The next generation of warfare, the cyber war, can not only disrupt data-links, electronic devices and networks, but can also create panic by use of the social media as we witnessed in the mass exodus of people of North-East from Bengaluru, Hyderbad and Pune recently.
The Pakistani Military Establishment, including ISI, is frustrated with its inability to create problems in Kashmir and the lowering of intensity of insurgencies in the North-East. They feel that in spite of their best efforts, these areas are slipping out of their hands permanently.
The Pakistan Military lost major wars with India. To offset such losses, they started a proxy war through covert means with the help of export of terrorism. Despite every effort, the proxy war also appears to be failing, as India moves on.
Now with the help of their Irregular Forces consisting of the jihadi groups, it has decided to create havoc with the help of internet and the social media.
First, their websites culled out photographs of violence and disasters from different countries and morphed and uploaded to show violence against Muslims in Myanmar and Assam. Second, they used SMS messages through their sleeper cells in India to circulate threat to all the North-East people working in major cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune Delhi etc. The result was that there was mass exodus from these cities due to the threat posed in these messages.
In other words, Pakistan successfully used the next generation warfare, i.e. ‘Cyber War’ and managed in creating a false perception of insecurity amongst the people from the northeast, as well as spread of disaffection.
Unfortunately, the Indian intelligence agencies, the local police and the government at large were fairly clueless. The result was almost half a million people in panic left for their hometown in Assam. The government response was pathetic – it lodged a protest with Pakistan. Rehman Malik as usual, rejected the Indian protest and asked for proofs for investigations. The usual Pakistani ploy!
Did any Indian, except those in the government, expect any other response from Pakistan? In the past 65 years, Pakistan has never accepted our legitimate concerns and yet New Delhi, to gain time and avoid criticism, ‘passed the buck’ once again.
In peacetime, if an adversary can with ease manipulate perceptions with the help of cyber space, just imagine the danger that India faces in times of war. The fly-by-wire fighter aircrafts can be neutralized. Missiles instead of firing on the enemy can be redirected to destruct within.
The electricity grids can be disrupted and that will create mayhem from hospitals to airports. Fake orders can be passed to military units as also nuclear strategic command. The television transponders can be imposed with false news to create panic in the country. The subverted networks will bring to halt the bank transactions. The jamming of telephone lines can leave the civil government and the military blind, and the people gasping.
The result will be rumors, panic, and chaos.
The only successful defence in any war is offence, whether it is conventional, overt or covert or cyber war. The enemy will always use the next generation warfare, i.e. cyber war as the first instrument to neutralize us before it launches its military forces. The cyber war will be used to soften the target, just like artillery is used by the Army.
Government’s policy therefore should be based on twin principles, namely that India’s cyber army should be able to defend networks, data links and electronic devices, and at the same time launch counter attack on the enemy.
India fortunately boasts of a young demographic profile, which is IT savvy. Therefore, New Delhi can raise one of the best Cyber Armies in the world. The answer does not lie in shutting down the social media as demanded by many ignorant, but in wielding the weapons of the 21st century in a far superior fashion that can outwit the adversary.
Bharat Verma, a former Cavalry Officer is Editor, Indian Defence Review. He frequently appears on television as a commentator, and is the author of Fault Lines and The Indian Armed Forces
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Courtesy Indian Defence Review