan needs to have a formalized national cyber security policy as an important pillar of national security.

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India’s Strategic Use of TTP to Undermine Pakistan’s Stability

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Image source: hindustantimes.com

Again, bloodshed in the city of flowers, with more than 90 martyrs and at least 250 injured in a suicide attack by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in Peshawar. India’s backing for the TTP and its participation in the group’s avowed jihad against Pakistan have emerged as the most important security challenges in South Asia, with significant ramifications for regional stability and peace.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), commonly known as the Taliban in Pakistan, is a Pakistan-based Islamist extremist group. The group, which was founded in 2007, has claimed responsibility for a number of fatal assaults against Pakistani civilians and military personnel. TTP has proclaimed war against Pakistan’s government and military forces, arguing that they are not Islamic enough.

TTP has become a major security danger to Pakistan over the years, spreading widespread fear and instability. The group’s constant strikes on civilians and military targets have resulted in hundreds of deaths and massive devastation. The rising frequency and savagery of TTP assaults has caused considerable alarm among Pakistanis and the international world. Despite significant international criticism, the TTP continues to carry out atrocities with impunity.

Evidence of India’s Support for TTP:

Over the last decade, Pakistani security services have often reported on the Indian intelligence agency (RAW) providing support to the TTP. This assistance has been reported to include financing, training, and weaponry, all of which have aided the TTP’s capacity to carry out strikes against Pakistan. Pakistani officials, security professionals, and independent investigators have claimed India’s participation with TTP, citing proof of Indian involvement in TTP activities and divulging the false flag operations.

TTP commanders obtaining safe shelter in India is another piece of evidence pointing to India’s connection with TTP. TTP commanders have been said to have crossed the border into India for medical treatment and then stayed for lengthy periods of time. The granting of safe haven to TTP commanders implies that India is not only supporting the organization, but also shielding its leaders from prosecution and reprisal.

In addition to the Indian intelligence agency’s direct backing for TTP, there have been claims of Indian media outlets distributing misinformation in favor of TTP. This has included interviews with TTP officials and positive coverage of TTP’s efforts by Indian news sources. The media coverage has been interpreted as a means for India to legitimize the TTP’s conduct and seek sympathy from the world community.

India is contributing to Pakistan’s instability by supplying TTP with the money, safety, and legitimacy it requires to carry out its assaults.

India’s Motives Behind Supporting TTP:

One of India’s key motivations for supporting the TTP is to undermine Pakistan’s government and military. By assisting the organization, India is able to undermine Pakistan’s ability to maintain security and stability, creating an atmosphere in which the TTP may operate with impunity. The ultimate purpose of this assistance is to weaken Pakistan’s military and political institutions, making it easier for India to achieve a regional advantage.

Another reason India backs the TTP is to create a political and security vacuum in Pakistan. By assisting the organization, India may foment turmoil and instability in the country, creating possibilities for India to exploit the situation. The political and security vacuum left by the TTP’s operations can then be utilized by India to further its own goals and acquire more influence in the area.

India’s backing for the TTP might also be interpreted as an attempt to shift attention away from its own human rights violations in Kashmir. By assisting the TTP and producing turmoil and instability in Pakistan, India is able to divert attention away from its own activities in Kashmir, which have been severely condemned for abusing the human rights of Kashmiris. By helping TTP, India can divert attention away from its own acts and position itself as a responsible regional actor.

The Consequences of India’s Actions:

One of the most serious consequences of India’s backing for the TTP is the worsening of terrorism in Pakistan. India is feeding the fire of terrorism in the area by supplying finance, training, and equipment to the group, making it easier for TTP to carry out its heinous actions. This has had a significant influence on Pakistan’s security and stability, as well as the safety of its population. Terrorism has exacerbated violence and loss of life, creating an environment of dread and insecurity throughout the country.

India’s backing for TTP worsens regional tensions and instability. The rise of terrorism in Pakistan has heightened tensions between Pakistan and India, as well as between Pakistan and its neighbors. This has produced a climate of insecurity and uncertainty in the region, threatening regional peace and security. As each side gets more entrenched in its stance, the international community’s ability to find a solution to the crisis has become more difficult.

