Pakistan’s adversaries are unleashing a ‘full-spectrum war’ on us. Pakistan’s adversaries are moving from kinetic military actions to non-kinetic military actions. Yes, “war is now conducted by a roughly 4:1 ratio of non-military and military measures.” A ‘completely benign or peaceful action’ is “white”. A ‘clearly hostile action seen as an act of war’ is “black”. Anything and everything between the two is “grey”.
Pakistan’s adversaries are unleashing at least ten distinct ‘grey-zone operations’ against us: financial operations; digital influence operations; perception operations; lawfare; information operations; network operations; public opinion operations; media operations; psychological operations and cyber operations. Pakistan’s adversaries are undertaking potentially hostile actions while trying to ensure that these very actions are not seen as hostile.
There is no real blood on Pakistani streets but that does not mean that Pakistan’s adversaries are not trying to bleed Pakistan. There is no blood on Pakistani streets because Pakistan’s adversaries are using ‘weapons of mass distraction’ as opposed to ‘weapons of mass destruction’. There is no blood on Pakistani streets because Pakistan’s adversaries are using ‘information operations’ as opposed to ‘destructive operations’.
There is no real blood on Pakistani streets but make no mistake a more dangerous war is on. There is now an ‘undefined battlefield’. This is ‘war beyond rules’. This is a fusion of ‘regular’ and ‘irregular’. This is an expansion of the battlefield. This is integrated use of military and non-military. This is a 24/7 war and the human mind is the new battlefield.
‘Grey-zone warfare’ employs ‘multiple instruments’ to target ‘specific vulnerabilities’. Grey-zone warfare targets ‘societal functions’ with a ‘synchronised use’ of ‘multiple instruments’ for ‘synergistic effects’. There are now at least five instruments of war at work: military, political, economic, civilian and informational.
‘Grey-zone attacks’ at times use proxy forces that are deniable. ‘Grey-zone attacks’ employ ‘economic coercion’ and deploy both social and political instruments of war. ‘Grey-zone tactics are knowledge-based. Grey-zone threats are “perpetual and unpredictable”. Grey-zone attacks aim at harming the target without actually going to war.
Grey-zone activity also includes ‘digital influence operations’ whereby the ‘attacker’ goes through identity deception, employs persuasive techniques and uses the internet as a platform to ‘attack’ his ‘target’. The ‘attacker’ leverages both facts and fakes while the ‘target’ is often unaware that he is under attack.
Grey-zone activity also includes political operations where coordinated campaigns are designed by one state to impact one or more specific aspects of politics in another state. Red alert: political polarisation within Pakistan is at its highest ever and our ability to defend against political operations is low.
To be certain, “technology will play an increasing role in how nations adapt their existing capabilities to fit the way in which adversaries now behave.” In order to counter this ‘grey-zone warfare’ Pakistan needs new skills and new equipment. The first thing Pakistan needs to do is to map our ‘capability gaps’.
We need to be able to identify the origin of the threat and the challenges it presents. We need to create an ‘information advantage’ – and develop ‘cyber resilience’. We must learn how to use emerging technologies to counter ‘grey-zone threats’. To be sure, an integrated grey-zone special operations force is the key to defend Pakistan’s interests.
PS: a grey-zone attack is underway in Kazakhstan.
The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad. He tweets @saleemfarrukh and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org