‘Reliance on kinetic measures to intercept non-linear threats is no longer an option, and modern statecraft in the country must absolutely familiarise itself – and quickly – with alternate tools to tackle the emerging complex and unpredictable internal and external security landscape.’

Global and regional dynamics of conflict are rapidly changing and posing a challenge to traditional state structures and military approaches. Conflicts between conventional armies are gradually waning, giving rise to a nonlinear matrix of actors and techniques. Likewise the meanings of ‘victory’ and ‘defeat’ in battle are also changing, with the terminology quickly becoming a relic of past. South Asia is no exception; the perennial state of conflict between India and Pakistan are changing and ‘blurring the line between the states of war and peace. Wars are no longer declared and, having begun, proceed according to an unfamiliar template.’

In a similar strain, concerns were raised by Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, while addressing the 137th PMA Long Course ceremony, when he stated that “Pakistan is facing enormous challenges both in conventional and sub-conventional domains,” and that “our enemies know that they cannot beat us fair and square, and have thus subjected us to a cruel, evil and protracted hybrid war.” Without naming any countries, Gen Bajwa clearly indicated the precarious situation on Pakistan’s eastern and western borders with India and Afghanistan - and the growing covert activities of hostile agencies to “inflict wounds within.”

In this brand of warfare, an enemy uses ‘multiple instruments of power simultaneously and intentionally exploits creativity, ambiguity, non-linearity and the cognitive elements of warfare, and it remains below clear detection and response thresholds, and often rely on the speed and digital technology that characterises the present information age’.

It is no secret that India’s notorious intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has been carrying out covert operations inside Pakistan through proxies and terrorist networks that fall within these parameters for a very long time now. In 2009, then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani handed over a dossier of RAW’s involvement in terrorist activities to his counterpart, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during their meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. The dossier highlighted just how India’s security and intelligence agencies had been using Afghanistan’s soil to train and fund terrorist activities in FATA and other parts of Pakistan. Furthermore, India was directly involved in igniting the ‘insurgency in Balochistan’, through clandestine support to insurgents and their militant organisations. It was also reported later, in Indian media itself no less, that in 2009, India had hosted Baloch insurgents in New Delhi.

In 2013, Indian Army chief General Vijay Kumar Singh admitted that following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the Indian army raised a Tactical Support Division (TSD), which carried out bomb blasts in Pakistan, and doled out money to the separatist elements in Balochistan. Such clandestine activities further increased when Narendra Modi, a demagogic hardliner and dogmatic agitator became the Prime Minister of India in May 2014. From then onwards, Indian policy has been guided by the so-called “Doval Doctrine”, coined by the former RAW chief, Ajit Doval, who became the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister.

The “Doctrine” envisages engaging the enemy at three levels, i.e. defensive, defensive-offensive and offensive. The “offensive-defensive mode” requires going into Pakistan and ‘tackling the problem where it originated’. As his infamous statement further clarifies: “You may do one Mumbai; you may lose Balochistan”. Ergo, India would use conventional means in an unconventional manner to achieve their more controversial goals - which is what ‘hybrid war’ is all about.

Evidence of the deployment of such tactics was discovered in March 2016 when Pakistan’s intelligence and security agencies unearthed the largest clandestine RAW network to date, which had been involved in sabotage, espionage, and terrorist activities. Leading this network was the now infamous Kulbushan Jadhav, an Indian Navy commissioned officer, operating from the Pakistan-Iran border areas. The Indian spy confessed to the nefarious nature of his activities, which included terrorism among the approaches intended to destabilize the country. Furthermore, he also confessed to being assigned by RAW “to plan and organise espionage and sabotage activities” in the Balochistan Province and Karachi, the southern port city that is the country’s commercial hub. But Indian confessions continue to fall on deaf ears internationally, just as they did with the Samjhota Express Bombings, which eventually were acknowledged – and by the Indian National Investigative Agency (NIA) no less – to have been carried out by members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) National Volunteer Corp – an extremist Hindu paramilitary organisation.

