Sunday April 21, 2024

Fourth-generation warfare

By Raashid Wali Janjua
March 09, 2017

Is Pakistan in the throes of fourth-generation warfare? In order to answer this question and to understand the nature of that warfare one needs to trace its history.

The term was first coined by a team of US military analysts led by William S Lind in a Marine Corps Gazette article titled, ‘The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation’. In simple terms, fourth-generation warfare means warfare sans state monopoly. It is a war where the chief protagonists in the conflict equation are not two states but non-state actors challenging the writ of a state.

Ontologically, it is an asymmetric war that is different from conventional warfare in its choice of tactics, objectives, and means of waging wars. The violent non-state actors form the ‘beaux sabreurs’ of the asymmetric warfare waged in parallel and employ social, economic, and psychological stratagems to impose disorder on the typical state order. The weaker and softer the state, the more puissant will be the response of these grisly practitioners of fourth-generation warfare.

Thomas Hammes in his book ‘The Sling and the Stone’ and Martin Van Creveld in ‘The Changing Face of War’ have described the denouement of a new act of war that brings the curtain down on the Clausewitz’s conventional notions of war and strategy. Martin Van Creveld further elucidates the concept with apt examples spanning the Battle of Marne in WWI to the Iraq War. According to him, fourth-generation warfare has upended the existing war paradigm that relied on a trinity of the government, people and the army.

Clausewitz believes that war was the continuation of politics by other means. Violent non-state actors have upended this paradigm by practising violent politics through means other than conventional wars, thereby severing a link that existed between reason, chance, and passion since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Fourth-generation warfare targets the passion part of the trinity by wooing people who now become willing accomplices of the “non-Trinitarian warriors”, the present-day terrorists.

Some ingenues of the art of war fail to distinguish between insurgencies and fourth-generation wars. The clear distinction between the first-generation war – which involved column and line battle formation contests with smooth bore muskets – and the second generation war – which showcased linear tactics of fire and movements with rigid formations supported by indirect artillery fire – is essential to understand the evolution of warfare into the third and, subsequently, fourth wave of war form.

The horrors of trench warfare and meat grinder tactics of unimaginative WWI generals resulted in infiltration tactics and the strategy of indirect approach as evidenced by the tactics of German storm troopers towards the concluding phase of the Great War and by the blitzkrieg tactics of the German panzers Battle of France during WWII. Third-generation warfare reached its apogee with the manoeuvre warfare demonstrated through advanced mechanised armies in the two Iraq wars where firepower, communications and mobility complemented each other to defeat weaker adversaries.

In all three war forms, the identification and attack of the enemy forces’ centre of gravity inspired the selection of war objectives. However, in fourth-generation warfare, the centre of gravity lay diffused in a political ideology, inspiring non-uniformed warriors who employed terrorism, propaganda, religion, and public grievances to wage political wars against the state’s security institutions.

Pakistan has been selected as the target of fourth-generation warfare by its neighbours due to unresolved conflicts and a strategic divergence of interests. Alliance politics in South Asia and the Indian quest for hegemony and competition with China are the driving forces of this conflict which has been fuelled by external state actors that see strategic value in stirring managed chaos in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A world power scared of another rising world power, a regional surrogate willing to play its part in service of the patron, the gulf monarchies viewing the rise of a commercial competitor with trepidation, and two Islamic neigbours failing to rise above their narrow interests – all this makes for an interesting witches’ brew in our neck of the woods.

The thousand pound guerilla in our geopolitical room at the moment is none other than CPEC – a flagship project of the Chinese quest for its rightful place in global trade and commerce. Pakistan’s alacrity to embrace CPEC, though born of economic necessity, is being construed as a threat by external state actors who have directly or indirectly started fishing in our troubled waters. In order to parry the fourth-generation attacks, Pakistan has to therefore contend with a realisation that the implacable wave of disorder will remain fully supported by these external state actors. A home truth also needs to be candidly driven home that the internal weaknesses which invite external abetment need to be addressed with celerity.

The statements of former Indian army chief General Bikram Singh and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval – which openly incite violence to keep Pakistan bleeding through a thousand cuts – are clear pointers towards the imposition of a fourth-generation war against Pakistan.

Having identified the malaise, we now come towards some solutions. Since this war is about the use of ideological narratives – whether religious or secular – to justify violent acts of terror against state institutions as well as defenceless civilians, the first attack should be made on the terrorists’ narrative and its fountainheads. In our case, if there are political and economic grievances, they should be addressed clearly by separating the genuinely aggrieved from the miscreant elements who are dancing to the tune of foreign masters. If the narrative is distorted, sectarianism should also be attacked with full force.

If the roots of the violent narrative are traced to the religious seminaries, the state should muster enough gumption to call pox on these hatcheries of terrorism. It is time we stopped hoodwinking ourselves by mollycoddling sectarianism and the madressah system.

On the external front, we need to aggressively court India and the US to impress upon them the futility of a strategic showdown with China. Diplomacy should be our first line of defence to woo Afghanistan as well as India so as to starve the sources of nourishment for our fourth-generation warriors. The British handling of the troubles in Northern Ireland tells us that armies are kept for counter-insurgencies, the police have been strengthened as a lead agency for counterterrorism and the criminal justice system is modified for the speedy prosecution of terrorists if the fourth-generation war is to be won. If we do not heed this advice, then, in Shakespeare’s words, “our entire voyage is bound in shallows and miseries”.


The writer is a PhD scholar at Nust.