Pakistan has mastered the art and science of waging “Hybrid Warfare” what with over four-decade of continuous wars on two fronts – Afghanistan and J & K. It is vicious form of warfare conducted by Pakistan Army and ISI to achieve their dream end objective of taking revenge for their humiliating defeat in 1971 War through “1000-years Jihad”.
It is time for Indian political masters and decision makers at the helm and security forces commanders at all levels to understand and appreciate the kind of war that they are countering and to synergize their operational strategies and tactics to counter threats on multi-dimensional fronts.
“Hybrid warfare” is the defining feature of the current security environment in J & K. Pakistan is employing all means and ways to achieve the strategic end objective of “Proxy War turned Hybrid War” to “bleed India through 1000 cuts” in pursuit of liberating J & K in a 1000-year jihad. Hybrid threats are qualitatively different from less complex irregular or militia forces. Classical counterterrorism or counterinsurgency tactics cannot contain and marginalize them. Hybrid threats are more lethal than countering irregular forces conducting simple ambushes using crude improvised explosive devices.
On the diplomatic front, Modi-Jaishankar-Ghokhle trio has successfully thwarted Pakistan attempt to internationalize the issue with help of its all-weather ally China asserting in the UNSC. Out of the 15-member UNSC 14-members did not speak on the verdict of a formal meeting, no minutes or show of hands no resolution, no statements and no outcomes in the closed door discussion. India is on the rise and is listened to with respect in international circle and dealt with accordingly by the international community. Even Donald Trump has retracted from his offer of third-party mediation. So also, Modi has endeared India to Gulf nations and also Saudi Arabia. Even the FATP has retained the “Black” status for Pakistan. De-linking China from Pakistan is the real challenge.
Kudos also goes not only to Indian security forces for gallantly countering the “mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, catastrophic terrorism, and criminal behavior in the battle space to contain and marginalize dual threat concerns (terrorism and insurgency). On the military front, army units on the LoC and international border are guarding the borders: fire exchanges with enemy posts, preventing infiltration based on in depth “counter infiltration grid” in the proximity of border. Simultaneously, special army forces in close collaboration with Central Paramilitary Forces and local police are flushing out terrorists and insurgents in the towns, cities and hideouts in mountains and jungles in the interior.
On the economic front, Pakistan’s attempts to close transit points and trade have made no significant influence on the ground. If any, it is hurting the local Kashmiri Muslims in the valley and the people-to-people contact mostly Muslim brothers and sisters.
However, the most worrisome for Team-Modi is the countering of internal outrage of opposition political parties and partisan media sensationalism crying hoarse almost virtually like caged parrots of Pakistan on Indian soil - “Save Democracy and Release Leaders”. Forging consensus with internal political parties to minimize disrupting political processes particularly in the Kashmir Valley is the real challenge for Modi.
Apart from successes achieved in the above dimensions, the grey areas remain: influence of social media and other outlets on lifting of restrictions to spread rumours, sow doubt, dissent, and disinformation among the Kashmiri Muslims; countering hacking, viruses, or other methods to conduct information warfare and commit other malicious acts in cyberspace; disrupting normal space activities and space-enabled services; managing and containing escalation of violence sponsored and abetted by state and non-state; and ward off BAT teams across LoC to conduct strikes across the border.
Strategic stalemate appears real. But, the lull may be temporary what with clouds of storm, “stone pelting” in Srinagar, that are gathering on the horizon. Certainly, there will be spiral of violence on lifting of restrictions on the internet and social media, release of political leaders under detention, besides unhindered movement of personnel. How to manage law and order when large scale protests and stone pelting resumes will be the real challenge?
Furthermore, Pakistan and its ISI, as the state-actors and the snakes bred by them in their backyards – non state actors – are most likely to either lie-low for the time being and resume their nefarious activities at the most opportune time later.
In sum, a thorough understanding of the nature and character of Hybrid Warfare is critical for all political, bureaucratic and security forces decision makers at all levels down to the “Post and Jawans” levels. No longer, it can be viewed with myopic focus on the classical form of conventional war or insurgency or terrorism. The complexity of threats is nerve-racking and brain-chilling. Not a “Brawn War or Gung Ho tactics; but a Brain War to wage offensive counter information war at local levels.” In sum, Hybrid warfare encompasses “the full spectrum of conflict including complex operations during peacetime and war.”
Less known is the fact that the prescribed book of study in Pakistan’s Quetta Staff College is Chanakyas Arthashatra – comprehensive national security compendium. In contrast, 2 or 3 copies may be collecting cobwebs in the dumped rooms in the Indian Staff College in Wellington, Niligiris. In fact, “Arthashastra” must be made compulsory book of study not only in all security forces training institutions but also in IAS and National Police Academies among many other national and state level training institution.
