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The bogey of Fifth Generation Hybrid War

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

Human beings are distinguishable from other animals because of one reason — our ability to intellectualise everything, from procreation to violence. Organised violence or warfare has been one of the main preoccupations of humanity’s thinkers. We read Clausewitz and Liddelhart and think the entire world is neatly stacked into singular monolithic identities where one state or political entity is trying to overwhelm another state or political entity. With the coming of the digital age, the idea of war in the minds of the would-be Clausewitzes and Liddelharts of our time has undergone a paradigmatic shift. Now even social media posts are an act of war.
The military leadership in many countries, including Pakistan, seems obsessed with this idea. The postulates of this odious new conception are that nation states are forever trying to overwhelm other nation states. Strangely enough, this bogey first found credence when unable to accept that an outsider like Donald Trump won the presidency fair and square, the American political establishment conjured up attacks directed by the Kremlin. Instead of dealing with the very real issue that populism poses to democracy, the entire burden was shifted on one country with an evil strongman conspiring to create chaos in the west. Everything from Brexit to Trump’s unexpected victory were laid at Putin’s door. Yes, Putin is a strongman with an abysmal human rights record as well as a profound disregard for international law, but I am afraid no one country or group of cyber-trolls can swing an election. Trump’s victory was all but apparent to anyone who bothered to look at the mood in the rustbelt.
Coming back to the point, our militablishment insists that Pakistan is a target of such tactics. In addition to their belief that there is a war being waged against Pakistan with active connivance of people within the country, the Pakistani military also describes itself as the centre of gravity (COG) in Pakistan; another entirely sincere but misguided belief. This is a curious term borrowed from US Army stratagems (based on Clausewitz’s theory), which means a “source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action or will to act”. Having appropriated for itself this term, any dissent or criticism aimed at the military is automatically seen as a challenge to the state itself. There is no doubt that Pakistan’s military is an important component of our state power. However, there is always a problem when you make the military the COG of any country, because that means that it can be easily dislocated. Not deprecating the importance of Pakistan’s armed forces and indeed our nuclear capability, the real COG of Pakistan can and should only be the Constitution, Parliament, National Government and the will of the people. The military should only be a part of the National Government, just as the superior judiciary has a role to play in the interpretation of the Constitution.
Yet, this idea did not originally emanate from the GHQ. It was US policy makers dealing with Pakistan who initially floated this narrative. A lot of this had to do with the Super Power’s interests during the Cold War. The specific need that they were responding to was having a dependable ally in a restive Asia. They found it in the Turkish and Pakistani militaries. The civilian politicians in Pakistan were considered too unreliable for any sort of long-term cooperation. After the Cold War the tables were turned but this thinking persisted. Today we have hilarious self-styled experts like Christine Fair who still hold on to the idea that Pakistan’s COG lies in Rawalpindi except that now this military is seen as an enemy. Thus the automatic presumption is that Pakistan sans its military led by a civilian government will be a pliant state that would be kept under check. False. Pakistan’s elected governments have historically proved to be less pliant than military governments. The Parliament’s refusal to send troops to Yemen was a case in point. A military regime would have happily sent its troops to fight in Yemen.
Those who want civilian rule and expend great energy on social media agitating about it are not our enemies, nor are they foreign agents. They want a truly strong civilian led Pakistan with the strongest military possible, albeit subservient to national interest. Yes there should be peace with India because the country cannot afford perpetual enmity with a bigger neighbour. This is not a foreign idea. The idea that the relations between Pakistan and India should be like US and Canada comes from Jinnah himself. It was Pakistan’s founding father who said that we would have a South Asian Monroe Doctrine. So why is this idea so repulsive to our policy makers?
This idea that we are in midst of a Fifth Generation Hybrid War is a misnomer, and the evidence it is based on is flimsy. As Imran Khan takes oath this week as Pakistan’s civilian Prime Minister (PM), he will be handicapped by the fact that he will come into power with the smallest majority in our history. As such, he is beholden to the establishment in more ways than one. Should he attempt to lead from the front and try to re-assert civilian dominance and shifting the COG back where it belongs, Islamabad, we are likely to see the bogey of Fifth Generation Hybrid War being played up again. Political expediency therefore would dictate that business as usual would prevail in Pakistan at least for the foreseeable future.
If the military leadership truly feels there is a Hybrid War being waged against us, it must act against the actual threat, the Jihadis and Mullahs unleashed on the once moderate Muslim populace of this country. They are our Achilles heel, the cause of much misery, chaos and international isolation, which we will increasingly face going forward.