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Sunday December 03, 2023

Information warfare

February 06, 2022

The new battlefield is the Pakistani mind. To be certain, Pakistani minds are under attack. Pakistan’s adversaries are doing two things: manipulating narratives and generating fake news. Pakistan’s adversaries are managing two things: information and communication technology. Pakistan’s adversaries are trying to gain a competitive advantage and attain information superiority. Information warfare includes information operations, psychological operations and influence operations.

To be sure, there is a ‘conductor’ conducting this information warfare against Pakistan. The ‘conductor’ first collects information, manipulates it and then disseminates it through a platform. What is most important is that the ‘conductor’ conducts information warfare without the target’s awareness. Between the ‘conductor’ and the ‘target’ is the platform. The platform is either cyberspace or the electromagnetic spectrum (television, radio) or both.

The ‘conductor’ of information warfare has three ‘targets’ in Pakistan: individuals, organisations and systems. There are three dimensions: physical, informational and cognitive. The ‘conductor’ conducts information warfare against Pakistan with three goals: to demoralise the target; to manipulate the target and make the target take decisions that are in the interest of the ‘conductor’ – and all this without the target’s awareness.

The new battlefield has nothing to do with tanks or fighter aircraft. The new battlefield is about “artificial intelligence and machine learning in targeting each other’s information systems and communications platforms.” Three questions: Are information operations an act of war? Is an information operation an armed attack under international law? Can an information operation trigger a military response? Well, an information operation “that falls below the threshold of damage and destruction that a kinetic event would impart” will not be considered an armed attack under international law.

There are no tanks, no missiles and no artillery. But Twitter-bombs are being thrown at us (the planting of thousands of similar messages at once using fake accounts or bots). Social media has been weaponised to “shape public opinion, mobilize supporters, coordinate military activities and collect information for targeting purposes.”

This essentially is the deadly side of social media. Yes, if you are connected to the internet you are in the battlefield. The goal is to exploit our minds and our values. The goal is to exploit existing fissures in our society, our economy and our politics. This in essence is a non-military tool that targets the Pakistani mind in order to achieve military objectives.

The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) recommends three steps to countering information influence. Prepare – raise awareness, build trust and assess risk. Act – choose your response, fact checking and social media. Learn – describe, reflect and share.

Our adversaries want to do three things: ‘cause political chaos, weaken our international alliances and sow discord’ among Pakistanis. Are we prepared for the new battlefield? Do we have the ‘below-threshold’ training? Do we have the ‘below-threshold’ capability? We need to develop technical capabilities to 'filter and control the internet'. We need to “harden our online borders”. We need an ‘information monitoring system’ that automatically searches – and filters – content on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. We need to work towards our ‘internet sovereignty’.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad. He tweets @saleemfarrukh and can be reached at: farrukh15@hotmail.com