India’s backing for TTP has had a significant influence on regional peace and security. The rise in terrorism and tensions has made it increasingly difficult to establish regional peace and stability. This has had a detrimental influence on the region’s economic development, social advancement, and people’s well-being. The continuation of violence and insecurity has also made it more difficult for the international community to address the underlying causes of conflict and work toward a long-term solution.

Conclusion:

The international community must take steps to confront India’s backing for TTP. India’s activities are clearly against international law and standards, and they endanger regional peace and security. The international community must strongly denounce India’s conduct and endeavor to hold those involved accountable for their acts.

Holding those involved accountable for their conduct is critical to preventing such incidents in the future. The international community must act to bring individuals who promote terrorism and destabilize the area to account. This involves investigating and punishing individuals responsible for supplying TTP with support, as well as those involved in planning and carrying out terrorist actions. Only by taking firm action can we expect to restore stability and security to the area and prevent such actions in the future.

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Cyberwar, Netwar: The Untouchable and Unpredictable

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Territorial integrity, sovereignty and non-interference are salient features of a just and secure state. For a state to exist, compete and survive in the international context, a country must be well equipped. The unbiased, neutral and non-aligned movement is the best way to reach heights, especially for small states. However, this is not an easy task, ‘everything has a price’. The existence and co-dependence of a state are made further vulnerable as well as strengthened by way of ‘information’. Unlike in past, when troops protected borders, at present country must face and react to content generated and disseminated on online platforms.

Cyberwar and Netwar are mechanisms that are used by certain individuals as well as entities to infiltrate systems, pass a message, steal information or change the material content. “Cyberwar” is the act of “disrupting, if not destroying, information and communication systems”. On the contrary, “Netwar” is to “disrupt, damage, or modify what a target population knows or thinks it knows about the world around it”.  These threats are vicious to national security. Since the whole world is digitalized, any information regardless of its credibility reaches a wide audience. There are various modes of cyberwar including Phishing, Ransomware, E-commerce data interception, Crimeware-as-a-Service, Cyber Scams and Crypto-jacking. (Arquilla and Ronfeldt 1995) states, that a Netwar may focus on public or elite opinion, or both. It may involve diplomacy, propaganda and psychological campaigns, political and cultural subversion, deception of or interference with local media, infiltration of computer networks and databases and efforts to promote dissident or opposition movements across computer networks.

According to Blackfog’s 2021 State of Ransomware Report, government agencies were the top targets for cybercriminals, followed by education, healthcare, services, technology, manufacturing and retail. According to Curran, Concannon and McKeever (in Janczewski and Colarik 2008: 03) have pointed out; the LTTE became the world’s first terrorist outfit to attack a country’s computer system in 1998. Another example is India. In August 2013, Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI) faced a Cyberattack. ‘Technical snag’ hit the operations of terminal no. 03. Nisar & StepovayaIn (2022) has cited (UNODC, 2021) which states that in September in Malaysia, a web-hosting service was the target of a ransomware attack demanding US$ 900,000 in cryptocurrency and In May, four subsidiaries of an international insurance company in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the Philippines were hit by a ransomware attack asking for US$ 20 million. Where that being said for cyber-war, net war is also a crucial problem. This is explicit in Russia and Ukraine conflict where information advantage is heavily discussed and debated. Byman (2022) has mentioned, “Confrontation between Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE (the so-called “Quartet”) and Qatar, for example, began in 2017 in part due to social media exploitation involving hacked email accounts and associated disinformation”. Sri Lanka too faces disinformation by LTTE and its international networks.

Threats, which occur on online platforms, are equally important as much as militaristic aspects of warfare. Where the militaristic aspect includes conquering and declaring power, Cyberwar and Netwar disrupt systems and brainwash people respectively. Since crimes conducted, are unpredictable, intangible and cross borders, ascertaining the criminal is daring. Due to these reasons, imposing liability as to whether it is collective or individual becomes strenuous. Furthermore, lack of experience, expertise in personnel, lack of technology and inadequate infrastructure can be identified as problems. Information illiteracy is another pertaining issue, which is the inability of individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate and use information effectively. Moreover, cyber-attacks are widely done due to their low cost and widespread nature.

