Sub-conventional or unconventional warfare includes anything that lies between the exclusion of ‘peace-talks’ and under the threshold of war. Defence analysts and experts from around the world argue that limited conflicts are likely to cause serious threat to states in the future. The Pakistan army has finally realized ‘home grown’ militancy as the major threat to the country. The military rightly calls such low intensity skirmishes, a product of ‘foreign proxies’ in the country. Before this the focus of Pakistan army had converged at conventional warfare. Even the foreign policy of Pakistan had been overshadowed by the threat from the Eastern border. The recognition being given to non-state actors and unidentified militant groups in the border regions of Pakistan can help it to combat the menace of ‘extremism’.
Pakistan’s association with extremism, militancy, jihadist elements has fomented since it entered the war against terrorism after 9/11. This dragged the country into more complex matrices like ‘bigotry’ and ‘sectarian clashes’. What the interchangeable civilian and military autocracies failed to do for the past 65 years was the identification of root causes associated with specific extremist organizations operating within the premises of the country. Without confronting the prevalent sub-conventional threats, the army took the perilous path of assisting the United States. The implications are quite obvious today as extremism is growing at an exponential rate in Pakistan. Not only this, but our image as a country has been tarnished and distorted in an unfair manner.
Another mistake on part of our ‘defence-military strategists’ has been the strict attention to the Eastern border. Considering India as enemy number 1 wasn’t akin to intelligible defence of the country on all the fronts. In 2010, the perceived arch-rival and immediate neighbour, India also adopted a doctrine of some similar nature. Named as ‘Cold Start’ (CS), this doctrine of Indian military stressed upon countering ‘proxy war’. Mostly it was interpreted as a strategic deployment against terrorists activities unleashing from India. Even if it was, the indoctrination of such a concept was militarily correct. On the other hand, as Stephen P Cohen has perceptively highlighted that Pakistan had always negated the need for sub-conventional warfare by ‘launching a people’s war against India’. Consequently, the country failed to segregate between the conventional and sub conventional threats. It had long been engaged in attempt to comply with the ‘mullahs’ in order to defeat home grown militants. Later on, the foreign intervention found the Pakistani soil ripe for nurturing the uninterrupted extremism.
This doctrine should have been introduced earlier on when the General (retd) Pervez Musharraf left the country. It was largely during the Musharraf era that the country wavered to and fro between militancy and extremism at one end and the foreign proxy wars at the other. The latest stance taken by the military is a hopeful sign for the nation. However, the essential thing is that all the defence institutions should be on the same page for its implementation. There should be multi-prong strategy to train Pakistani army for counter-insurgency, without forgetting the conventional warfare. As Major Asim Saleem Bajwa aptly states that: “Army prepares for all forms of threats. Sub-conventional threat is a reality and is a part of a threat matrix faced by our country. But it doesn’t mean that the conventional threat has receded.” This explicitly depicts the army’s concern for non-state actors in Balochistan along with the expansion of defence from Eastern to Western borders. This approach has become more relevant after the overt raid of US NAVY SEALs in Abbottabad.
The army has signalled towards the Western threat as well while explaining the new doctrine.
Military needs to assess the immediate concerns for accoutring army men with the long-standing significance and intellectual dimension of sub conventional warfare. Historically, the lessons should have been learnt after the tragic events of 1971 when East Pakistan Rifles coupled with conspirators instigating Bengalis converted a sub conventional threat into a conventional war. But as it is said: “better late than never”