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The Looming Challenge of Hybrid Warfare

The Looming Challenge of Hybrid Warfare

By: Raashid Wali Janjua 

What Pakistan needs do to cope with the menace?

Recently, while speaking at the annual internship programme held at the ISPR Directorate, the Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa highlighted the issue of hybrid warfare and said that the nature and the character of war have changed now and in today’s age of hybrid warfare, Pakistan’s youth is the prime target of its enemies. He advised the youth to stay determined and defeat all such threats to take Pakistan forward to its rightful destination. These remarks by the COAS vividly show that there is a greater realization of this new form of war in the higher echelons of Pakistan army, and it is also well aware of the need to cope with the menace, which is among the most critical challenges Pakistan will be facing in the near future. 

The technological development and the instant communication possibilities advanced not only economic and social developments, but also evolving threats from those who exploit the vulnerabilities of communication and information systems. In the ever-evolving geopolitical environments and pre-eminence of trends like economy, media, civil society and globalization, the scope of waging a sole conventional war is neither feasible nor cost effective. This notion has given rise to the concept of Hybrid Warfare with the accruing benefits of ambiguity, surprise and, above all, cost efficiency.

The term hybrid warfare refers to a non-linear conflict, where the state actors in addition to kinetic or military forces employ non-kinetic means like cyber-attacks, politico-economic subversion, psychological warfare and diplomatic pressure to bring an adversary to heel. Williamson Murray elucidates the concept of hybrid warfare in his book ‘Hybrid Warfare: Fighting complex opponents from the ancient world to the present’, through nine case studies of such conflicts. Starting from the defeat of Rome in 9 AD when Germanic tribes decimated three Roman Legions in the Teutoburg Forest through clever use of wooded terrain and unconventional ambuscades; to the Nine Years’ War in Ireland in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, as well as the American War of Independence and the Vietnam War, there are many examples of hybrid wars in this book, where the regular forces were complemented by the use of guerrillas and partisans to attack the rival resistance on multiple fronts.

Sometimes, the term ‘fourth generation warfare’, initially introduced by William S. Lind, is also used interchangeably with hybrid warfare due to the protean nature of the threats and their interplay in attainments of strategic objectives. Fourth generation warfare however, is distinguished from hybrid warfare by the involvement of non-state actors pitted against a traditional army. They present a decentralised, non-hierarchical, and non-traditional structure of threat. Contrarily – in hybrid warfare – wars are fought between states using non-linear tactics involving all elements of national power. A recent example is the Russian annexation of Crimea, where Russians very cleverly exploited their irredentist claim over Crimea along with fomenting unrest in Eastern Ukraine, leaving NATO and the US with limited military options. In 1971, a hybrid war was successfully executed by India against a beleaguered Pakistani military force in erstwhile East Pakistan.

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