Wars are expensive in terms of blood and treasure. Through the ages, this fundamental truth has driven military strategists to search for a quick and inexpensive path to victory in battle. The ultimate aim of any contesting nation is to force an unwilling enemy government to accept peace on its terms. In democratic countries, the actions of that hostile government are generally based on the will of the people, so no victory can be complete until that “will” is reshaped or molded.

Liddell Hart, a British military theorist, argued that a man killed is merely one man less, whereas a man unnerved is a highly infectious carrier of fear, capable of spreading an epidemic of panic. Hart argued that the resulting psychological pressure on the government of a country may neutralize all the resources at its command – so that the sword drops from a paralyzed hand. Therefore, a successful strategist thinks in terms of paralysis, not killing.

The mechanism for inducing or coercing a quick change in the government’s position can occur in at least three ways: first, key governmental leaders are killed and replaced by a more sympathetic group; second, the government is overthrown, either by a popular revolt or from a faction within; or, third, the country’s leaders are persuaded  to change their minds.

Every country enjoys at least four instruments of national power or influence. They are: political, economic, military, and informational. In the modern age, the preferred method is to selectively attack or threaten targets that most directly support the enemy‘s will to continue with its current behavior.

Hybrid warfare, a relatively new concept, is a multiple-prong effort aimed at paralyzing the enemy’s leadership through military and non-military clandestine activities, economic subversion and propaganda dissemination. These techniques have been around for ages, but now they incorporate modern-day technologies and are synergized in a scientific manner.

Confusion and disorder follow when weaponized information aggravates the perception of insecurity in the populace as political, social, and cultural identities are pitted against one another

Confusion and disorder follow when weaponized information aggravates the perception of insecurity in the populace as political, social, and cultural identities are pitted against one another.

A hybrid war takes place on three distinct battlefields: the conventional kind, the indigenous population of the conflict zone, and the international community.

Sometimes all it takes is a small and dedicated group of provocateurs to spark clashes with the authorities, along with misleading reports that the security forces are attacking “hard-pressed peaceful protesters.”

The whole point of engineering a completely false narrative of “democratic freedom fighters” resisting a “tyrannical, incompetent and corrupt” regime is that it serves the dual purposes of encouraging more citizens to join in the growing riot and to generate support from abroad. Therefore, hybrid war could mean a synergized campaign of disinformation, terrorism, cyber-attacks on digitally dependent communication networks, criminal activities, proxy sponsorship,, rebellion, insurgency, or anything like that.

Pakistan through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) guarantees China’s strategic freedom and flexibility in the face of the United States’ naval threats and nullifies all the trouble that it is causing along its southern maritime borderlands. Therefore, the US has a grand interest in disrupting, controlling, or influencing the Silk Road and CPEC.

Pakistan requires the rapid development of a communication network to facilitate cohesion and economic prosperity. However, the country is rife with historical, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, and geographic differences, which could be manipulated by the US and its arch-rival India to engineer violence and set a hybrid war scenario in motion. Many informed people in Pakistan are of the view that Pakistan is under hybrid attack by hostile forces.

In today’s world, apart from traditional media, popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube are the primary means of disinformation and propaganda. On these media platforms, various activities related to hybrid warfare are challenging to detect and defeat.

It is most likely that the authorities will always be one step behind the hybrid war agents unless the target government outrightly bans these services. The permanent closure of such services is not a wise option as it can shatter the credibility of the democratic government. Imposing restrictions is best employed for short periods during critical times, such as a few weeks before general elections and similarly important events.

It is also true that information, fake or otherwise, homegrown or imported, will have no impact unless it is accepted as fact by the masses. Therefore, the timely provision of information and critical thinking are the antidote to “fake news and hostile propaganda.” The government should work to enhance online digital platforms that are‘efficient and credible, to ensure the timely provision of information for consumption by the masses and interest groups.

All Pakistani institutions must work together to ensure that the top leadership,  both civil and military, remains credible. It will help us beat back hybrid assaults against CPEC and the state of Pakistan.