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Need for counter narrative

Over the past few years there has been lack of interest and persistent efforts by the ruling political leadership to build a counter narrative to give befitting response to the smear campaign against Pakistan in the Indian and Western media. Our adversaries are effectively using the tools of hybrid warfare.

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Saturday cautioned that subversive phase of unannounced war against Pakistan has been initiated by the enemies even as efforts are made to tackle the terrorism and sabotage phase. Reiterating the armed forces resolve to maintain peace in the country, the army chief regretted that the youth of the nation is being targeted by hybrid campaign—at time by protagonists who are our own people. “Mostly misguided, blinded by hate, ethnicity or religion or simply overawed by social media onslaught, some of our boys and girls readily fall victim to such dangerous hostile narrative,” the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) quoted General Bajwa as saying at the passing out parade of 110th Midshipmen and 19th Short Service Course held at Naval Academy.

Referring to hybrid warfare the army chief stated that information and modern technology has changed the nature of warfare and has tilted the balance in favour of those nations that have embraced the changed reality. “But frankly speaking, even that will not be sufficient as the ever increasing threat of hybrid war, to which we are subject to, will need a totally different approach, “the COAS emphasized. “Advising the future military leaders to prepare themselves for the threat they will face. General Bajwa added that they should be able to gauge the enemy’s latest moves and be ready to respond even when a ‘surgical strike’ exists in its imagination or when threat appear in cyber space and not the traditional battlefield or threatens the “country’s ideological frontiers.” “The response to such onslaughts or threats cannot always be kinetic in nature,” said the army chief, adding that a superior narrative needs to be propagated to deal with the attacks in the cognitive domain. The COAS also dwelt on government’s efforts for achieving peace in Afghanistan and bringing peace between Pakistan and India. 

New technologies are fast blurring the distinction between conventional and hybrid warfare and increase the incentives, opportunities and compulsions for the preemptive or “first use” of offensive action by adversaries to knock out command and control system through cyber strikes. Pakistan was the first target of hybrid or indirect war in 1971. New Delhi’s hybrid strategy to promote Sheikh Mujeeb,s  six points, Bengalis’ genocide narrative and training of Mukti Baheni all laid the grounds for the cession of former East Pakistan. The onus of America’s colossal military and political failures in Afghanistan was ascribed to alleged Afghan Taliban ‘safe heavens’ in Pakistan. Today hybrid war is focused on Baluchistan, former FATA region, Gigit Baltistan and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Churying decribed a report being false which said that China and Pakistan have reportedly reached new deals under CPEC on military facilities, including production of fighter jet. Hua outright rejected that Beijing has struck a deal with Islamabad on military facilities and building fighter jets under the umbrella of CPEC, stressing that the mega project comprises industrial parks and facilities to improve people’s livelihood.

Pakistan has developed considerable capabilities to deter conventional and nuclear aggression. However, it remains very vulnerable to hybrid warfare. Its adversaries enjoy substantial prowess in IT, Cyber, media projection, narrative construction, fake news, subversion and sabotage, and sponsorship of terrorism, including ‘false flag operation.’ The 26/11 Mumbai attacks and attack which was carried out on Patankot airbase in 2017 was false flag operations. Amazingly, the previous PML-N government lodged an FIR of Patankot airbase attack in a police station in Gugranwala and in previous PPP government former president Asif Zardari attributed the Mumbai attacks to non-state actors.

The main modality of this indirect war against Pakistan is media, including social media. Indian media stands united in highlighting the narrative against Pakistan, but on the contrary in Pakistan print and electronic media speak many voices which sometimes give credence to Indian narrative. Dawn leaks are one such example. There is little space for pro-Pakistan narrative in the western media. Hopefully, the PTI government will work out a comprehensive policy to counter the hybrid warfare, change the mindset and protect the youth with sustainable employment programmes.