Hybrid Warfare and Its Influence on Pakistan Political  Landscape

The concept of hybrid warfare, aimed at undermining an enemy internally, has a historical backdrop but has evolved in its methods over time.

Abstract: The concept of hybrid warfare, aimed at undermining an enemy internally, has a historical backdrop but has evolved in its methods over time. In Pakistan, facing hybrid warfare primarily from India, the political landscape becomes entangled, exacerbating existing fault lines. The research aims to identify the impact of hybrid warfare on Pakistan’s politics, focusing on key fault lines. The hypothesis posits a significant influence of hybrid warfare on the political landscape. The literature review explores the definition of hybrid warfare and analyzes its manifestations in Pakistan’s geopolitical context. The study encompasses Pakistan’s complex political terrain, geopolitical significance, religious politics, civil-military relations, and the Indian hybrid war strategy. Theoretical frameworks and a mixed-methods approach are employed to delve into the multifaceted aspects of hybrid warfare. Recommendations emphasize addressing root causes, strengthening institutions, promoting effective governance, investing in human capital, and fostering resilience. The conclusion underscores the need for a comprehensive approach to counter hybrid warfare’s implications on Pakistan’s stability and security.


The idea of hybrid wars has a long history, dating back to the early days of warfare. The main goal has traditionally been to undermine the enemy internally, making it easier to conduct a physical invasion without facing significant public resistance. Therefore, it can be said that the concept is not new, and the methods employed have been in existence for a considerable period. However, the approach to causing harm to the social fabric has evolved over time. Covert operations now cover a wide range of the state’s administrative, social, cultural, economic, ethnographic, and sectarian aspects, falling under the umbrella of hybrid warfare.

Pakistan has been confronted with hybrid warfare since its inception, primarily originating from India but also involving other groups. In the late 1960s, leading to the creation of Bangladesh, India provided assistance to Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Baloch separatists, and has been implicated in acts of terrorism in Balochistan and Sindh. Additionally, there are non-state groups within Pakistan, such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), that contribute to the nation’s troubles.

The Pakistani political landscape is a mix of national, religious, and regional political parties with evident ethnic, sectarian, and religious diversity. Sadly, political parties find themselves entangled in the enemy’s plan, resulting in unrest fueled by the tactics of hybrid warfare in Pakistan. The matter of foreign funding and involvement from Pakistan’s adversaries is presently under examination. Embedded nepotism and corruption in the overall political structure of the country, coupled with a weak economy, provide an ideal breeding ground for the enemy to wage hybrid warfare.

The significance and aim of the research paper to identify that gap which impact Pakistan politics, given its unique geopolitical situation. Also identify the key political fault lines in Pakistan that have contributed to the effectiveness of hybrid warfare strategies?


        “Hybrid warfare against Pakistan has a significant influence on political landscape.”

Literature review:

To achieve a thorough comprehension of the study, the literature review has been categorized into distinct themes.

Defining Hybrid concept

Since its introduction in 2002, the term “Hybrid Warfare” has been subject to diverse interpretations. Recently, Cullen and Kjennerud articulated it as “the synchronised use of multiple instruments of power tailored to specific vulnerabilities across the full spectrum of societal functions to achieve synergistic effects” (Cullen & Kjennerud, 2017). NATO offers a broader perspective, defining hybrid threats as those posed by adversaries capable of simultaneously employing both conventional and non-conventional means adaptively to pursue their objectives (Bachmann, 2012, and Mallory, 2018). This definition encapsulates the essence of hybrid warfare as a fusion of conventional and non-conventional strategies.

Decoding Pakistan’s Fifth Generation Battlefield

Pakistan’s birth on August 14, 1947, arrived amid the tumultuous throes of Partition. From the nascent days, the fledgling nation found itself locked in a complex relationship with its larger neighbor, India. This relationship, often fraught with tension and mistrust, has cast a long shadow over the decades .Historically, India perceived Pakistan with apprehension, adopting various measures to counter its emergence. However, Pakistan’s nuclearization in 1998 fundamentally altered the equation. Direct, conventional conflict became untenable, necessitating a shift in tactics. Thus, the battlefield morphed into the murky realm of hybrid warfare, a constellation of unconventional tactics aimed at destabilization.

