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India’s Hybrid, Cyber Threats And Its Regional Implications – OpEd

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Hybrid threats are designated as a swing from a traditional force model to an approach which combines kinetic and non-kinetic tools in a deliberate and synchronized campaign to destabilize and gain political leverage over an opponent. However, Hybrid warfare is widely understood as a blend of regular, irregular, information and cyber warfare. After the nuclearization of South Asian region, there has been a growing realization within the Indian military that a conventional war could be both untenable and cost prohibitive. Such conception gave rise to hybrid war under the rubric of nuclear weapons as the preferred strategy by India. 

One can observe the evident growth of hybrid warfare in the Indian strategy of pressuring Pakistan through media, subversion, cyber warfare and diplomatic maneuvers aimed at its isolation. Doval doctrine is the clear evidence that India has already strategize against Pakistan. India’s hybrid warfare strategy against Pakistan is built on five major fronts around Pakistan’s perceived weaknesses to achieve the “3D Objectives”. 3D indicates the Destabilization, Demoralization and Disintegration of Pakistan. This doctrine furthermore includes five more fronts under the regime of hybrid threats which are proxies, information war, cyber warfare, economic war and political war. The stipulated objective is weakening of Pakistan to the extent that it accepts Indian hegemony in the region. 

India is proficiently using hybrid-warfare capabilities to pursue its objectives in South Asian region since the end of Cold War. Nevertheless, Islamabad has been resisting New Delhi’s endeavors to establish its hegemony in the region. India has been frequently violating the Line of Control. Within the military domain it is against the law and not allowed to launch fire on the civilians’ working or moving near the border during the peacetime. India always tries to defame and malign the image of Pakistan by manipulating and misguiding international media. By the end of March 2020, a RAW funded group caught in Karachi University fueling anti-state activities including terrorism and anti-state narrative propagation against Pakistan. Although Pakistan very efficiently embarks upon curbing India generated conspiracies, such type of activities being carried out, increasing hybrid threats pose serious security concerns for Pakistan.  

As stated above, hybrid threat involves cyber warfare techniques as assisting tools of hybrid techniques. Cyber threat is another hazard in South Asian region to be handled and manipulated to win advantages over enemy. New technologies are quickly integrated into both nations’ strategies; utilizing cyberspace has become a useful tool for both India and Pakistan. Cyberspace has become a space where hacktivists and patriotic hackers from both sides can express their patriotic feelings and denigrate the adversary. Cyberspace also acts as a means for Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs), which are groups that hold highly probable links to state institutions, to spy and gain information on their opponent. Technologically number of the cyber-activities observed in the India-Pakistan rivalry showed that even with relatively unsophisticated cyber-tools, APTs managed to steal information and achieve their strategic goals. Actors involved in the cyber activities and operations carried out between India and Pakistan in cyberspace used a variety of cyber tools and techniques to achieve their aims. Hacktivists and patriotic hackers used specific tools to find vulnerabilities in websites, and then exploited them to deface the site. APTs tended to use spear phishing to get access to their victim’s network and then infect them with spying malware.

Rising Security Research Institute in 2019 has captured the attack launched by the internationally renowned Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) organization “Rattlesnake” through the Rising Threat Intelligence System. This time, the organization had targeted the Pakistani Navy via Target collision hijacking method. Specifically targeting the Pakistan Naval Public Relations Bureau, the attempt was aimed at stealing vital information from secure military networks while planting misleading documents masquerading as official statements from the Pakistan Navy regarding its regional neighbors such as China and India. Based on such threats, Pakistan must be readily prepared for any kind of cyber espionage and take steps towards establishing a strong national cyber policy to protect its civilian and military infrastructure.

Hybrid/cyber threats operates below the threshold and it has deepen it’s in roots in South Asian region especially in Pakistan. War had never been smooth since its early times but hybrid war threats employ different tools in engaging low intensity conflicts which mainly include cyber threats along social disintegration, political and economic subversion. Senator Mian Raza Rabbani stated in 2019, that ‘this is a hybrid war. We need to understand it correctly.’ In hybrid warfare, the purpose is not to always achieve an immediate victory; sometimes the purpose is to demoralize it over time. Pakistan is already having a deteriorating economy and it needs to steadily address the causes that are providing leverages to conduct hybrid operations in Pakistan and leaving long term hazardous effects in form of weak economic conditions, political and social instability. Pakistan must formulate a national hybrid threats response policy to tackle and dissolve the hybrid threats posed by India. Whereas in the cyber domain Pakistan should emphasize more on indigenously developing its own cyber security industry so that in the near future it could benefit both its civilian and military infrastructure in the long run. Hence, while Pakistan may be limited in its ability to wage a strong offensive campaign within the realm of cyber warfare at the moment, such steps would go a long way in helping lay the foundations to build something greater on.

*The writer is working as Research Affiliate at Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad, a nonpartisan based out of Islamabad.


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