Pakistan and Cyber-Terrorism – Mohsin Durrani

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Cyber-politics on the international level is evolving, complex, and dynamic in scale and scope; it is also increasingly diverse in its various modes and manifestations[1]. Until recently, traditional international relations theories generally focused on state interactions in the social and the organizational contexts. Traditional theories of conflict were also state-centric. Once upon a time, it was assumed that adversaries were known, and that power and capability were the critical drivers and that decisions and policies could reduce the prospects for war or, conversely, accelerate the antagonizing behavior. But not anymore.

In recent years, we have seen the emergence of non state actors in international relations[2]. If we consider terrorism and other forms of non-state violence, the state is no longer the actor of the first and last resort. The instruments of the state are delinked from the capabilities or identities of individuals and aggregates thereof. In such cases, the focus shifts away from the state to encompass other levels of analysis. In situations of this sort, traditional theories will carry only modest analytical and explanatory power perhaps even limited policy relevance, when the conflicts and contentions take place in the cyber domain.

Despite differences in cyber access, as well as in uses of cyberspace, there is considerable creativity in the manipulation of this new space for political purposes, be it State or Non-State. While many states try to control access to connectivity and others seek to control access to content, both the range of political expression and the volume of participation in cyber venues are on the rise. In all political systems, regardless of the degree of participation, the formation of a critical mass for political action is usually contingent on interest articulation and interest aggregation. Cyber access facilitates both the aggregation and the articulation of interests, goals, and preferences.

Terrorists have learned to use cyber capabilities to their advantage; many of the most prominent groups and the lesser ones as well have an established presence in the cyber arena, and their usage patterns appear quite sophisticated. In recent years, they have recognized the potential of cyber access to provide instant communication and anonymity. They have also realized its potential for psychological warfare and for political recruitment, mobilization, training, fundraising, and even instructions on how to build a weapon to behavioral tips on how to conduct surveillance, assassinations, and sabotage. Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, the United States and Israel have robust and indigenous cyber warfare capabilities[3] and Pakistan being a front line state in the war on terror has been found lacking. According to Edward Snowden, “Pakistan was the second most targeted country in terms of surveillance, in the world” [4]

It can legitimately be argued that cyber terrorism can be seen as a form of information warfare in which political messages and counter messages are expressed in violent ways. Cyber politics may well have amplified the significance of terrorism by several orders of magnitude. The nature of the discourse and the very existence of cyber communication and expression is highly politicized in democratic societies, especially when civil rights come into conflict with state efforts to intercept communications and disrupt terrorist networks.

Not unrelated to the above is the increased strength, ingenuity, and resilience of various forms of hackers, not formally designated as terrorists and their seemingly unlimited ability to bypass state regulations. The creative strategies of cyberspace “vigilantes” involve moves and countermoves as they attempt to undermine regulations that are perceived as devoid of legitimacy. The media needs to differentiate between local criminal attacks and actual terrorist attacks[5]; they need to define what terrorism is. Nowadays the word is thrown out way too much (the western rhetoric of ” Terrorist if Muslim, Criminal if Black and Mentally Disturbed if White comes to mind”) creating a disproportionate image of terrorism; it breeds fear and panic. It also motivates other attention seekers to use similar stunts to gain attention for non-terrorist motives. In the absence of alternatives, the tendency is for states to deploy in cyberspace policy responses that regulate interactions in traditional international relations, and then to apply the same instruments and measures. Indeed, the degree of fit or misfit between the real and the cyber may itself create a new set of challenges to theory and policy generated by configurations of cyber politics and the quest for coordinated action in the search for order in international relations, in real and cyber terms.

More complex, however, is the nature of politics, in real or virtual domains, when the conflicts and contentions are about defining the issue area itself and the value of the stakes. In such cases, the political discourse is about the very nature of the mechanisms for defining value and for its authoritative allocation. If the contours of an issue are obscure, then clarifying meaning and value becomes the core of the contention. Far from being a matter of semantics, this definitional phase is fundamental in shaping the playing field in terms of power and influence countering terrorism in all forms.

Cyber technology plays a vital role in the promotion of online radicalization and terrorism in Pakistan. Online radicalization is the common factor in all visible trends and patterns of sectarianism in Pakistan. The changing aspects of such trends are different in conventional radicalization but same as in online radicalization in Pakistan. Cyber terrorism has made its place in terrorism quite rapidly and makes the security issues more complex and harder to tackle. To adopt a strong counter cyber terrorism policy and mechanism, it is highly necessary for every state to form its own security measures[6]. Cyber terrorism is the one of the major threats to every State of the world. Nations not only have to be prepared conventionally and in the nuclear aspect but also non-conventionally in cyber security. Cyber technology is promoting online radicalization in the Pakistani society and provides the space for terrorism in Pakistan. Nighat Dad, director of the Digital Rights Foundation and a cyber security expert, says“Our departments lack expertise to counter extremist content online. “There is a need to improve coordination with corporations like Facebook and Twitter to take down extremist and hate content.”[7]

How the media forms a symbiotic relationship with terrorism is interesting. Terrorism provides the media with emotionally exciting and violent stories which sell news products by providing terrorists with the means of spreading their message and creating fear among the public. With the advent of the internet armed smartphones, Terrorists are able create horrifying images and videos to further their Propaganda, which is broadcast extensively. Brian Jenkins, in this regard, says, “Terrorist attacks are often carefully choreographed to attract the attention of the electronic media and the international press. Terrorism is aimed at the people watching, not at the actual victims. Terrorism is a theater.”[8]

The media is an important channel for influencing mass public opinion. In order to ensure that the freedom of press is not harmed, the Media houses among themselves need to come to consensus as to what qualifies as news that does not conflict with national security matters in any way or form. A well-articulated and thought-out citizen friendly piece legislation that strengthens the existing laws need to be passed on an urgent basis. There is a need for establishing a central command center that has representation of all concerned civilian and security agencies and can focus on enhancing Pakistan’s Cyber-Military strength against internal and external threats. The government, military, and the private sector must come together to develop a framework for securing the country’s critical infrastructure from cyber attacks. Financial markets, the electric grid, nuclear weapons, and other physical and cyber assets must be secured in a consistently ever-evolving future-proof system from threats both local and international, physical and cyber[9].

The author is a CRSS Research Fellow












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