This fifth-generation warfare arsenal wielded by adversaries against Pakistan takes many forms. Propaganda campaigns sow seeds of discord, stoking ethnic and sectarian divides. Misinformation tarnishes Pakistan’s image on the global stage. Economic manipulation hinders progress and inflames unrest. These are but a few of the insidious threads woven into the fabric of this complex conflict. The major aim  of  the  current  research  is the key political fault lines in Pakistan that have contributed to the effectiveness of hybrid warfare strategies also identify that gap which impact Pakistan politics given its unique geopolitical situation. 

Geopolitical Significance and Hybrid Warfare’s Shadows

Perched precariously at the crossroads of Asia, Pakistan encapsulates a paradox of global significance overshadowed by internal vulnerabilities. Despite its strategic location, nuclear capabilities, and growing ties with China, the nation grapples with a critical, frequently overlooked gap in its political landscape. This gap, exacerbated by its intricate geopolitical maneuvers, renders it susceptible to the subtle influences of fifth-generation warfare (5GW).

Adversaries, whether state or non-state, exploit this vulnerability with the finesse of puppeteers. They intricately weave a web of misinformation, amplifying existing social divisions such as ethnic and sectarian fault lines. Malicious content infiltrates digital spaces, poisoning minds and corroding trust. Economic mechanisms are manipulated, worsening pre-existing inequalities and creating fertile ground for discontent. The ultimate objective is evident: to sow discord, undermine internal security, and ultimately reduce Pakistan to a fractured semblance of its potential.

This vulnerability is not solely a result of external machinations; it is nurtured by the internal soil of political polarization, economic disparities, and unresolved social fractures. Political rhetoric, often tinged with populism and self-interest, deepens existing divides. Historical grievances and unsettled conflicts leave fertile ground for the seeds of discord to take root.

 Pakistan’s Complex Political Terrain

In Pakistan’s vibrant but volatile political landscape, the specter of hybrid warfare dances amongst regional rivalries, dynastic politics, and the seductive whispers of populism. External actors, masked in the shadows of cyber-influence, economic coercion, and disinformation campaigns, see these fissures as fertile ground for manipulation.

The battle lines blur. Legitimate grievances morph into convenient narratives, amplified on social media battlegrounds and weaponized to sow discord. Economic pressures become strategic tools, sanctions wielded like swords to force policy decisions that align with foreign agendas. Caught in this crossfire, Pakistani politicians walk a tightrope, balancing the demands of domestic constituents against the unseen puppeteers pulling strings from afar.

The whispers of “India,” “Afghanistan,” and “non-state actors” linger in the corridors of power, a constant reminder of the controversial territory beneath the surface. Yet, amidst these swirling accusations, lies the undeniable truth: Pakistan’s fate hinges on its internal unity. Strengthening institutions, nurturing media literacy, and fostering a critical citizenry are the armor against manipulation. Building strategic alliances and developing counter-propaganda measures are the shields against external pressure.

Pakistani Politics and Hybrid Warfare

The influence of domestic politics on public policy is pervasive, shaping not only domestic spheres but also foreign and defense strategies. This impact is particularly pronounced in developing nations with less assertive international standing, where internal political considerations may occasionally outweigh national interests. While no leader willingly relinquishes power or submits to external dictates, the refusal to compromise can lead to external pressures in the form of “hybrid warfare,” ultimately hindering national progress and prosperity. Pakistan serves as a potent case study for this complex interplay. Its domestic politics are defined by remarkable diversity and intense personalization, with major parties like those in Punjab and Sindh often resembling dynastic entities. In contrast, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa exhibits a more dynamic system, rejecting incumbency by nature. Balochistan, with its unique political landscape, deserves dedicated scrutiny.

Unfortunately, internal political maneuvering can be exploited by external actors seeking to sow discord. Allegations of foreign funding and direct involvement in orchestrated unrest raise crucial questions that demand dispassionate investigation, even as legal proceedings remain ongoing. The phenomenon of agitational movements aimed at toppling elected governments, pioneered by Bhutto against Ayub Khan, has become a recurring pattern, often inadvertently or deliberately benefiting Pakistan’s adversaries. Even today, amidst the ongoing “hybrid war,” domestic volatility continues to play into the hands of external forces, providing them with avenues to amplify chaos and instability.

