By Raashid Wali Janjua
There are two ways to fight the United States: asymmetrically and stupid — H.R. McMaster
Asymmetric warfare was a precursor to gray-zone warfare. It was a concept that had its origins in antiquity when a weaker adversary usually challenged a superior adversary through tactics and stratagems that rendered the superior adversary’s strength irrelevant.
The classic duel between David and Goliath is emblematic of asymmetric tactics when a mechanically savvy David rendered the muscular strength of Goliath irrelevant with a slingshot that targeted the giant’s eye instead of his superior sinews.
Guerrilla warfare also originated as a response to the conventionally unassailable strength of a superior adversary and was actually an asymmetric form of warfare. A form of warfare that was once employed as a preferred mode by the weak against the strong metamorphosed into a gray-zone warfare in the nuclear age where the ultimate weapon of destruction rendered the conventional warfare untenable, especially in the presence of two protagonists in the conflict equation brandishing nuclear weapons.
When American nuclear strategist Bernard Brodie wrote, “Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on, its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose”, he was referring to a new reality in the realm of warfare. This new reality gave rise to Cold War wherein the nuclear deterrence prevented conventional conflicts but gave rise to 45 years of “Gray-zone warfare” characterised with proxy warfare, guerrilla wars, terrorism, alliance politics, economic destabilisation, espionage, and subversion.
The US strategic alignment with India to counter the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative is the basic reason for the conflict and chaos in South Asia
After the brief unipolar interregnum, that gave a spurt to low intensity conflicts as resistance tools to the might of the sole hyper power of the world, the multipolar world gave rise to a new Cold War along with the concomitant gray-zone wars in regions of interest to the dominant global powers. It is in the context of this new gray-zone warfare that the unrest in the subcontinent can be explained as a conflictual concomitant of Sino-US rivalry.
The US strategic alignment with India to counter the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative is the basic reason for the conflict and chaos in South Asia.
This warfare is also called guerrilla geopolitics by scholars like Mark Galleotti of Institute of International Relations at Prague, and is currently being practiced by several nations in pursuit of their strategic interests.
In this form of warfare, a controlled chaos is created in the target country usually through non-state actors remaining well below the conventional war threshold so as not to attract the response of international community.
Russian intervention in Ukraine, Iranian influence in Middle East, and the US involvement in Afghanistan — with its spill over effect in Pakistan — are some of the examples of this new form of warfare.
This warfare is fought in five main domains i.e. physical, cognitive, information, economic and social. How is this warfare being imposed on Pakistan? In the physical domain, Pakistan is being subjected to low intensity warfare in areas contiguous to Pak-Afghan border by religious terrorists like TTP and ISIS and in Balochistan by ethnic sub nationalists like BLA and BRA. Of late sectarian terrorists like LeJ in Balochistan have also been stoking fires of sectarianism by attacking Shia Hazara community.
Pakistan’s Army is being tied up on two fronts, i.e. Eastern and Western, through cross border violations on LOC and frequent forays by Afghan militants from across the Durand line on the Eastern front.
For the first time Pakistan’s worst nightmare of the two-front nutcracker situation has come true as a consequence of a tacit collaboration between India, Afghanistan, and USA.
USA on its part had done its bit to woo Pakistan away from China but Pakistan knowing fully well the strategic significance of the Sino-Pak CPEC cooperation refused to play ball choosing a neutral stance between the Sino-US rivalry.
Pakistan therefore is paying the price for its principled neutral stance in pursuit of its economic and political interests. Since a nuclear Pakistan cannot be subdued through the conventional war a debilitating gray-zone war has been imposed upon it to bleed it with a thousand cuts.
Pakistan’s armed forces are in their 15th year of low-intensity conflict having incurred more casualties than all the three major wars, i.e. the 1948, 1965, and 1971 wars. The cross-border terrorism and externally abetted internal insurrections are exacting a heavy toll on human and material resources of the armed forces as well as the country.
The second prong of the gray-zone warfare is the cognitive domain where the minds of population and armed forces are targeted through propaganda, deceit, and narratives undermining the beliefs, morale, and mental resilience of the target audience. Instilling defeatism through information warfare targeting the minds of soldiers and the citizens is one such strategy.
The civil-military discord by driving a wedge between the military and the civilians is also an example of above. The Dawn Leaks episode and subsequent friction between the military and the civilian government were ideal grist for the rumour mills aiming to destabilise the state. Coupled with above the economic warfare, aims at squeezing the country economically through IMF pressure and denial of capital for vital development projects.
Trade wars and promotion of corruption are some of the tactics used to keep Pakistan economically insolvent. In the social domain, ethnic, cultural, and sectarian fissures are exploited cleverly to keep the population divided and mired in internecine conflicts. The soft power of the country is eroded through attacks on our symbols of cultural pride like family values, religious institutions, and heritage choking avenues of healthy intellectual discourse.
The not so infrequent eruptions of religious frenzy on the issue of blasphemy and sectarian antipathies are cleverly engineered by external agencies that are adept at tying several strands of gray-zone warfare together. Economic, social, physical, information, and cultural elements are weaved in place to keep the pot of managed chaos boiling, with a view to break our national will, to pursue our vital national interests.
What then is the antidote to this imposed chaos through a hybrid or a gray-zone war? The answer lies in taking control of our reality while the enemy strives to alter that reality. In order to achieve that objective the state needs to strengthen its sinews and shed the mantle of a soft state. Improvement in governance through a rule based governance and strong national institutions is de rigueur for economic and social progress. It is time we shaped our reality through better planning and governance rather than cursing those who seek to alter our reality for their nefarious ends.
The gray-zone warfare imposed upon us by external forces while exploiting our weaknesses can only be won through a unified national response. The national unity requires a disciplined approach and a synergetic marshalling of national resources to combat internal and external forces of instability. The dangers confronting us ask for an out of box solution to our political, economic, social, and security problems. If some of these solutions point towards pitch forking of our Westminster polity in republican terrain our democratic purists must not baulk at such efforts.
Faced with existential perils to our national survival like droughts, insurgencies, economic insolvency and irredentism we at this crucial juncture need to be ruled by the best, through the best policies, in the best disciplined manner. Whatever system of governance helps us achieve the above needs to be adopted immediately as we do not enjoy the luxury of time.
The writer is a PhD scholar at NUST and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org