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September 24, 2020

Hybrid warfare tyranny

Opinion

September 24, 2020

A report 'Spy Versus Spy' on a race to gain a vaccine edge (The New York Times of September 7, 2020) discusses an interesting facet of global diplomacy. The report reminds me of the ignominious diplomatic game often played between India and Pakistan when diplomats are labeled as spies and are physically harassed before expulsion. It has never been the supreme national interests alone that would exclusively determine the decision to declare a career diplomat as persona non grata (PNG).

The world has changed. The nuances and science to deal with inter-state relations have changed accordingly. Diplomacy is not what it used to be but diplomats remain as valuable as in the past. However, their diplomatic domain has embraced new fields clearly aimed at stealing a march in diplomacy over an adversarial state. In fact, intelligence hackers and researchers tend to steal a march on them. Clearly because this new breed of diplomats are tied in a serious struggle on how to beat their competitors in areas crucial to the primordial position of their country in the global community. Diplomacy may still be a glitzy pursuit for some but it must be bear in mind that now countries need efficient diplomats rolled all in one – a researcher, communicator, persistent and adept negotiator, social navigator and a suave gentleman/woman.

World history is full of instances where the efforts of spies have brought about changes in the geography of countries, ensured the fall of condemned monarchs or governments and even caused wars. In this game, principles, rules, ethics, and personal relations do not outweigh the objective. Those who choose this calling ought to be of a very special breed, infused with determination and commitment to die unknown and unacknowledged by the sending state. In the post cold-war era, the tactics developing countries used to access military, industrial and nuclear technology from developed countries through friendly exchanges of experts, students and innocuous university visits, have now become the norm in diplomatic discourses and operations of the industrialized and developed countries.

The spread and scope of clandestine and open efforts to gain intelligence have expanded and it is now difficult to fully imagine the depth of operations hostile countries indulge in an informal hybrid war. No field is a taboo, no activity is evil, and no refrain from the objective is acceptable. The worst is that it never ends. Further, the target country never comes to know precisely that it is being targeted. When it discovers, it is already under attack from another angle.

For instance, in the context of research for a coronavirus vaccine, stealing, bribing, misuse of lawfare are all being considered legitimate policy instruments in diplomacy. Now in the age of disinformation, fake news and targeting unsuspecting youth, inimical states are deeply entrenched in this game to win a war without deploying soldiers. For them it is an affordable war, both in terms of material costs and mortality risks.

At the public level, awareness of such a war is negligible, understanding is shallow and in official circles scepticism reigns about its influence on individuals and the society. If we follow social media in Pakistan, it looks like we are in a mode of denial. The majority view is that we overate security concerns emanating from our hostile state. We hardly see the invisible hand as an enabler in bad governance in Karachi, exploiting mistrust in the state's ability to deliver and raising questions about the credibility of the judiciary and rule of law etc.

As a nation, we at best focus on the bigger traditional domain of insurgency and terrorism. We see a foreign hand in traditional concerns of diplomacy, both related to military and financial dealings. There is an urgent need to know the ground realities. Now, the most powerful in a country is not the elected persons or high officials working in the government but unelected social media gurus. The spread includes one person with a smart mobile and the knowledge of how to use social media tools. Their power and influence is beyond the control of a state. Unfortunately, Pakistan has been a breeding ground for hybrid wars to undermine its entity by inimical forces that would not hesitate to go to any length to prevent stability and security in the country for it to achieve economic and political stability. What could be the remedy? While there is no option of surrendering to the will of the enemy, we cannot expect our friends of all shades to fight our existential wars, all the time.

Pakistan has numerous strengths and positives. Its people have great potential. Its diplomats are committed and skillful. But the hybrid warfare against Pakistan will have to be fought at multiple national and international levels. The first and foremost priority should be to shore up our internal defence. Secondly, Pakistan will have to shed the obtaining sense of complacency that its friends would bail it out every time in crisis situations. Third, it may be painful but we need to de-clutter our foreign policy basket. Fourth, we must nurture the most valuable flower in the basket and be seen doing so.

The nation has to know the priority of the state in order to own it as the most valuable asset to fight for. Without this sense of commitment to the state and not the government of the day, it may not be possible to bridge the rift raging within citizens and with the state on the one hand and between the civil and military leadership on the other. The political landscape in the country may look calm but beneath the surface the cross currents are fierce and destructive. They will not subside because of our good intentions. Right policies and actions at the right time are essential to show results. Public support to frustrate the ongoing hybrid efforts of the enemy against Pakistan may not be forthcoming in a desirable manner unless the government takes them into full confidence as a real stakeholder.

The writer is a former ambassador, political analyst and advisor to CRSS, an independent think tank.

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