The contemporary milieu, characterized by a changing global strategic environment, interdependence, real-time connectivity and fast-paced technological advancements, has led to a spillover effect that goes far beyond the territory of any single continent. The advent of cyberspace is rapidly mounting the medium of virtual environment with growing dominance and influence of Social Media and Content Sharing Platforms which is also the element of hybrid warfare and elements of non-traditional threat to peace and security of the states. The information and for that matter disinformation become powerful weapons, which possess the potential to alter foreign relations among nations and provides strategic victory to the best manipulator of information. Propaganda, misinformation and fake news have the potential to polarize public opinion, to promote violent extremism, hate speech and, ultimately to cause damage and create chaos within and outside the country. Resultantly, it de-stabilizes the victim state’s affairs.
Recently, a report by EU DisinfoLab revealed India’s deep rooted and long term led campaign against Pakistan by non-traditional use of power centers. India involved engagement of great and middle powers in its hybrid warfare agenda to destabilize and demoralize Pakistan. According to the report facts it advanced the situation of external and internal threats to subjects of Pakistan national security. As India increased involvement in funding and training separatist militias in Pakistan, conducting economic subversion by politicizing international bodies like FATF and carrying out diplomatic disruption in the form of disinformation campaigns.
This virtual nature of warfare has shifted the Center of Gravity notion. Terms like operational, tactical and strategic cannot be distinguished when focusing on the enemy’s Center of Gravity. Instead, the concept is to assess intentions of the enemy holistically.
A case of India’s disinformation campaign against Pakistan. The EU DisinfoLab European non-governmental organization (NGO) has published a report entitled “Indian Chronicles.” The report highlighted that the operation’s long-term objectives was to promote content against Pakistan and China, and consolidate India’s power at international forums such as the EU and UN. It revealed the extent of India’s disinformation network to discredit countries in conflict with it with a specific focus on Pakistan and to an extent on neighboring China.
Specifically, it targeted Pakistan through fake news, false testimonies at the UN Human rights Commission and spiteful propaganda campaign involving the EU members of Parliament. The investigation disclosed that fake news was created in Brussels, Geneva and across the world, reformed and disseminated through ANI to local media networks. Around 97 countries are part to multiply the online negative content about countries in conflict with India.
Over 750 Indian backed websites spread across 119 countries have been operating to undermine Pakistan since the last 15 years within the European Union and the United Nations, an investigative research by EU DisinfoLab showed in the report. Back in 2019, the DisinfoLab had uncovered 256 pro-Indian websites that were operating across 65 countries and steering a vast disinformation agenda campaign against Pakistan. All those websites traced back and rooted to a New Delhi based company, the Srivastava Group. In the new report, the campaign also involved regular media channels such as Asian News International (ANI) – India’s largest wire service and various fake NGOs including ten U.N. Human Rights Council-accredited NGOs, that were being used to target members of the EU and the U.N. The campaign used and impersonated renowned personalities and media houses such as Harvard Law faculty member Professor Louis B Sohn and EU Observer. Revelation of the disinformation campaign indicated the deep rooted and complex network of hybrid warfare against Pakistan based negative false propaganda and other destabilizing activities.
Implications on Bi-lateral Relations between India-Pakistan. The lethality of modern military options and cyber domain has made less relevant the total war or full scale conventional wars between nations as an instrument of state policy to settle disputes or to coerce any state. Though, military force remains a useful tool for deterrence rather than compellence and punishment between the nuclear-armed states. This report of Indian disinformation campaign has given impetus to assess the nuances of employment of sub-conventional conflicts and hybrid warfare as a means to harm the adversary, especially the nuclear-armed country like Pakistan. Hybrid and Information war is a full-spectrum of theatre without any limitation of just war theory through which both physical and psychological vulnerabilities of the target state are exploited. According to this report analysis, India utilized hybrid warfare tools in the exploitation of domestic fault lines like political, religious, economic, and societal to destabilize Pakistan internally and externally. They have been employing diplomatic and economic pressures to malign Pakistan’s image and in addition to make it economically frail.
Pakistan’s National security is encountering both traditional and non-traditional or sub conventional security challenges. The policymakers have adequately addressed the traditional security challenges, i.e., external military threats.
Indian damaging activities like disinformation campaign and other negative propaganda against Pakistan causes the impairment not only to Pakistan’s global image but also negatively distresses peace and stability of the region. It increases suspicion in Pakistan’s threat perception vis-à-vis India. It re-surfaces the already deep rooted mistrust among India-Pakistan. Further expand the tensions in the existing contentious issues between India-Pakistan specifically the Indian Occupied Kashmir. Additionally, the revelation of cyber related malicious campaigns by India, add problems and difficulties in paving any possibility of communication through talks and dialogue.
Conclusion. The non-traditional ways of creating instability in South Asia is a source of concern due to the dynamics of India-Pakistan relations and the recent 2019 episode of military crises between the two nuclear armed adversaries. India’s military and non-military operational strategies by keeping the threshold of engagement at multiple levels considered under control will may prove misperceived. Bluntly instigating hybrid warfare tactics by India, along with exponential induction of new technologies, including anti-satellite (ASAT) and hypersonic weapons. Furthermore, the conduct of Indian leadership as was witnessed during the 2019 military crisis, when the Indian PM tossed nuclear threats may lead the region towards further instability. Not to forget however, any such expectation would have consequences far beyond the India-Pakistan’s periphery.
Aside from the current negative trajectory, India and Pakistan have a history of negotiating experiences. India, though, remains reluctant to engage with Pakistan and such cyber related warfare tactics further blurs the possibilities of communication between the two states. On Pakistan side, although, the term hybrid and information warfare has gradually been gaining attention in Pakistani security policy discourse, yet its adequate securitization is further required. Thus, the situation warrants the adoption of a comprehensive policy involving all security related institutions to encounter hybrid warfare threats for state itself and for maintaining peace and stability in the region.