With that being said, it is imperative to reiterate, that national security is threatened by Cyberwar as well as Netwar. Thus, any country must overcome the challenges mentioned afore. For that, to fight cyber war, enhancing technological infrastructure and technical capacity is important. In netwar, information literacy must be instilled to the population. Hence, people will be able to evaluate the quality, credibility and validity of the content. In addition, it is crucial to have a reporting mechanism for false content disseminated online. International cooperation is effective to combat Netwar and Cyberwar. Likewise, it is vital to sign and ratify necessary laws and follow resolutions in the international context. Furthermore, individuals, government, as well as private entities, must behave in a cyber-resilient manner that they are otherwise not incentivized to do.

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Operation Neptune Spear and the Killing of Osama bin Laden

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The founder and first leader of Al-Qaeda, And establishing 20-years republican government in Afghanistan: Neptune Spear was the secret name or code of the operation that was carried out under the leadership of the CIA on May 2, 2011 in the Abbottabad region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for killing of the leader of the Al-Qaeda group Osama bin Laden. This operation, which was carried out from Afghanistan to the territory of Pakistan by former President of the United States Barack Obama, is generally known as JSOC.

 Why this mission was named Neptune Spear? 

The reason why the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qaeda group, was given the name Neptune’s Spear is as follows: The mission was named Operation Neptune’s Spear because it was the emblem of the United States Navy Seal, and Neptune in classical mythology means the god of the sea. In addition, this operation is commonly known as JSOC, because the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is a sub-command of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), which played an important role in the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011.

The Neptune Spear operation started on May 1, 2011 from the American military base in Jalalabad province of Afghanistan, and ended on May 2 in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Former President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and members of the national security team were monitoring the operation online. All involved in Operation Neptune Spear were 23 SEALs, an interpreter, two helicopters and a combat dog. The operation started from a base of the American forces in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on May 1, 2011 at 10:30 pm local time, and on May 2, 2011, after 40 minutes long operation, they ended by killing Osama Bin Laden before one o’clock. Who was Osama Bin Laden and how did he become a big threat to the world, especially the United States?  Osama bin Laden, the son of Muhammad bin Awad, was born on March 10, 1957 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but some sources close to Osama believe that he was born in 1958. Osama bin Laden had five wives, his first wife was Najwa Ghanim, who married him in 1974, his second and divorced wife was Khadija Sharif, who married him in 1983, and His third wife was Khairya Saber who married Osama bin Laden in 1985. His fourth wife was Siham Saber, who married Osama bin Laden in 1987, and his fifth wife was Amal al-Sadah, who married Osama bin Laden in 2000.

 Osama had about twenty male and female children from his first four wives, but according to some sources, Osama had twenty-four male and female children from his fifth wife, and some put the number of children at 26, but the exact report is 24 about Osama’s children. Osama bin Al-Adeen studied economics at Abdul Aziz University, And in addition to this, after receiving education in the field of Civil engineering, politics and Shari’a, he studied partially in English literature at Oxford University in England, But intellectually, he was more encouraged towards the jihadist ways and intellectually he chose the jihadist way. Before Osama Bin Laden left Britain and went to Pakistan to choose the path of war, he showed intellectual interest in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Moreover, during his university years, he financially supported jihadist groups in South Sudan, Egypt, Syria and a number of African countries, because he inherited 20 to 25 million dollars from his father, And Osama spends a part of that money on construction projects and financially supports terrorist groups with the money received from those construction companies. In 1979, Bin Laden went to Pakistan and stayed with his intellectual and jihadist teacher, Abdullah Azzam, and prepared for the war against the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan, after that, he became friends with Ayman al-Zawahiri and founded the (Maktab-Al-Khadamat) in 1984 with Abdullah Azzam, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden. After that, he started recruiting fighters for Mujahideen against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and spent most of his wealth on financing terrorists. After that, Osama bin Laden started a massive effort to establish Al-Qaeda and started recruiting fighters from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, And he accelerated the search for young people with a fighting and jihadist mindset from all over the world, and he focused on Egypt in order to attract Egyptian engineers. After extensive financial and armed cooperation with other jihadist organizations in Pakistan, in 1988, the Al-Qaeda armed group was activated by Osama, Not only did they continue their attacks in Afghanistan, but they also carried out many bloody attacks in the Middle East and Africa. The bloodiest attack was the 11th of September 2001 and the darkest day in the history of the United States. September 11 or 9/11, on September 11, 2001, 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes, and the first two commercial airplanes and suicide bombers targeted the New York City International Trade Center. The third plane targeted the headquarters of the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, and the fourth plane planned to attack the federal government building in Washington DC, but did not reach the target, And in four attacks, around 3000 Americans were killed and up to 25000 Americans and foreigners were injured. After this attack, Osama was included in the list of the most wanted terrorists by the United States and the Western alliance, a list controlled by the FBI.

