Asif Haroon Raja
When I was serving as Director Psychological Operations (Psy Ops) in GHQ way back in early 1990s, I had the privilege of revolutionizing this neglected subject and upgrading its significance in the Army in a big way for the first time. The then Army Chief Gen Asif Nawaz backed my efforts. I had argued that while the armed forces prepared itself during peace time for the future war by carrying out intensive physical, technical, educational, operational and administrative training and procuring weapon systems in order to defeat the enemies on the battlefield, Psy Ops remain operative both during peace and war time to supplement war effort.
Peace time psy ops are akin to pre-H Hour artillery bombardment to soften the adversary from within. The only difference is that the bombardment is noisy and can be responded through counter bombardment, but in case of psy ops, the deceptive and pain-free stings and arrows aimed at subverting and controlling the minds are silent and invisible. It is slow-poisoning of the minds to shatter the will to fight.
Pakistan had gone through the painful experience of the 1971 tragedy in which India had made maximum use of Psy Ops to brainwash the Bengalis. It took Indian psychological operators 23 years of sustained efforts to subvert the minds of the Bengalis and make them love India and detest West Pakistan. All that time, we kept sleeping and didn’t take note of the building storm. Indo-Bengali poisonous propaganda was not countered and no effort was made to show the true face of Hindus who in connivance with the British had turned the Muslim nobility of East Bengal into servitude and had made the region the most impoverished region of united India during the British rule.
Bifurcation of Bengal and making Calcutta part of West Bengal in 1947 further worsened the socio-economic plight of East Bengal. Our successive rulers failed to address the genuine grievances of eastern province and above all to integrate the two widely apart provinces because of which the gap kept widening. The germs of Bengali nationalism were first stoked through language riots in 1953 followed by political and economic deprivations. The youth was systematically indoctrinated by Hindu teachers and professors. In the final act of the drama, Indian protégé Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was given a free hand to build Bengali nationalism and to foment hatred against West Pakistan. Once the small sized Pak military force lost the support of Bengalis, East Pakistan became a ripe apple to be plucked and it became easier for the Indian military to intervene and win the war on the East front.
After the creation of Bangladesh, RAW turned its attention towards Sindh and Baluchistan but we once again failed to checkmate subversion of the two provinces. By early 1990s, Sindh had turned into a wounded province due to urban-rural divide, while Baluchistan had gone through a full-fledged insurgency in the 1970s. RAW also had a hand in keeping the Pashtunistan issue alive and its footprints were seen in the Saraiki belt. I reminded the policy makers in the Army about the dangers of subversion and the need for a counter plan to thwart its ill effects on the society both at the Army and national levels.
Indian Psy Ops were aimed at fomenting misgivings, disillusionment, hatred, ethnicity, sectarianism, religious extremism, political polarization, intensifying love for materialism and contaminating the moral turpitude of the society, the effects of which had also seeped into the armed forces. Ultimate aim was to weaken the willpower of the armed forces to fight. All these trends intensified in the 1990s.
I was strongly of the view that no amount of tangible factors will help until and unless the intangibles are also strengthened to build up morals, patriotism and nationalism in the armed forces as well as the society as a whole that had become vulnerable to foreign subversion. I highlighted the need to create awareness about the pitfalls of this silent war in which India had gained substantial expertise. I had given a workable plan to develop defensive and offensive psy ops. Had a national Psy Ops Cell been established in 1993 as suggested by me and approved by the GHQ, we would have been in a better position to confront the ongoing hybrid war.
After 9/11, India teamed up with the US, Israel, the West and the puppet Afghan regime and launched a massive covert war coupled with subversive war to destabilize, denuclearize, secularize and balkanize Pakistan.
It is now an established fact that the US enabled Gen Musharraf regime in 2002 to expand and modernize Pak electronic media by doling out millions of dollars. Most leading media houses were purchased by foreign powers to promote their agenda of demonizing Islam, liberalizing the society, promoting obscenity and vulgarity and deflecting the youth towards life of fun and frolic. Media was misused to sell tutored perceptions, to clone the minds of the elites, foment extremism, divide the society, and breed extreme hatred. Secular-Islamic divide was widened.
Purchased proxies were used to destabilize FATA, settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. Urban terrorism was ignited with the help of Blackwater, CIA-FBI network, MQM and NGOs duly aided by their toadies.
Army, Rangers, FC and Police had to make sustained efforts from 2009 onward to rollback rural and urban terrorism but at a heavy cost and much to the grief of adversaries of Pakistan. Today, Pakistan can confidently claim that the back of foreign supported terrorist groups has been comprehensively broken and there is no network or safe haven anywhere in the northwest. Likewise the militancy of MQM has been busted and separatist movement in Baluchistan reined in.