The political terrain of Balochistan stands apart from the rest of Pakistan. Tribal leaders, often wielding significant influence as heads of clans and families, dominate parliamentary seats. This unique system, while fostering local representation, also exposes vulnerabilities to external manipulation and “hybrid warfare” tactics.  Ethno-sectarian fault lines remain a concern, particularly for the Hazara Shia community. The 2013 Quetta massacre and subsequent attacks, like the 2021 miners’ killings, highlight the community’s long struggle against ethno-religious persecution. These attacks serve multiple purposes for those waging hybrid war: antagonizing specific groups, triggering sectarian discord, and destabilizing the strategically crucial province.

Understanding Balochistan’s complexities requires acknowledging factors like tribal rivalries, its resource potential, and the precarious security situation fueled by insurgencies and separatist movements.Balochistan’s future depends on its ability to navigate these realities. Recognizing its unique landscape, addressing security concerns, and fostering inclusive development are key steps towards stability and prosperity for the province and Pakistan as a whole. This interplay between internal politics and external threats necessitates further exploration, demanding a dispassionate analysis of foreign influence and its potential consequences for Pakistan’s national security and progress.

Hybrid Warfare in Pakistan’s Elections

While free and fair elections are the lifeblood of a thriving democracy, Pakistan’s electoral history paints a different picture. A complex interplay of violence, political upheavals, and external manipulation has cast a long shadow over the legitimacy and stability of the process. The scars of past turbulences remain visible. The 1970 elections, touted as the most transparent, ultimately led to the separation of East Pakistan due to the refusal of certain stakeholders to accept the results. Similarly, the 1977 polls, marred by accusations of rigging, triggered widespread protests and military intervention by General Zia ul Haq, culminating in the execution of Prime Minister Bhutto.These volatile narratives continue to resonate in the present. The 2013 elections and the subsequent long-drawn protest, the ‘Dharna,’ pushed the country close to another potential military takeover, highlighting the vulnerability of Pakistan’s political landscape to external manipulation.

The recent electoral reforms announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on December 28, 2023, aiming to curb foreign funding and increase transparency, offer a glimmer of hope. These reforms include stricter disclosure requirements for campaign finances, automated counting of votes, and the establishment of special tribunals to adjudicate electoral disputes. While the effectiveness of these measures remains to be seen, they signal a potential shift towards a more stable and transparent electoral system.Yet, challenges abound. External actors continue to exploit domestic fault lines like anti-India and anti-Israel sentiments, amplified by religious and political leaders for their own agendas. This, coupled with a lack of political awareness among parts of the populace, creates fertile ground for misinformation and manipulation, contributing to political instability. Breaking this cycle demands a multi-pronged approach. Strengthening democratic institutions, ensuring rigorous enforcement of electoral laws, and fostering critical thinking and political literacy among citizens are crucial steps towards achieving free and fair elections that contribute to national unity and long-term stability.

Pakistan’s Religious Politics

Pakistan’s political landscape presents a fascinating and often tumultuous interplay between religion, politics, and external interests. Religious parties, with their strong bases in specific demographic sectors, hold significant sway and can mobilize sizeable support through organized rallies and demonstrations. One prominent example is the Barelvi-leaning Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal Ur Rahman group (JUI-F). Recent allegations of its funding from Libya and Iraq, as well as historical linkages with Saudi Arabia, highlight the potential for external influences to shape the actions of these parties .Similarly, the Deobandi-affiliated Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) has a robust presence in urban centers and universities, advocating for the implementation of sharia law. Concerns have been raised about its alleged ties to regional actors like Iran, further illustrating the complex web of international connections in Pakistani politics .These religious parties often target specific sectors of the population with their messages. Rural communities, facing economic hardship and limited access to education, can be particularly susceptible to appeals based on religious identity and promises of social justice. Additionally, the youth, seeking meaning and purpose, can be drawn to charismatic religious leaders offering a clear worldview and a sense of belonging.

