The imposition of Hybrid Warfare is one of the biggest National Security Challenges faced by Pakistan in the contemporary times. A strong component of a multi-dimensional hybrid warfare strategy is information warfare, which includes dissemination of propaganda via disinformation, building narratives and public opinion and battle of perception. Information Warfare does not only involve physical battlespace but also includes engagement in logical battlespace. Dr. Shen Weiguang, a Chinese expert on Information Warfare believes that the motive of information warfare at a broader level is forcing the adversary to surrender by gaining information superiority over it. The recent Indo-Pak standoff that pitched the South Asian nuclear powers against each other, involved an intense perception battle, which evinces the need for Pakistan to invest in its information resources.
Perception Battle in Indo-Pak Crisis 2019
In the recent conflict, Pakistan managed to win the perception battle in phase of escalation post February 27. Lt Gen (Retd) H S Panag, a former general officer of the Indian Army, admitted Pakistan’s victory in the perception battle stating, “We were being informed about what had happened by the DGISPR in Pakistan rather than our own spokesperson…I would say in the last 60 hours, we have lost the perception battle, hands down!”. The International Media conformed more to the Pakistani narrative; enhancing the credibility of the Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces.
Notwithstanding the fact that Pakistan was able to perform much better than adversary in the battle of perception, the absence of Pakistan’s international English news broadcast channel was felt during the entire crisis. Pakistan has an English News Channel known as PTV World but not only the channel is not international but also does not meet the standard of domestic audience. While the enemies are bent on exploiting Pakistan’s weak links and portraying them to tarnish the country’s reputation worldwide, the Islamic Republic remains unable to provide a rebuttal to the propaganda. The reputation for the country can only be won by realistic projection of Pakistan to the world which has hitherto been confined to the appreciation vlogs of foreign tourists.
The US Designs
A negative pattern of interaction can be observed between Pakistan and the United States of America ever since president Trump assumed office in 2017. While Washington has been blaming Islamabad for not being sincere in Afghanistan at least for the last ten years, President Trump relegated the ties to a new low with a tweet he started his new year in 2018 with,
The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 1, 2018
Despite the offensive tweets by president Trump, Washington kept pushing Islamabad for brokering peace between the Afghan Taliban and the United States to ensure US withdrawal from the impossible terrains of Afghanistan. The American military establishment, for sure, understands Pakistan’s ability to rescue United States in Afghanistan and this is why the cooperation has not yet breathed its last. In December 2018, Pakistan brought Afghan Taliban on the table for direct talks with the US officials in UAE. In February, the two parties met again with Pakistani assistance in Qatar, making some advancement on solving the puzzle.
However, despite all the cooperation that exists between the two militaries and the intelligence agencies, things appear to be going South. This new hostility owes a great deal to how President Trump views Pakistan, and its quite evident that the Islamic Republic is seen as a state providing “safe havens” to terrorists and doing “nothing”. Pakistan was added to grey list of the Financial Action Task Force after a US launched diplomatic assault in July 2018. In February this year, the US State Secretary Mike Pompeo accused Pakistan for ‘harbouring terrorists’ and provided full endorsement to the Indian narrative.
The United States spearheaded the campaign against Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons in the past and is still engaged in such an endeavour. From declaring Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons ‘safe and secure’ to ‘threat for US’, the stance keeps swinging in Washington. In a recent statement regarding Pakistan’s Nuclear Programme, the US State Secretary Mike Pompeo declared Pakistan’s Nuclear Programme one of the five major threats to US National Security. The US dissatisfaction with the Pakistani nukes is deep-rooted and Washington keeps manifesting it intermittently. The fears that Pakistani nuclear weapons might get into the hands of rogue militants or Pakistan will sell or transfer its nuclear technology to other countries are often projected in US and Western Media. A Hollywood Movie G.I. Joe Retalliation (released in 2013) went as far as depicting de-nuclearisation of Pakistan.
Notwithstanding the loss of more than 70,000 nationals and $120 Billion in war against terrorism, the United States keep on alleging Pakistan for having connection with the militants. The Inter Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s premiere intelligence agency, is depicted in the West as some rogue organisation working on behalf of the militants despite the fact that it has been collaborating with the CIA in arrest of the most crucial members of the Al-Qaeda. A former CIA Officer Michael Scheuer described ISI as a very professional organisation in an interview to Al-Jazeera and shed light on the Western propaganda against the agency stating, “I also think that its only in Western minds, especially American minds, that you can expect intelligence service of a foreign country to do something counter to its own interests.”
The Indian Propaganda
The Indian propaganda against Pakistan can be dissected into two mediums, first being the print and electronic media that is involved in generating fake news and disinformation. Second being the film industry called Bollywood that keeps churning out Anti-Pakistan films throughout the year in order to depict the Islamic Republic as a terrorist state responsible for killing Indian nationals including soldiers via proxy war.
