How to protect CPEC from Hybrid Warfare?

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Dr Muhammad Munir and Ayesha Urooj

In spite of multifarious challenges Pakistan and China have been successful in completing first phase of CPEC mainly focusing on energy and infrastructure projects. The second phase of CPEC relating to industrial development in Pakistan including modernization of Gwadar port is under discussion and initial implementation. As per long-term plan by 2020, CPEC would take an initial shape addressing major challenges to Pakistan’s economic and social development and boosting economic growth for both countries. By 2025 it is expected that most of the CPEC projects would be completed with   industrial system fully operational contributing to socio-economic development of Pakistan. The smooth implementation of CPEC and Pakistan’s success in the war against terrorism are two game changers which are not liked by enemies of Pakistan.

There is a series of subversive activities undertaken by the hostile agencies particularly from India and Afghanistan. There are several groups and individuals who are operating as agents in theHybrid Warfare against Pakistan by the Hostile Agencies. Some of these groups include Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and Baluchistan Liberation Army. Pakistan Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa has time and again securitized that Pakistan had been subjected to various threats especially during the last two decades. He added that these days Pakistan is confronting with hybrid warfare where focus is shifting to subversion on religious, sectarian, ethnic and social issues. This needs a comprehensive national response. He emphasized the need to show a greater responsibility to ensure that all the people especially youth stay aware and steadfast against propaganda onslaught launched through soft offensive.

Attempt to attack Chinese Consulate on November 24, 2018 is part of Hybrid Warfare. The experts believe that the purpose of this attack was to create tension in Pakistan’s relations with China especially in the context of successful visit of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mr Imran Khan and both countries signed fifteen agreements. Both countries are also expanding the scope of CPEC to make it more meaningful cooperation. Both sides are making efforts to refute the propaganda against CPEC. Another objective of this attack is to motivate Baloch youth for protests against CPEC. If we analyze the statements given in various videos by BLA leadership, the focus is to make propaganda that Pakistan and China are plundering the resources of Balochistan. From these statements one can easily reach to a conclusion that some foreign agencies especially Indian RAW is involved in the training of these insurgents. These militants have links both with NDS of Afghanistan and RAW of India. The names of these militants were on lists of missing persons. The fact of the matter is that most of missing elements are actually not missing but go on training abroad mostly in Afghanistan.  The attempt to attack Chinese Consulate in Karachi was planned at a time when the Baloch insurgency was at low ebb and it was an effort to revive Baloch insurgency on the directions of their foreign masters on the pretext of Baloch grievances. It is shocking to know that first time the militants from BLA were trained for suicide attacks. It was an effort to make Chinese feel insecure in Pakistan. The preliminary investigations conducted by Pakistani security forces have revealed that the attack was designed by banned terrorist organization Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) and facilitated by the Indian RAW. These attacks put the statement of General Bajwa into perspective. The leader of Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) Harbiyar Marri and 12 other members of BLA have been accused in the case of attack upon Chinese Consulate.

Previously several efforts were made to put pressure on Pakistan either by blaming it on terrorism, making it weak economically, denying it military and economic aid, Indian refusal to have a dialogue with Pakistan and stopping the SAARC process to isolate Pakistan through US South Asian Strategy, putting pressure through IMF and several other mechanism were used to sabotage the progress on CPEC. Hybrid warfare is a military strategy that employs a blend of kinetic operations and subversive efforts to destabilize an adversary. It may also be defined as a non-linear or non-traditional war. The Army chief is right about the multiple security challenges the country is facing. Being in the midst of intense geopolitical conflicts has made Pakistan increasingly exposed to wars that are non-linear. The Hybrid threats not only emanate from religious extremism, but also from political and economic deprivation amongst the ethnic communities in Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and even in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The lack of development, poor access to health and education and joblessness are generating frustrations that boil over into violent state defiance.

Many believe that the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) was also part of Hybrid Warfare. The Movement which formerly was known as the Mahsud Tahafuz Movement, created a lot of problems portraying itself as a social movement for Pashtun human rights, based in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Definitely it has some support from some hidden hands such as CIA and NDS. The Movement rose to prominence in January 2018. During its protests it raised slogans against Pakistan Army and the State of Pakistan. Pakistan has talked the situation in a very careful way and by using some innovative ways weakened the strength of the group.

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) a religious party also created great problem for Pakistan’s economy because of its sit-in at Faizabad, Islamabad. In its recent sit-in/processions against the decision of Supreme Court of Pakistan on the issue of blasphemy against Aasiya Bibi. TLP leadership used very ugly language against Pakistani leadership. According to some sources, this group is getting aid from various foreign sources. It is good to note that on November 19, 2018, a massive crackdown was launched against the TLP ahead of its planned November 25, 2018 protest to mark the one-year anniversary of when it shut down the Faizabad exchange in Islamabad. The security experts are of the view that TLP is linked with hostile agencies and they have recommended to the government to ban TLP as a political party and Chief Justice of Pakistan has taken notice against this party and has asked the Election Commission of Pakistan to cancel registration of this extremist party.

The hybrid warfare makes it difficult to locate enemy as it wages war through non-state actors. It is the enemy beyond borders. It may use cyber, ethnic, religious or any section of the society to cause anarchy and unrest and the country thereby achieving its goal in the long term. Propaganda warfare and economic warfare are also part of hybrid warfare. There is a need that our security agencies, academia and think tanks create awareness on these issues especially CPEC-related propaganda and adverse activities of non-state actors. There is also a need to address the grievances of local population through development governance and enhancing employment opportunities for the locals in the CPEC projects.

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