by Ahyousha Khan
It is to be said that Nuclear weapons are the legacy of a 20th century and cybersecurity is the challenge of 21st century. With growing, digitalization and amalgamation of cyberspace in defense and security are new threats coming into being. Developing states like Pakistan are so engulfed in their traditional and conventional threats that emerging issues, has failed to capture more significant attention. But for how long these issues with the potential to be a threat can be ignored. Can Pakistan afford this kind of ignorance where threats are increasing by leaps and bounds? Furthermore, threats and security concerns don’t occur in a vacuum rather they interact in the presence of variables like national policies, international or regional scenarios, and many others. By interacting with other variables threats either resolved or become more complex. However, one thing is for sure that state cannot surpass these issues without solving them.
Cybersecurity is emerging as new threat and states are yet in the process of making a framework to address it. But, as discussed above that cybersecurity risks are also emerging in the presence of a lot of other factors. One of the significant factors in case of Pakistan is its nuclear capability and deterrence acquired through it vis-à-vis India. India-Pakistan is practicing arduous task of deterrence to reduce their security dilemmas. Deterrence has enabled both states to refrain from going to an all-out war because of the unbearable costs. But it doesn’t mean that all is peaceful between both states. Many conflicts are ongoing, and border skirmishes are daily routines between hostile nuclear neighbors of South Asia. The alarming fact in case of India-Pakistan is the realization that though nuclear threshold is not crossable there are levels below it, and they should be explored. One of the potential levels below nuclear threshold could be of cyberspace.
With recent news of banning of access to social media in public office due to detection of India plans to launch cyber attacks signifies that India can explore this domain in future. Contributing factors facilitating Indian attack on cyberspace of Pakistan could be rapid militarization that is raising stakes to go for an actual war. Secondly, recent doctrinal development- joint forces doctrine, cold start doctrine- in India indicates desperation to develop countermeasure against threats below nuclear threshold. Indian joint force military doctrine declares cyber power “is the ability to use cyberspace freely and securely to gain an advantage over the adversary while denying the same to him. Under the light of this definition, India’s future ambition is to strengthen its offensive cyber capability to seek more and more advantage. Lastly, a most significant factor that could enable Indian exploitation of Pakistan’s Cybersecurity is lack of security measures in the cyber realm by Pakistan itself.
Term cybersecurity is all hush hush matter in Pakistan. Public debates never entail this diverse and complex problem as a society is rapidly moving towards digitalization. According to estimates, almost 16 million people were using the internet in Pakistan at the end of the year 2014-2015, and this number is increasing day by day. Mostly when it comes to the securitization of issues, Pakistani Policymakers wait till some catastrophe unfolds and then develop solutions to it. But, if India is sharpening its tools in the cyber domain can Pakistan just sit around. Rather than waiting and developing counter strategies against Indian ambitiousness why not think and prepare ourselves for future Indian plans, this way not only our deterrence will work at larger level but lower levels as well.
It is important for Pakistan to securitize its cyberspace imminently because otherwise communication system working critical infrastructure, financial systems, and the conventional system can become a target. However, the possibility of a cyberattack on strategic assets could be consequential regarding the escalation of cyber conflict into a war. Going to an all-out war is worst case scenario what is more plausible is cyber skirmishes between India and Pakistan. Affects of such skirmishes will be more lasting than border skirmishes as they have the potential to cause disruption and disturbance on a larger scale.
At present, due to lack of Cyber securitization at the societal level, Pakistan’s cybersecurity is penetrable. In cyber attack mostly enemy try to steal critical information or disrupt critical national infrastructure to create havoc and panic. It is ideal tool between two nuclear, heavily armed opponents as it provides anonymity to an attacker with available option to decline any linkages with the attacker. So, to secure its cyberspace Pakistan need to securitize its cyberspace imminently. At the moment, what Pakistani government is trying to do with cyberspace is its politicization. This will not serve the national interest in the face of emerging Indian Cyber capabilities. It is a matter of the fact that securitization of cyberspace would not be easy due to claims of violations of human rights and democratic norms. But, there is no other option available to Pakistan.
Like many other technological innovations in the realm of security, cybersecurity is also a grey area. States cannot afford to leave this grey area open for an enemy to exploit, disrupt or destruct just because state as a physical entity is not damaged.