Cyber Securitization: Need of the Hour for Pakistan

The Express Tribune

by Ahyousha Khan

November 24, 2017

Security ensures survivability of a state. No state in history has survived without securing itself. However, what is security for a state is debatable.

But, most states consider they are secure if their physical boundaries are intact. Nevertheless, the invention of information technology and cyberspace has considerably changed these previous notions of security by the states.

Development in Cyber Space has taken the world by storm because of its accessibility to the masses, and it is relatively economical in comparison to the other technological revolutions. Today billions of people are using cyberspace worldwide as compared to 16 million users nearly twenty years ago. Hence it is important that a state must secure its virtual boundary along with its physical borders.

Pakistan is a third world country; it is in a region that is prone to conflicts, war, and terrorism. Since its independence, Pakistan has been facing many interstate and intrastate conflicts. However, largely throughout the history, Pakistan considers security from external aggression its main security concern.

But, 21st century brought the biggest technological revolution in the form information technology. Like every other state, for the sake of globalization and to remain relevant in international system Pakistan adopted the information technology as well. Now, although, Pakistan is a developing state almost 10% of its population is using cyberspace and 8.97 % is accessing the virtual world through mobile phones. Threats to Pakistan’s national security are growing as its dependency on cyberspace is increasing. Moreover, these threats faced by Pakistan are multidimensional rather than one-dimensional.

If we are to analyze Pakistan’s cyber threat landscape, it is diverse and dynamic. It includes not only a threat of external aggression but makes a country prone to cyber terrorism and cyber crimes as well. It is true that Pakistan is located in a region where good relations with neighbors are not practiced rather regional competition based upon historical grievances is considered as a normal practice.

So, under widespread regional security practices in South Asia, the biggest threat to Pakistan’s cybersecurity is its counterpart’s constant obsession with exploiting lower levels of the threshold of strategic stability. India, with its vision of digitalization of whole nation, is achieving cyber capabilities rapidly. However, unlike Pakistan, India is aware of emerging potential threats with growing digitalization of society and is preparing itself to deter these threats by developing the policy of cyber offense in its military doctrines.

Recently, India presented its Joint Military Force Doctrine, in which India claims cybersecurity is achieving advantage against the enemy while denying it the same. It is not just the threat of cyber attack but also of cyber skirmishes that should worry Pakistan. According to estimates, 1600 websites were hacked by India from 1999 to 2008. In 2013 Norwegian based firm discovered a cyber attack known as “operation hangover” that originated from India. The purpose was to attack sensitive information and gather militant, government and corporate data.

However, the threat from external aggression is not the only threat faced by Pakistan’s cyberspace.

Terrorism has its paws in the country’s cyberspace as well. It is the biggest tool of terrorist agencies for recruiting new members. But this is not the only purpose it is serving for the terrorists as they are utilizing the cyberspace to spread their narrative also. Moreover, Pakistani government cannot ignore the threats posed by terrorist organizations to the critical infrastructure of the state. With growing digitalization of Pakistan’s society, threats originating from cyberspace are becoming a reality. Now the society is vulnerable to not only external aggressor and terrorists but also criminals, who use cyberspace domain to achieve their targets.

Thus, the presence of cybersecurity perils should not remain ignored by oblivious Pakistani policymakers.

It would be unfair to declare that Pakistan has done nothing to secure its cyberspace. There have been some measures taken in this regard by the government. However, the point of concern in securing cyberspace is the politicization of the issue. So far the policy-making institutions in Pakistan have failed miserably to project cyber insecurity as an issue of existential threat to Pakistan’s security. What is happening in Pakistan is the politicization of the issue rather than its securitization. Government is sure that cybersecurity threats are emanating from the people engaged in raising their voices on social media. For this purpose, laws have been made which eventually suppress the freedom of expression. But, what is required is the realization that cyber insecurity is the threat of national level and it should be securitized at the same level otherwise Pakistan’s national security would be at stake.

Therefore, it is important for the policy makers in Pakistan to understand the importance of securitizing cyber domain, as this is the technology that contributed 4 trillion in world’s economy in 2016 and is connecting billions of people around the world. Also cyber domain has potential to inflict damages and changes to our finite world that we hold dear and is of great importance to us.