Notwithstanding these outstanding achievements that have been acknowledged by the world, the terrorist groups based in Afghanistan in concert with their handlers, facilitators and financiers in Pakistan are still able to carry out random attacks. Nationwide Operation Raddul Fasad coupled with fencing of western border and gradual implementation of National Action Plan are taking care of these aspects adequately.
When proxy war failed to achieve its objectives, subversive war was further stepped up which is now being termed as hybrid war. It has been made more lethal by adding social media to heighten political polarization and to sharpen the existing divides and to create tensions in civil-military relations. Besides Indian water terrorism, Indo-US-Afghan aggressive tactics are aimed at creating chaos and melting down Pakistan’s economy.
The Army is neither equipped nor has the expertise and capacity to fight back the hybrid war in which electronic and social media are playing a lead role. So far, no plan has been made to counter this menace. As a consequence, the inaudible and concealed hybrid war has been going on unabatedly unchecked.
Unfortunately, the veterans have bolstered the negativity of social media. Instead of behaving maturely, in their exuberance to exhibit love for Pak Army and their parent units, they have been adding fuel to the deplorable media war between the Patwaris (PML-N lovers) and Youthias (PTI lovers), each trying to gun down the other and intensifying intolerance. The disgruntled veterans are using this platform to air their grouses and have crossed all limits of decency by going to the extent of passing filthy comments against each other. Majority which is tilted toward the PTI has been passing loathsome remarks, unbecoming of a gentleman.
As if this was not enough, they divulge information about the happenings in the combat zones. Some have been passing details about ongoing operations much before the desired details could reach GHQ. In some cases, the media received information about an incident in greater details than what was received by GHQ. On occasions, the media pressed the ISPR to confirm the information they was collected from social media and the ISPR couldn’t answer back. This has been happening since some young officers deployed in the combat zones shared information with their retired seniors, or relatives, or in the social media groups run by veterans in which hate filled articles of civil writers are also shared and lauded.
WhatsApp Groups run by retired unit officers in particular mindlessly divulge names and location of units and officers and intimate details of activities of their units. Likewise, all promotion and postings of senior officers are flashed. Senior veterans taking part in TV talk at times display their political biases and many a times have to face embarrassing situations.
No heed was paid by the veterans to several warnings issued by the GHQ. It was also learnt that India in particular had penetrated most groups. Facebook is already controlled by RAW from Pune and by the Jews. In the wake of the veterans displaying lack of sense of security and becoming a security hazard and an embarrassment for the Army, the GHQ was compelled to debar serving Army officers and re-employed retired officers from taking part in social media. Restrictions have now been imposed upon the veterans on use of WhatsApp, Twitter and Veterans Groups operative in social media. Retired officers operating groups having military signatures, or created on the basis of military affiliations such as PMA Courses, parent units, staff courses etc have been told to close them or change the title nomenclatures.
Some of the veterans have resented the move, arguing it shouldn’t be applicable to the retired officers. One by the name of Brig retired Syed Hanif Ahmed has recently circulated his vitriolic write-up on social media, terming the decision as illogical and stupid. While the saner people all across the globe are raising their voices against the hazards of social media which is dividing the families, he has termed the social media as a necessity. In his view, social media helps in keeping the family connected, and in maintaining a bond between the serving and retired officers. He forgets that this bond had been happily kept intact before the birth of social media.
In his jaundiced view, growing bondage between unit and retired officers and families because of WhatsApp has vexed the senior military leadership. To give vent to his feelings, he questions, “Are we traitors, or are doing something illogical and immoral”? So far, his identity has not been found out and it seems he is fake. In any case, the sort of language he has used is regrettable. Chairman Pakistan Ex Servicemen Society Lt Gen Amjad Shuaib has deplored it and has viewed the GHQ decision as most appropriate.
In my view, this decision should have been taken much earlier. But as they say, it is never too late. The berserk social media which has of late added another evil in the form of ‘Tip Top’, it needs to be bridled. Likewise, the electronic media which has gone bonkers, requires disciplining. Anchors have become omniscient jabbers, firing hate-filled salvos on those whom they don’t like, and trying to influence the minds of decision makers.
To effectively fight the 5th generation war, the policy makers will have to take tough measures. I reckon, plans are afoot to strengthen toothless PMRA and make it an effective regulatory authority that can put sense into wayward approach of media. There is an urgent need to ensure that all avenues of foreign funding to media houses are closed, and all anchors and journalists on the payroll of foreign agencies weeded out. Our media which has become a tool in the hands of adversaries of Pakistan should be streamlined and made into the 4th pillar of the state.
The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence and security analyst, and author of five books. [email protected]