Commonly referred to as an amalgamation or ‘hybrid’ of multi-sphere war-fighting tactics to cater to conventional power dynamics, the concept has been in practice for a long time. The term, however, did not enter the modern strategic lexicon until early 2000s. Ranging from disinformation and hostile narratives to economic coercion and backing of proxy militia, hybrid warfare is in action in various forms by multiple states, one of which is India. The Indian animosity and the evolving situation in Afghanistan has put Pakistan on the international radar, not forgetting the state’s own set of vulnerabilities and challenges. New Delhi, apparently not yet interested in direct confrontation (kinetic means) with Pakistan, has developed strategies of hybrid warfare against Islamabad to pursue its strategic objectives.
Pakistan has a substantial share of its internal struggles – ethnic and religious extremism, a crumbling economy, conflict, sectarian divide, poor governance, weak institutions, and political turmoil. These shortcomings are serving as ominous assets of exploitation for India through gray zone tactics. In the context of South-Asian regional security, India has been waging political warfare with three key objectives: political instability in the state, economic slowdown, and international defamation that, in the long term, implies global isolation for Pakistan.
According to Sir Lawrence Freedman, “sabotage, propaganda, and deception” have always been prevalent in war. The current strategies of hybrid warfare are not notably different from those used during the Normandy Landings of 1944 when subversive actions could be seen as a critical part of that conflict. It still can be seen as a crucial part of India’s hybrid endeavors against Pakistan. Indian propaganda and disinformation campaigns along with robust diplomatic lobbying have resulted in a psychological form of marginalization, the fruit of which is the emergence of Baloch separatist organizations such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA). These organizations and non-state entities are used to instigate proxies against the state to undermine law and order while simultaneously deprecating the stability of the state. State media has also been utilized to cause confusion, resentment and desperation among the common masses. The resulting instability is certainly an example of meeting political objectives through the non-traditional use of power centers, in this case, the disinformation campaigns.
Another tool of hybrid warfare used by India has been picking up and diversifying societal divisions. TO quote Air Marshal M. Ashfaque Arain (Retd.):
“Since its inception, India has been continuously waging hybrid war against Pakistan, which it has accelerated recently with increased funding, training of separatist militias and conducting economic subversion by politicizing international bodies such as FATF.”
The principal strategy of India has been to secure the upper hand by exploiting ethnic sentiments and politicizing the actual or perceived vulnerabilities of the general public. Totally sidelining the suffering of its own minorities, India is seen highlighting Pakistan’s intramural weaknesses. In particular, domestic instability is projected through the exploitation of the Baloch grievances in Pakistan. According to Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, there are concrete reports of Indian monetary and material involvement in numerous terrorist organizations, including Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), Tehreek-I-Taliban Pakistan, and the UN-designated terrorist organization Jamaat-ul-Ahraar.
Sir Lawrance Freedman believes that the arrival of nuclear weapons has transformed thinking in the strategic realm. If one is worried about a major war and its implications, they will eventually try to exert pressure by other means. And the proof is in front of the world. It is evident how India is exerting pressure by behavioral objections, resulting in economic sanctions on Pakistan. As per President of PICSS, Abdul Basit (Retd), New Delhi is adopting irregular methods to jeopardize Pakistan’s as well as South Asia’s stability and security. As it can be seen, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is regarded as a crucial project for Pakistan to take off economically, but India’s primary objective is to damage Pakistan economically and politically. India is thus actively working to create rifts between China and Pakistan.
The inception of the nuclear age has been followed by the entry into the digital age. Cyber-attacks have recently been observed on government computers through the internet, which on one hand, raise questions about the cyber security vulnerabilities of Pakistan, but which also speak to foreign involvement. The breaches in security open the doors for adversaries to spread information (biased) and disinformation. An investigation report from the Brussels-based organization, under the title of ‘Indian Chronicles’, reveals a staggering network of misinformation and propaganda directed towards Pakistan. The report reveals the operation conducted in more than 116 countries over 15 years, featuring over 500 false media outlets and myriad NGOs. The network aimed to instill anti-Pakistan and pro-India narratives in the United Nations and the European Union.
It is true that sabotage and propaganda are not new, but there can be no denying the obvious fact that the chances available to traverse and exploit them digitally did not exist earlier as they are today. The arrival of Gray Zone conflicts has been an essential factor in the ongoing hybrid warfare. States now employ the measures short of war. Narrative building, for instance, has been another arm of India’s hybrid which also links to its own internal dynamics, mainly revolving around its electoral interference. India’s hybrid warfare strategies essentially incorporate Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s doctrine. In his popular YouTube video, he is seen elaborating his doctrine as dealing with the rival state at three levels of engagement: defensive, defensive-offensive and offensive.
The main target of India’s fifth-generation warfare is the Armed Forces of Pakistan and the premier agency ISI against which India has been building a false narrative, claiming that these institutions are not allowing the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. In contrast, New Delhi claims to have always been trying to establish “good relations” with Islamabad. Besides, false allegations of Pakistan being a terrorist sponsor state have been developed and disseminated by India for targeted misinformation. There is fear that one of the problems with India is also its Cold Start Doctrine against Pakistan, which might result in the inclusion and mobilization of kinetic elements creating a massive problem for the state and the region.
India’s hybrid war against Pakistan suggests against relying on any single significant power and instead diverting the focus towards multilateralism. From a policy angle, Pakistan’s primary concerns should be to reduce its internal vulnerabilities, putting its house in order, adopting a practical and proactive approach, addressing internal societal fissures, and improving governance. Ahead lies the need of efficient utilization of diplomacy and information to safeguard national security. Moreover, India is likely to continue its strategies of hybrid warfare to pursue its strategic interests more efficiently. Hence, Pakistan needs to calibrate its strategy to enhance the synergy between various facets of national power and state institutions. The process is not just perilous and inherently dangerous for the two states but also for the entire South Asian region.