The first needs credibility to play convincing role at the International level, which it lacks to a great extent, as mentioned earlier. However, it is good enough for local consumption and it played a vital role in generating war hysteria among the Indian masses in the recent standoff with Pakistan. A sheer campaign of disinformation, which was witnessed and criticised by the International Media, is critical in shaping the Indian public opinion both in favour of the India’s ruling BJP and against Pakistan which is declared ‘a terrorist state’ on the news channels.
The second is a huge industry with millions of fans across the region, particularly in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Srilanka and Afghanistan. Its anti-Pakistan films have a great impact on many people residing in South Asia, whose opinion is influenced by Hindi movies. Excluding Pakistan, whose people do not buy the propaganda against their state in the films but enjoy the songs and stories, the films are shaping a very negative image of Pakistan in the minds of Bengalis and Afghans. A recent exposé of Bollywood actors showed dozens of artists willing to post messages on their social media accounts, in support of the government or the opposition. The report reveals that the actors are a part of propaganda campaign aimed at praising the government by creating an ambience of hatred and antagonism against Pakistan.
Victory Against Terrorism
There was a time in Pakistan when terrorism was the biggest national security threat to the country. In 2009, the insurgency piqued, when terrorists infiltrated into Pakistan Army’s Headquarters in Rawalpindi and held many soldiers hostage. However, it was the Army Public School attack in December 2014 by the terrorists which mobilised Pakistan Armed Forces for a joint military offensive in North Waziristan, an operation named Zarb-e-Azb. The operation brought a decisive victory for the army that managed to clear the last terrorist resorts in North Waziristan.
Today, Pakistan can confidently state that the forces of terrorism in the country have been defeated, with no terror sanctuary existing on the soil and a dramatic 90% reduction of terror attacks in the country. However, despite the phenomenal Pakistani success in the war against terrorism, some forces both within and without are bent on portraying Pakistan as a ‘safe haven of terrorists’ and a ‘state sponsoring terrorism’. The anti-Pakistan propaganda is aimed at denying Pakistan the gains in actual battlespace by flooding unreal information in logical battlespace. Pakistan is a target of information warfare and a comprehensive strategy, incorporating assessment at all levels, is necessary to fail the objectives of the adversaries.
Unlocking Pakistan’s Potential
Pakistan has a huge potential of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and tourism which can generate revenue for the country and contribute to its economic uplift. The country is a home to around 200 Million people, including a huge middle-class, which makes it an attractive market for the investors. The country is ranked 136 of 190 economies, in the 2019 Ease of Doing Business report. It is noteworthy to mention that Bangladesh stands at 176 and is still enticing more foreign direct investment in comparison to Pakistan because of the propaganda against the Islamic Republic at international level, mostly by the Western Media. Similarly, Pakistan was ranked among top 10 coolest places to go in 2019 in Forbes, an American business magazine. However, the tourism industry of the country is still struggling due to the negative propaganda against the state in the West.
Pakistan needs an International English News Channel to counter the propaganda being disseminated against the country both by the Eastern neighbour and the Western News channels. The campaign to bring Pakistan in bad light is attempt to keep Foreign Direct Investment and tourists away from the country and can only be responded via a powerful mass medium projecting real image of Pakistan. Its not the credibility that our media lacks but the capability to project the message louder and across the region. The Information Ministry needs to understand that mere official twitter account compete with the misinformation being spread against the state of Pakistan and there is a need to go on air Internationally with innovation.
The ISPR has a major role to defeat the propaganda against the military which is the guarantor of peace in the state. It needs to create documentaries and short films in English for International Audience to clear the misconceptions and doubts regarding the army. It also needs to cover various themes simultaneously to successfully counter the designs engineered by the anti-Pakistan forces. The institution managed to establish information superiority over India in the recent standoff but the competition will be harder in the future, especially with the emergence of a counterpart in India whose idea was announced in the on-going month in New Delhi.
The government of Pakistan needs to equip the youth with the skills of tackling propaganda particularly fake news by running specific programmes including internships for the students. The Pakistani youth has been doing a fabulous job at defending the reputation of the country over the Internet but there is a need to spearhead the counter propaganda. The students already are very active on the social media and a bit of awareness, sponsored by the government, can channelise their energies towards painting a positive image of the country.
Pakistan is a target of information warfare that aims at destabilising the country from within and damaging its reputation at international level. Psychological operations including demoralising the Pakistani Nation as well as negative propaganda against the state, the nation and the institutions is alarming as it effectively blocking foreign direct investment and tourism in the country. The need of polishing the capabilities and skills to project convincingly has become even more evident after the recent Indo-Pak standoff. A war won in battleground can be lost in logical battlespace and this is exactly what the adversaries are attempting against Pakistan. The country needs to take strong counter-measures in order to defeat the nefarious designs, unlock its real potential and emerge as a great power on the International stage.
About The Author
Abubakar Farooqui is the brains behind Rationale-47. He Studies International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. His areas of interest include National Security of Pakistan and International Politics, particularly of Afghanistan and Middle East. He tweets @AbubakarTweets
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Rationale-47.