Consequent to failures to liberate J & K by conventional wars (1947-48, 1965 and 1971), General Zia laid the foundation for the ongoing Hybrid Warfare (to bleed Indian through 1000 cuts) in J & K through “Operation TOPAC” in April, 1988: “Islam is our goal. Quran is our constitution. Jehad is our path. War till victory, God is great. The war of Hizb is pronounced: Allah-u-Akbar. The call of Hizb is beware of India; and our aim is totally clear liberation of Kashmir valley.”
Give the devil its due that Pakistan cannot retract and reconcile to peace on status quo basis come what may be the pressures of the international community having gained the initiative in alienating the Kashmiri Muslims from the mainstream India. Pakistan’s immediate end objectives today include: advance its long-running objective of shaping a stable and friendly government in Kabul to adopt policies that favour Pakistan at India's expense; to pacify the restive region bordering Afghanistan; and to redeploy its military and militant resources against India. Being the first and the lone claimant to nuclear weapon state capability among Islamic countries, Pakistan wants to assert its dominant authority in the entire Islamist region.
Remember always that Pakistan has been waging conflicts not only 2 fronts – Afghanistan and India – but also confronted by insurgency in Baluchistan, Pakistani Taliban in FATA and the numerous “SNAKES” bred in its backyards based on Mullahs and Madrasas.
Pakistan in collusion with U.S.A. waged war between 1979-1989 against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, known as the “Graveyard of Empires” and “the school of jihad for jihadists around the world”. And, Pakistan sponsored and supported mujahedeen groups (refugee camps serving as havens inside Pak territory) in alliance with the USA. It led to Mikhail Gorbachev withdrawing the Soviet Forces after suffering thousands of casualties and mounting financial burden or over stretch. Thus, Pakistan earned the dubious distinction of the “epi-centre of Islamist global Terrorism”.
Having gained invaluable experiences in extraordinarily complex ‘full spectrum operations’ on the Afghan front during the past 40-years, Pakistan Army and the ISI have mastered the art and science of employing various stratagems to gain influence and undermine Indian interests with techniques well short of traditional armed conflict. It has mastered the art of managing the corrupt local politicians and shaping civil society by various devious means including coercion and bribes. Quite often, it threatens with jingoistic rhetoric of nuclear blackmail and holocaust.
Pakistan’s gamesmanship is quite remarkable. Everyone is aware that the keys to the resolution of global terrorism are with Pakistan. Pakistan’s strategy of ambivalence or double-speak flows out of pursuit of enlightened national interests. Let me reiterate that deep inside their psyche majority of Pakistanis nurture hatred against India and want to settle scores in 1000-year Jihad over its loss of face in 1971 War. It nurtures the “balance of power equation” in South Asia. It wants strategic depth or buffer in Afghanistan. The future of Afghanistan is of fundamental interest to Pakistan. Instability or Indian or Iranian influence in Pakistan is not in Pakistan's interest. None should suffer from illusions.
Pakistan has been successfully doing diplomatic “tight-rope balancing act with the USA. The U. S and Pakistan are playing very different games for very different ends on both sides of the border and in Afghanistan. Pakistan military supports the U.S. only on transactional basis. Words and meetings have done little so far to change Pakistan's behavior. They have different adversaries and playing on different timetables. The alliance is one of necessity and near-term American imperatives in Afghanistan — lines of supply, political progress, counterterrorism efforts — clash directly with the long-term American interest in a strong Pakistani state able to manage its territory and keep its nuclear arsenal secure.
Pakistan’s dexterity to manage conflicting and contradictory relationships between various militant groups is phenomenal. For example, Pakistani security forces have made truces with some groups, promising to leave them alone in Pakistan as long as they focus their activities on Afghanistan. Also, the Taliban cooperates with militant groups that seek to overthrow the government in Islamabad. Al Qaeda’s affiliate in South Asia, cooperates closely with the Taliban’s insurgency in Afghanistan; but also conducts terrorist attacks throughout Pakistan with the intent of weakening the government. Other groups, such as the Pakistani Taliban and its offshoots, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, also target the Pakistani government but also have long-standing ties with the Taliban in the insurgency in Afghanistan.
However, Pakistan is also under internal seize of its own making unable to reconcile contradictions. It is beset by ethnic tensions, sectarian violence, and deep divisions over the role of Islam in society. Pakistan apprehends that targeting Afghanistan-oriented militant groups will provoke retaliation in Pakistan’s Punjab heartland. Its long refusal to fully sever support for these groups is a product of Pakistan’s lack of full control over the militant groups – snakes - it has sponsored. Pakistan is also afraid of a strong Afghan government aligned with India, potentially helping to encircle Pakistan.
