Pakistan’s asymmetric advantage in the post-Pulwama information battlespace3 minutes read

Read the full piece: Asif Ghafoor: The Gerasimov of South Asia

Cyber analysts like me have been this envisioning this scenario since a decade: how the South Asian flashpoint would manifest itself in the cyber-enabled information battlespace.

If there’s one inter-services directorate that is as lethal as the Inter-Services Intelligence, it’s the Inter-Services Public Relations. I know, I know — most of you would balk at my comparison. Hear me out:

People like me have been studying the pivotal role played by the ISPR in massive, counter-Cold Start mobilisations like Azm-e-Nau (and other Pakistani exercises unknown to the public).

The ISPR’s manoeuvring in the post-Pulwama escalation has been sharp and very efficient. While most of what it’s doing is textbook infowar (denial, deception, etc.) — benignly called perception management — what really unnerves me is the inherent asymmetric advantage which ISPR has. Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, its incumbent DG, is a big proponent of 5th-generation warfare (I am in the process of profiling this amusing character for an opinion piece).

Unfortunately, the political establishment in Pakistan is a dud: the escalatory and de-escalatory ladders oddly and scarily fall fully under the military. Pakistan’s geopolitical imperatives from an international security context get undermined by this fact. On the other hand, international relations have been the overarching backbone of India’s response to Pulwama. And rightfully so, it’s the Ministry of External Affairs that has been tasked with communications. That’s where the natural asymmetry arises from.

Thankfully, we have seen little or no action in the information battlespace. But due to the said advantage, the ISPR could easily weaponise its mandate to wage a full-frontal cyber-enabled information offensive. This is something the Indian national security principals may need to be wary of. Our domestic environment is ripe for exploitation.

Also read: A sneak peek into the Pakistan Army’s cyber tradecraft.