 After 10 years of intense investigations and intelligence investigations, on May 2, 2011, the US government avenged 9/11 by killing Osama at the ISI’s most secure location in Abbottabad, Pakistan. However, Osama’s body was thrown into the sea before his body should be presented to the intelligence agencies of the world as evidence. But there is some confidential information that Osama bin Laden, the American dictator and the founder of al-Qaeda, was recruited by the CIA in 1979 at the beginning of the US-sponsored jihadist war against Afghanistan, And he was 22 years old and trained in a CIA-sponsored guerrilla training camp. In any case, Osama’s entry into Afghanistan led to the fall of the first Taliban regime, and at the same time, a person who was famous for so dear to Westerners came to power in Afghanistan.

How did Hamid Karzai get from immigration to the presidency?

 Common understanding between former President Hamid Karzai and the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States and some untold facts: When the Al-Qaeda group carried out the deadly attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, and the leader of this group, Osama bin Laden, took refuge in Afghanistan. In addition, the first Taliban regime of Afghanistan at that time, under the leadership of Mullah Omar Mujahid, accepted the refuge of Osama Bin Laden. Not only that, the American people knew that the United States and the security agencies of this country would not remain silent, and would soon start preparing for revenge. But before that the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Army, and the Special Operations Command of the United States Army started a response plan, they first proposed to the Afghan government to hand over Osama Bin Al-Adeen to the United States. Nevertheless, the leader and founder of the Taliban, Mullah Omar Mujahid, rejected their request, and for the second time, the United States tried to mediate the Saudi Arabia. The US asked the Taliban government to hand over Osama to the government of Saudi Arabia, but Mullah Omar Mujahid said that handing over Osama Bin Al-Aden to Saudi Arabia means handing over to America.

Furthermore, after rejecting the second proposal, the plan to attack Afghanistan was started by the United States and its allies on October 7, 2001. Just 15 days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, CIA and US Special Forces personnel were sent to northern Afghanistan, to meet local tribal leaders and local commanders such as Abdul Rashid Dostum and work together, to start a war against the Taliban, who controlled the country and gave shelter to Osama bin Laden. A CIA team arrived with $3 million in $100 bills to use to recruit tribal leaders and strengthen the war against the Taliban, and teams of military units came from the fifth Special Forces Group. The then President of the United States, George W. Bush, together with the head of the CIA, George J. Tenet, made a coordinated decision to overthrow the Taliban government by appointing an influential person from the southwest zone of Afghanistan after the formation of a new government in the country.

That person was Abdulhad Karzai’s son Hamid Karzai who spent a lot of time in exile in Pakistan,  not only  he was the national leader for the Pashtuns of this side of the border, but he also had a special status among the Pashtuns of that side of the border in Pakistan. This position made him a target of the CIA. After October 7, 2001, members of the Central Intelligence Agency began to secretly visit Hamid Karzai’s house in Quetta and Chaman, Baluchistan, Pakistan, as a result, in July 2002, Hamid Karzai came to power in Afghanistan under the warm support of the CIA and the West, and he remained the president of Afghanistan until September 2014.

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