Since its formation in 1994, the Pakistan backed Taliban has remained consistent in its ambition of total victory and establishing “a pure Islamic government”. The Taliban emerged victorious over other rival factions and gained control over Kabul by 1995 and enforced extreme Islamic policies, discriminatory practices and human rights’ abuses that led to the flight of refugees all over again into Pakistan. Pakistan provided a de facto sanctuary to the Taliban, Haqqani network, and key elements of Al Qa'ida central. But following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on U.S. targets carried out by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan vowed to sever ties with these groups and support the U.S. in Afghanistan.
Perforce, the need exists and persists to compete with greater agility at lower levels short of war, against multi-functional or multi-dimensional threats, which is belatedly recognized today. The gap had existed for some time in the past deemed decades ago to be a shortfall in India’s strategic culture.
Of late during the past one-decade, military strategic experts have defined such a nerve-racking complexity of operational environment as “Grey Zone” rivalry, which is not new, but technological, structural, and ideational trends are magnifying strategic ramifications for Indian interests not only in J & K but also all over South Asia.
Let me recall what Kennan originally referred in 1950s as “political warfare” has recently been re-anointed as “grey zone conflict.” The grey zone is not purely by intense political onslaught but also covers economic, informational, and military warfare that is short of conventional war. The grey zone conflict defining characteristic is ambiguity with aggression and retraction alternating as per situational needs — about the ultimate objectives, the participants, whether international treaties and norms have been violated, and the role that military forces play in response. It is on ‘grand display’ during the ongoing face-off.
Pakistan as the State actor is, employing highly pro-active flexible sequences of gradual steps to secure strategic leverage. The efforts remain below thresholds that would generate a powerful India’s response, but nonetheless are forceful and deliberate, calculated to gain measurable traction over time.
In times ahead, it is no eureka that Pakistan will manipulate and influence elections in J & K as and when they are held in future and will step-up efforts to consolidate and advance simmering discord under the surface via cyber intrusions and the deliberate distribution of false information. How do we ensure that forms of subversion or disinformation, at home and abroad, are neutralized? Getting beyond the operational or tactical perspective is surely warranted. Modi-Amit Shah-Ranjnath-Jaishankar combine are taking pro-active measures to expose Pakistan’s manipulations and twists at the international level, but in the internal political domain, they are at their wits end to forge consensus with the strident opposition parties out to embarrass Modi-led BJP/NDA regime.
Next, the greatest threat to India is from the Taliban. In the case of the Taliban gaining control over Kabul after the peace treaty with the U.S.A. Pakistan would certainly seek to use Afghanistan as a safe haven to train and plan attacks against India and Indian Kashmir. The Taliban is bound to allow militant groups notably Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, to operate in its territory. Both groups are deemed strategic assets of Pakistan with primary objective to contest India’s control of Kashmir.
Pakistan will remain on denial mode in perpetuity due to Army-ISI dominance. In the past, Pakistan denied Bin Ladden, Mullah Omar’s and Sirajuddin Haqqani presence on its soil. Nor they equipped and trained Taliban fighters for Afghanistan. Even now, the Mullahs, the Mafia and the Military conjointly hold the keys to power in Pakistan, particularly the ISI. So, none of them can betray the other without attracting the wrath of others. In sum, all nations are caught in a strategic quagmire from which they do not know how to emerge out. All nations are indulging in strategic shadow boxing or double speak, which may not pay.
Of course, countering this method of conflict requires more than traditional military counter insurgency and terrorism strategic responses and synergy among security forces including local police forces. The ways and means must incorporate a wider range of tools than the traditional set, and Special Forces, or paramilitary operations. Both the administration and the civil society need to be equally agile.
What are the techniques to counter grey zone competitors: Transparency; Deterrence; Preparation and pre-emption; Integrated action; Early, Bold, Pre-Emptive actions in all fields; and Clear, Specific, and Consistent Messaging to all actors – external and internal.
Admittedly, India failed to deter or respond rapidly to Pakistan’s disinformation campaign since 1989. Now, with the Balakot strike, India has demonstrated political will to retaliate boldly at the time of its own choosing and place. Yet, it is reactive response only. No longer, hopefully India shifts from reactive, mostly knee-jerk and defensive and adopts pro-active and pre-emptive mode. Also, it is thinking ahead to Pakistan’s next move and planning responses across the full range of tools. Although India has boosted the morale and pride of national mainstream civil society with the repeal of Articles 370 and 35A, its influence in the valley is yet to be seen. And, Modi has invited private-sector engagement in the valley and Ladakh regions. But, the most important is the citizen education to regain their loyalty to the Indian state.
In sum, viewed from the prism of complexity of geo politics in the South Asian region or crystal gazing, there is no sight of light of peace at the end of the tunnel. India needs to be braced to effectively manage its strategic responses with alacrity in all domains, not purely counter terror and insurgency centric.