After the Uri and Pathankot attacks, once more India blamed Pakistan without any substantial evidence. Subsequently, in order to weigh options for ‘retaliation’ for the perceived ingresses, Prime Minister Modi held high level meetings and a famous statement that created a stir in national and international media; presiding over the Indus Water Commission meeting, he said, ‘blood and water cannot flow together at the same time.’ In the aftermath of these events, it became increasingly clear that a multipronged strategy had been put in place to pressurize Pakistan on multiple fronts. The aims of this strategy appeared to be to isolate Pakistan diplomatically, as well as to raise the possibility of carrying out military strikes and hint at suspending the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) brokered by the World Bank (WB).

Eventually, Indian media was to claim that ‘surgical strikes’ had been carried out across the Line of Control (LOC), and the alleged ‘launching pads’ of infiltration destroyed, again without concrete proof of either claim. Pakistan’s military spokesperson categorically denied these claims, rubbishing the rumors of ‘military operations’ on Pakistan’s side of Kashmir, while analysts opined that the drama of ‘surgical strikes’ was hatched by Narendra Modi to conceal his failures in delivering on his political promises on the one hand, and to shore up his declining political support in the country on the other.

That said, the true motivation of the Modi government still appears to have been diverting the attention of national, regional and international community from Indian Occupied Kashmir and the recent spate of brutalities that have been inflicted upon them by the Indian armed forces. Additionally, under Prime Minister Modi, the security situation on the LOC has been flared up by serious ceasefire violations and the targeting of innocent civilians along the LOC by India.

The most recent scheme that appears to include the efforts of both RAW and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) to undermine Pakistan’s political unity and sovereignty has been through the support and funding for the newly teethed “Pashtun Tahafuz Movement” (PTM), which, less than a couple of months after gaining notoriety, has somehow managed to attain endorsement from none other than the Afghan President himself, when there are other far more dedicated, better known and supported organisations. The attempt to hijack a national tragedy has been thwarted, but the timing of the entire incident has been interesting, to say the least.

As it is increasingly clear to the adversaries of Pakistan that it is no longer possible to overpower this nuclear nation through kinetic means, the only other option to engage becomes a drawn out, painful, civilian-targeted and resource-exhausting form of hybrid war to achieve strategic regional goals, including (but not limited to) the disruption of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is also clear that Pakistan has been subject to this phenomenon for a very long time – with strategies moving from more kinetic approaches through sabotage and terror proxies like the TTP, to the broader spectrum approach we see today that is challenging the country simultaneously on multiple fronts, including diplomatic coercion and isolation, security threats ranging from LOC violations, terrorism, trafficking etc., economic pressures and openly expressed threats to the CPEC, internal destabilisation and ethnic dissonance.

When the nature of the game changes in this manner, it is of the utmost importance to adapt to the new rules to avoid isolation, demoralisation and eventual loss. Just as our military leadership has acknowledged the presence and impact of hybrid warfare on the country, it is important for the political and military leadership to step up to the challenge collectively and strategize accordingly, in advance and in proportion to the gravity of the multi-faceted threats we face. At moments like these, the principles of our Quaid for attaining national harmony – principles of unity, discipline and faith – remain as true as they did 70 odd years ago.

Reliance on kinetic measures to intercept non-linear threats is no longer an option, and modern statecraft in the country must absolutely familiarise itself – and quickly – with alternate tools to tackle the emerging complex and unpredictable internal and external security landscape. This also includes tackling internal pressure points (particularly ethnic sensitivities and civil rights issues) to prevent their misappropriation by external elements. Strong leadership and institutional harmony are needed today more than ever before, and in the run up to the national elections, this is an aspect of policy that ought to be addressed candidly.


The writer is the President of Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS) and Senator for the term 2012-2018. She is also a member of the Senate Forum for Policy Research (SFPR) from 2018-2021.