Misinformation and fake news further complicate the picture. Platforms like social media, coupled with sensationalized coverage in some regional media outlets, can quickly amplify misleading narratives and fuel anxiety among the public. The recent extended coverage of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) rallies by Indian media serves as an example of how external actors can potentially exacerbate internal political turmoil .Navigating this intricate landscape requires a multi-pronged approach. Fostering interfaith dialogue and promoting tolerance across religious sects is crucial to combat potential manipulation based on religious divisions. Strengthening democratic institutions and ensuring transparency in political financing can help curb external influences and ensure that political decisions are made in the best interests of the nation. Finally, equipping citizens with critical thinking skills and media literacy is essential to counter the spread of misinformation and empower them to make informed decisions about their future.

Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan

The intricate relationship between civil-military dynamics and domestic politics in Pakistan continues to evolve, reflecting the country’s complex political landscape. Rooted in historical events such as the conflict in East Pakistan and the military defeat in the 1971 war, these dynamics set the stage for subsequent power transitions. The shift to the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto prompted efforts to depoliticize the officer corps through a democratic constitution, aiming to constrain the military’s role .Despite these attempts, the military’s influence persisted, exemplified by the 1977 coup led by Chief of Army Staff Zia ul Haq. Civilian measures aimed at curbing military influence faltered, partly due to the military’s perception of the legitimacy of democratic institutions and the lack of accountability for previous failures.The subsequent era under General Zia ul Haq witnessed the military seeking legitimacy through the Islamization of political, economic, and judicial structures. This period also saw an expansion of the military’s mission to safeguard ideological frontiers, in addition to its traditional role in territorial defense.The transition to electoral democracy following Zia’s death in 1988 marked a tactical acceptance by the military, driven by a desire to preserve corporate autonomy. However, the military retained Zia-era reserve domains, enabling tight control over the government in constitutional, political, and national security matters. This contributed to civil-military conflicts, reflecting the military’s skepticism about politicians’ governance capabilities and culminating in a shift from behind-the-scenes guardianship to overt governance.

Opposition parties have recently voiced strong criticism against the military, accusing it of manipulating the 2018 general elections to bring Prime Minister Imran Khan to power and subsequently exerting influence over governance under the guise of civilian rule (Dawn, 2021). Prominent figures such as PPP leader Asif Zardari and PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif have been particularly outspoken in their condemnation of the military’s alleged role in engineering the election outcome in favor of PTI, a claim vehemently denied by the military. Additionally, even some religious party leaders, who were previously supportive of the Army, have been expressing criticism in recent years, possibly due to a perceived shift in the level of support from the military compared to the past. Despite these allegations, the military, as indicated in a recent briefing by DG ISPR, asserts that it does not engage in meddling in political affairs (Syed, 2021). However, doubts arise when Prime Minister Khan states, “I’m the only politician who wasn’t nurtured at GHQ” (The News, 2021), suggesting ongoing skepticism and uncertainty regarding the military’s involvement in shaping political dynamics.

In contemporary Pakistan, the complicated relationship between the military and politics unfolds amidst allegations of corruption against politicians who actively seek support from civil and military establishments. The political arena, marked by the exploitation of ethnic, sectarian, and regional platforms, sets the stage for potential hybrid warfare. Persistent claims of military interference in elections prompt opposition criticism. Recent military assertions of noninterference suggest a possible shift, but skepticism persists. The evolving civil-military relations reflect ongoing complexities, with interactions shaping the trajectory of governance. The fluid nature of this dynamic underscores the need for nuanced comprehension amid the evolving power balance in Pakistani politics.

Indian Hybrid War Strategy against Pakistan

India stands among the top economies globally, boasting the largest landmass and a staggering population of 1.4 billion. Owing to its substantial economic prowess, vast population, and expansive territory, India has adopted a hegemonic stance within the South Asian region, particularly evident in its approach towards Pakistan. India actively endeavors to isolate Pakistan not only within South Asia but also on the global stage. Despite international checks and balances, India has initiated a fifth-generation war against Pakistan, as highlighted by respondents in the current study, particularly international relations experts and political analysts.

