The recent statement by Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa that Pakistan was facing religious and ethnic versions of a “hybrid war” is, indeed, thought-provoking and disturbing especially when read in the context of certain adverse developments in the country.
In the statement of the COAS, which was made while addressing a national security workshop, he maintained that Pakistan was now confronted with a “hybrid conflict,” where focus was shifting to subversion of religious, sectarian, ethnic and social issues. There is no doubt that the Pakistani state, its citizens and institutions, including the military, are facing a “hybrid war.”
A hybrid war is a strategy by a hostile state which employs conventional and irregular military states forces in conjunction with psychological, economic, political, and cyber assaults. Confusion and disorder ensue when weaponized information exacerbates the perception of insecurity in the populace as political, social, and cultural identities are pitted against one another. Against this backdrop, the unfolding events in Pakistan can be better understood. In case of Pakistan not only the arch-rival India but a combination of states seems to have imposed a hybrid war on the country and society. The confusion and perception of insecurity that has grown to dangerous a degree within the Pakistani population, is clear evidence of a hybrid war that is in full swing. Here it is important to note that otherwise there prevails relative political stability and an improved security situation in Pakistan today. A democratically elected government is in the saddle, which symbolizes the continuity of the representative system of government in the country. This is the third time on the trot that an elected government has successfully assumed state power in Pakistan.
Today the security situation is far better than it was five years back. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the deadliest insurgent and terrorist group in Pakistan’s history, has been defeated and has undergone deep rifts and it is no more a threat to the state due to effective counterterrorism operations by the state forces. In this situation the enemy when observing the situation in Pakistan to be improving has had to resort to hybrid war to destabilize the country from within.
Noticeably, social, and cultural identities are pitted against each other. The rise of the group known as the Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) is the most prominent manifestation of the hybrid war as the identity of one of the main ethnic components of the state is used to create chaos. The emergence of the PTM after the successful conduct of military operation against the terrorists and insurgents particularly in the Pakhtun-inhabited and dominated regions of Pakistan, including the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and the for merely titled Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the latter now merged into the former, points towards this fact. The Pakhtuns of Pakistan have never been more threatened physically, culturally and socially, than during the TTP’s and affiliated groups, insurgency between 2007 and 2015. However, did it not occur to the PTM leaders that the Pakhtuns need to be protected? Therefore, the rise of the PTM after the return of relative normalcy to the Pakhtun regions of Pakistan raises many questions. In contemporary Pakistan, the Pakhtun ethnic group is well-integrated into the state’s institutional, policy and social structure and there is no question about any discrimination against it. The Pakhtun are the second largest ethnic group in Pakistan and the enemies of Pakistan are aware that if the country has to be destabilized, then the Pakhtuns have to be pitted against the state. However, in the given situation when the country is led by an ethnic Pakhtun, Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi, and the members of the group are heavily present in every state institution, it is well-nigh impossible to successfully pit the Pakhtuns against the state. Then why would enemies want to exploit this divide when it could not succeed? The answer is that the only way to weaken the country is to pit one of the major ethnic groups against the state and in this regard Pakhtuns with their martial background could be the most potent element of instability. Moreover, given that as the Pakhtun separatist movement in Pakistan has been historically supported from Afghanistan for decades, if a group is made to raise a voice for the rights of Pakhtuns by exploiting the country’s war on terror actions against the insurgents and terrorists, including many Pakhtuns, as well the Punjabis, the largest ethnic group of the country, large-scale instability could be fomented in Pakistan. However, this is misperception and miscalculation on part of the enemies of Pakistan.
Although highlighting of political and social issues is, indeed, important for the stability of the state and solidarity of society, but focusing on them out of proportions has deleterious effects on the country and society. Currently, the mainstream Pakistan media, particularly TV channels and social media are taking each and every issue, howsoever minute and trivial, and presenting it as an existential matter for the country and its people. This has created extensive consternation and chaos in society. Such media presentations create unnecessary feelings of insecurity among the people and engender doubts about the state and its apparatus to respond to these issues. The members of public administration also get intimidated by such coverage of issues and rendering them unresponsive and docile resulting in more governance problems and decreasing social control. Thus, our media is inadvertently disseminating the contents of the psychological warfare of our enemies.
After knowing that our country is very much a theatre of hybrid war, there must be a full-fledged state and societal response to prevent the negative repercussions of the war inflicted upon us. Here all state institutions whether it is the law enforcement or intelligence agencies or universities and social welfare or youth related departments as well as the civil society must realize their respective responsibility to efficiently fight this hybrid war. Pakistan is, indeed, at a very important juncture of its history and it has what it takes to start a new chapter in the history of its development. A new and visionary leadership has taken over the reins of the state, political stability in terms of continuity of the political system and faith of all the stakeholders in it is very much obvious, that the economy is being put on the right track with investment coming in from Saudi Arabia, China and UAE while the security situation in improving with each passing day. And as COAS General Bajwa said, “It’s our time to rise and progress and we must grasp the opportunity achieved after countless sacrifice,” if availed could set the destiny of this country on the path of sustained progress.