INSIGHT AND FORESIGHT

February 9, 2015

THE VIRTUAL WARRIORS

Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 4:38 am

Warfare in the early and mid-20th Century was tri-dimensional fought on land, air and sea. Intelligence operations usually supported conventional warfare. Psychological operations were limited in scope, tiring in execution, had propaganda content and focused on breaking the will of the adversary. After the Second World War, the use of fifth columnists and spies behind the enemy lines faded away. During the Cold War, intelligence operations assumed significant importance. Technology reduced reliance on manpower while ‘Real Time Information’ deprived decision makers of the luxury of a time lag. This necessitated formation of decision making structures to reduce clutter and increase cognitive controls. Two new dimensions to conflict management were added: the integrated battle space and the virtual battle field. These additions have exponentially expanded the battle space as also the capability of the ‘other’ to wrest control of hearts and minds.

The ideological frontiers of nation states have shrunk and multiple internal fronts opened. This new dimension of warfare warrants a reorganisation of battle lines beyond the conventional. This dimension besides profiling organisations and individuals also collects information that is collated and animated to create psycho-social fissures. Nations not only have to fight it effectively but also have to launch cyber counter offensives and ripostes to remain relevant. This warfare no longer needs a declaration. It is right there in the office desktop, laptop and the smart phone. Computer technologies, applications and backdoors provide real time surveillance on movements, friends, preferences, likes, dislikes, trends, habits and the list goes on. The cyber sentry watches in real time.

The grasp of integrated military operations is easy. The virtual battle field complicated. It is invisible, omnipresent, alive and ongoing. With the internet, cyberspace has invaded every household and handset. It is now possible to shape environments through remote control and expand the canvas of warfare an expanding spectrum. Beyond conventional media, the power of social media through internet, smart phones, social websites and chat rooms play their role in shaping perceptions, opinions, narratives and decision making. The art of the rationality of threat perceptions has moved beyond the conventional international politics, to framing individual minds to a level of irrational thinking. The role of cyber non-state actors is invasive, unseen and cost effective. The Kautilyan saying that “An archer letting off an arrow may or may not kill a single man, but a wise man using his intellect can kill even reaching unto the very womb” assumes more logic. Human innovation has taken the science of cognitive controls to hitherto unknown levels. Even life styles can be controlled.

Though USA, Russia, Israel and China were quick to occupy the cyberspace on internet covertly, the British are perhaps the first to declare that they are re-raising the legendary 77 (Chinta Brigade). This time instead of the British Indian units of the 8 Punjab Group (now in Pakistan), this force will comprise individuals with prowess over internet and social websites wearing the same badge. These unseen soldiers will surf the social media, frame perceptions and collect data on perceived enemies, everyone and everything. According to renowned security analyst Ikram Sehgal, “reviving the 77th Brigade as a new generation of Facebook Warriors to wage complex and covert information and subversive campaigns, the British Army will use the irregular World War 2 concept in a variation adapted to fit modern warfare.” This means that these warriors will project communicative images and themes whose perceptions they will frame and control through cognitive psychology and vulnerabilities of each individual and group.

What are bound to emerge over a period of time are new interest groups, partisans and activists with agendas controlled by the invisible and beyond control of nations; hybrid nationalists to be apt. With their identities hidden and no spectre of physical vulnerability, there are no mechanisms to control the venom these non-state actors can spew against the national interests.  If WikiLeaks and Snowden are any measure, it will be criminal neglect to sleep over the innovative realities of these developments.

Pakistan’s fault lines run through the seams. Parochialism, sub-nationalism, religiously inspired militancy, influence of Arab and Western value systems, cash flows; three tier educational streams, political cartels, business cabals, human rights records, ethnicity, civil rights groups and marginalisation of minorities all provide a happy hunting ground for gold hunters. Pakistan with its divisive politic body and divergent narratives is most vulnerable to virtual warfare. Faulty narratives propagated through state controlled mechanism and educational curriculum are already under siege. The state lacks capacity and credibility to produce viable and sustainable counter narratives. When the state does not enjoy credence, where non-state actors spew contrarian narratives and where too many fault lines exist, it will be a feast for sophisticated cyber warriors and political backdoors to shape and control an environment.

Therefore, it is no wonder that a nation unified on the tragedy of Peshawar massacre dissipated its resolve rather quickly to react to the crises in unison. The entire National Action Plan is evaporating in thin air. The government through a tacit consent has displayed no urgency to tackle terrorism by its horns. Military courts are now controversial. Religious parties have drawn lines based on divides. Bars and bench are divided. Some segments of civil society are vibrant against Lal Masjid and Mumtaz Qadri but chose to stay away from Army Public School vigils. Others though vitriolic against Charlie Hebdo or Maulana Abdul Aziz chose to ignore the significance of Kashmir Day. Military is seen as supporting proxies and Kashmir for its corporate interests. Liberal segments perceive Kashmir to be a non-issue serving the purpose of military elites. Twisting of facts on core national issues is endemic, eroding Pakistan’s power potential by each day. Lies become the truth and truth the casualty of vicious campaigns. Pakistan is a case study where private and social media have gone out of the control of the government. They pick and choose themes at whims sometimes against the core national interests of the state. All above mentioned themes are visible on facebook, twitter, tumbler, blogs and multimedia sites. Beyond the visible are spywares and backdoors.

Pakistan as a country is living through day to day. There are no visible efforts to correct the wrongs of the past or to realign the present with the national interests. Practically every core group has its own agenda and narrative to subdue its critics and opponents. Through the unchecked invasion of the cyberspace, it is others who are fast assuming control over national debates and issues. A cellular density of over 73% and over 30 million internet users exposes majority of Pakistanis to virtual warriors. The high illiteracy makes majority of the population vulnerable to themes, propaganda and subversion.

It is high time the government wakes up to these threats.

Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson. Email: samson.sharaf@gmail.com

http://nation.com.pk/columns/07-Feb-2015/the-virtual-war

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