One political analyst emphasized, “India’s fundamental advantage lies in its significant economy, population, and landmass. These dimensions garner international support, even as India’s actions remain transparent to the global community.” Another analyst echoed similar sentiments, stating, “India, being considered one of the world’s largest markets, conceals its harsh actions in Kashmir and other regions against minorities. This advantage allows India to employ various warfare tactics against Pakistan.”

In 2019, a report from the EU Disinfo Lab, titled “The Indian Chronicles,” revealed that India utilized over 750 websites spread across 119 countries to undermine and isolate Pakistan on the global stage. The network, with alleged ties to the Russian government, was reportedly designed to shape public opinion on various sensitive issues such as Indian elections, the Kashmir situation, and Indo-Pakistani tensions. The overarching objective was to maintain economic and political instability in Pakistan and push it onto the FATF grey list. Consequently, these actions heightened tensions between the two nations, exacerbating the overall security situation in the South Asian region.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework of hybrid warfare theory has permeated the political landscape of Pakistan, manifesting in a multifaceted approach encompassing mixed military influence, cyberattacks, and political manipulation. This framework delves into the intricate strategies employed by diverse actors, offering a comprehensive understanding of the evolving dynamics within the realm of hybrid warfare. As it becomes evident that the interplay of military, cyber, and political elements contributes to the complexity of hybrid warfare scenarios, influencing the overall dynamics of governance and security in the Pakistani context. The integration of these elements highlights the multifaceted nature of hybrid warfare theory within the specific sociopolitical context of Pakistan.


The integration of qualitative designs within the mixed-methods approach allows for a deeper exploration of the multifaceted aspects of hybrid warfare within Pakistan’s political sphere. Through the analysis of previous data and scholarly literature, this study aims to unravel the intricate dynamics and fault lines inherent in the political landscape. By adopting the Hybrid Warfare Theory framework, the research endeavors to provide a comprehensive understanding of the adaptive strategies and challenges that characterize hybrid warfare in the specific context of Pakistani politics.


  1. To ensure long-term stability and security in Pakistan, it is crucial to address root causes such as poverty, inequality, and political marginalization. This may involve implementing economic and social reforms, including initiatives to reduce poverty, create job opportunities, and enhance political representation.
  • To effectively counter hybrid warfare challenges, institutions like the government, military, and police must be strengthened. This entails introducing reforms to enhance transparency, accountability, and efficiency. Additionally, investing in capacity-building and training programs is essential for bolstering these institutions.
  • Effective governance plays a pivotal role in addressing conflict root causes and ensuring stability. Reforms aimed at improving public service delivery, reducing corruption, and fostering transparency and accountability are essential components of enhancing governance.
  • Investing in human capital through education and healthcare, along with developing robust infrastructure and economic systems, is essential for building resilience to hybrid warfare. This proactive approach helps mitigate conflict risks and enhances communities’ ability to withstand various shocks and stressors.


The study findings revealed a lack of a universally accepted definition for the concept of hybrid warfare, emphasizing its intricate and multidimensional nature within the context of Pakistan. The term “hybrid warfare” finds attribution to the PMESII model, comprising major constructs. Firstly, it involves the amalgamation of various forms of warfare, including conventional, informational, diplomatic, and economic strategies to subjugate opponents. Secondly, it encompasses misinformation and the use of media and propaganda. In conclusion, Pakistan has grappled with diverse forms of hybrid warfare, from internal conflicts to cross-border aggression. The implications are substantial, affecting both the nation and the broader region. The ongoing conflict in the North-West region poses a significant challenge to Pakistan’s stability and security. Effectively countering hybrid warfare necessitates a comprehensive approach, encompassing military, informational, and psychological operations, along with developmental projects targeting the well-being of the local population.

Ayesha Abrar
Ayesha Abrar
I hold a Bachelor's degree in International Relations. Currently, I am enrolled in the Master of Philosophy (MPhil) program in Strategic Studies at the prestigious National Defense University Islamabad (NDU). My academic pursuits are motivated by a profound interest in understanding the dynamic shifts occurring in the global landscape and the strategic imperatives involved in advancing national interests on the international stage.