How to win a hybrid war
Raashid Wali Janjua


Hybrid Warfare is the new fashionable big idea that connotes a war on several fronts. These fronts may range from economy, cyber, media, ideology, to military muscle. Most of the current military scholars writing about this concept conflate regular and irregular warfare as two big prongs of hybrid warfare, wherein multiple threats like ideological subversion, economic sabotage, cyber-attacks, information warfare, and diplomatic isolation are used as toolkits to condition the target for a final attack by the conventional forces. The purveyors of this idea forget the basic cleavage of power asymmetry between the two forms of warfare ie regular and irregular. The propensity to pick up an idea and apply it to an alien environment gets the better of one’s rationality when one fails to identify the limitation of two nuclear armed adversaries. No two nuclear armed adversaries have ever gone to war in the conventional arena so far; the consequences being too sanguinary to match their atavistic blood lust.

Having taken the conventional war away from the repertoire of a hybrid warrior one could perhaps better explain the nature of the hybrid war. This kind of war is sometimes referred as a fifth generation war, employing asymmetric war tactics, is a curious mélange of several stratagems aimed at dislocating the physical and mental balance of a target population. It must be clearly understood that hybrid warfare is a people centric warfare which targets people’s will to survive as per their cultural and ideological values, bringing about a physical and mental capitulation to external aggression. Hybrid warfare relies on a petri dish of ideological confusion, ethno-sectarian fissures, religious extremism, social deprivation, and socio-political polarisation in the society. External actors can only swim in troubled waters and to achieve the above end sometimes the social, political and economic environment is shaped through engineered chaos. The ways and means of engineering that chaos in simple terms is hybrid warfare.

An important historical lesson that needs to be internalised is the need for stiffening up the sinews of the state. No soft state in the history of warfare has ever won a hybrid war. A soft state essentially is an ‘anocracy’ ie a state that is in between a democracy and an autocracy. Such a state has all the symbols of democracy like electoral politics, and legislatures but lacks the substance like rule of law, inclusive liberal institutions, and a culture of public accountability. Democracies are inherently vulnerable to hybrid warfare and the weaker the democracy the more vulnerable it is to hybrid warfare. Inequality, public disaffection, and lack of social justice are an invitation to hybrid war attacks. Hybrid democracy therefore might be the most effective tool to counter hybrid warfare in a soft state. The softness of the state betrayed by its unwillingness to slay the hydra headed dragons of religious extremism, sectarian rifts, and financial venality needs to be countered through an integration of autocratic practices in governance. The heavy handed treatment of religious extremism and ethnic particularism by countries like Saudi Arabia, China, and Malaysia is the right example of hard state response against the hybrid threats that attack the sinews of the state from the shadows.

Pakistan needs a hybrid version of democracy or the assisted democracy wherein the military, judiciary and the government act as a triumvirate to govern as well as combat the insidious hybrid war threats

The Western observers, wary of Russian attempts to destabilise countries near, abroad and beyond through a broad range of subversive instruments, mostly non- military, credit the term hybrid warfare to them. As per the Russian Chief of General Staff, General Gerasimov nonmilitary means are used four times more often in modern conflicts than conventional military measures. Characteristics wise, a hybrid war is an economic use of hard power where conventional troops are conserved and the target countries are destabilised through non -military means like cyber- attacks, economic strangulation, internal discord, fifth columnist subversion, and terrorism. Hybrid warfare is population centric and ubiquitous. It is not time bound and is therefore to be tackled through a long sustained counter strategy rather than short paroxysms of violent responses. The cyber, economic, and information warfare is usually employed covertly and through proxies. In Pakistan’s case such proxies include BLA militants, TTP armed resistance, and some sectarian elements being funded from RAW, NDS, and other global intelligence agencies.

Hybrid war can only be won through an unconventional response or strategy of indirect warfare against the state and non- state actors resorting to hybrid war against Pakistan. As per Ivan Arreguin and Toft’s ‘Theory of Strategic Interaction’ the non- state actors resorting to a covert war against a state actor are likely to win asymmetric conflicts in which they employ indirect tactics. The conclusion one can draw is that the state under threat of a hybrid war needs to respond unconventionally in order to overwhelm the contending threats. As per Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom the non- state actors are like starfish with decentralised nervous systems employing asymmetric tactics against states that are organised as a spider with a central nervous system. The state counter terrorism machinery is hierarchical and centralised which cannot counter the decentralised and non hierarchical attackers that survive as sleeper cells and operate like the self- regenerating starfish fingers. In simple words the state needs the similar non- hierarchical and cellular rapid response counter terrorism apparatus like its non-state foes.

Pakistan therefore needs a hybrid version of democracy or the assisted democracy wherein the military, judiciary and the government act as a triumvirate to govern as well as combat the insidious hybrid war threats. The political consensus amongst the three centres of state power mentioned above should enable the state to shun soft state practices and adopt measures like China and Saudi Arabia to choke space for hybrid warfare. Zero tolerance for religious extremism and exemplary retribution for the violent acts in the name of religion should be the state policy henceforth. Fomenting unrest and armed rebellion in the name of sub nationalism should be dealt with firmly after ensuring all that is possible to assuage the feelings of socio-economic deprivation. Moribund counter terrorism and counter extremism institutions like NACTA should be revived and their coordination with intelligence agencies and police improved. The capacity building of the police, para military forces and the civil administration should be accorded top priority so that the areas cleared by army action are taken over by civil administration efficiently and effectively.

Government should abolish all B areas and extend the writ of law and state to all tribal territories in Balochistan as well as KP. The specious argument of bureaucracy to integrate FATA slowly should be rejected as the country cannot waste more time while these ungoverned spaces fester as suppurating wounds of crime and militancy. A war against tax evasion and corruption should be announced since these two were the prime causes of the country’s economic decline. On diplomatic front a concurrent peace initiative should be launched to parry the negative confluence of Indo-US entente cordiale against the interests of Pakistan. While making no compromise on CPEC plans, the US should be reassured by offering a win-win proposition of economic cooperation based on commonalities of interest and values. Let a thousand flowers bloom should be our diplomatic credo while going hell for leather against those waging a hybrid war against us.