Fifth generation warfare is entering a phase beyond common understanding. It is a hybrid zone towards the sixth generation, beyond the six levels known a decade back. This development bypasses the balance imposed by nuclear deterrence, introduces a new form of compellence, war by remote control, standoffs and subversion. Countries dependent on foreign military hardware, microbiology and technologies will face serious limitations if dragged into such conflicts. In this region, India and Pakistan are vulnerable.

Compellence was a strategy coined by Thomas Schelling to refer to the ability of a credible military capability forcing a country to change its policies. After the Cold War and the use of non-state actors as instruments of policies, compellence has expanded to all forms of intimidation and coercion by a stronger state against a weaker to submit retaining some advantage without being crippled. Political economy is an essential part of this strategy.

Post-Cold War, Pakistan is a classic example of compellence under US pressure. Pakistan retained its fighting and nuclear capabilities; yet succumbed to US pressures, drone strikes and sanctions.

In a new form of compellence, technology, political economy, war by remote, stand-off strikes, cyber warfare, malware, spywares, firewalls, backdoors and sanctions will play a major role. So be ready if anything related to computers and software goes wonky to the extent of taking over control, decapitation, short circuiting and even fire.

With conflicting observations on COVID-19, do not be surprised if it turns out to be a man-made microbiological development. If so, it makes the Biological Weapons Convention irrelevant.

If the mysteries of fire on a US assault ship in harbour, seven Iranian ships and boats in ports, the destruction of Iranian enrichment facilities and the annihilation of a Turkish air base in Libya are not resolved, the world has indeed moved into a new phase of stand-off warfare with a wide array of means.

The challenges posed by such warfare will lead to curbs on media, domestic politics, freedom of expression, and development of homegrown technologies. Chinese dominance in technologies has already forced the USA and the EU to look inward. Globalisation and trans-nationalism is most likely to fade away; thus, a new form of neo-nationalism? Ultimately, even Breton Woods will face the axe. Brexit and Trump’s America were a beginning.

Since such conflicts will be staged on the periphery, direct military contact will be avoided between major powers at the cost of small allies that shall take the brunt. This is precisely what is happening to India from China and Turkey-Iran from the containment ring. So far, US policy in Afghanistan prevents the US from intimidating Pakistan, but India is busy and some countries in due course in the Middle East (US-Israel Allies), may become a base of subversion against Pakistan. Perforation of the Southern Containment Front by China, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey will be fiercely contested by USA and its allies.

At least in presentations, India is aware of these developments but it will remain a big challenge to break free of limitations imposed by military and technological dependence. This limitation has been exposed during the present Sino-India conflict where China played far superior elements in technology and compellence.

Reading from a script, Indian CDS General Bipin Rawat commented, “Non-contact warfare will help us in gaining advantage over the adversary in future. Therefore, it is important to understand the context in which we need to move forward in this direction...Quantum technology, cyberspace and above all artificial intelligence, all these need to be leveraged”.

Many critics in Pakistan restricted the reference of non-contact warfare of General Rawat to subversion against Pakistan. No! It is much beyond pushing a few RAW agents into Balochistan and other parts of Pakistan and in concert with other means. India has lost two rounds in post-Balakot and Ladakh. While it reduces reputational damage, it will certainly strike at Pakistan in another way.

Reactions to Chinese dominance in Ladakh will come elsewhere. This is a matter of time and may happen earlier than expected; a few months from now? By conceding unpublicised reverses, India is living to fight another day. Pakistan will be in crosshairs. So how are we to prepare?

If readers recollect, the USA bombed Tora Bora (Tora Bora: The Emerging Redoubt, Nation July 17, 2017). On April 13, 2017, the US dropped a 22,000-pound bomb nicknamed the “Mother of All Bombs” in Nangarhar Afghanistan. It was claimed that 92 ISIS militants including 13 Indian Raw agents were killed. It appears that MOAB had a limited effect on these US-built fortifications and the lives of nomadic terrorists have resumed. Such floating groups will morph into ISIS-AFPAK with support of state actors. This indicates a new round of violence despite American thinning out. The objectives will not change but the methods will. Pakistan must plan ahead.

Pakistan’s Achilles heel is its economy tied around the IMF and World Bank. This shackle has to be broken through the concept of ‘Zabardast’ (wonderful) Pakistan. The paradox of being a frontline ally of China and depending on the West has to be removed. The China policy and IMF cannot go hand in hand.

Pakistan’s microbiologic centres of excellence are already making good progress against COVID-19. The research must continue in all fields including agriculture.

Let us determine if Pakistan is ready to pass through this sea of fire. The three firewalls to fight this battle are the people, the present government and the armed forces. While the people and armed forces will rise to the call, the government has to reframe itself into the compulsions of the situation. Maybe a purge in rank and file is the calling. Local hitmen must be targeted.