Lt Gen AKS Chandele PVSM, AVSM (Retd)
We are today in the era of fourth generation warfare which is characterised by the emergence of an increasing number of non-state actors in the form of terrorist and fundamentalist groups. The possibility of conventional conflict between nations is progressively decreasing. Rather than overt aggression, nation states may resort to proxy wars through such organisations, covertly supporting and encouraging them.
Globalisation envisages the free movement of goods and people across nations, creating porous borders and providing relatively free movement to clandestine groups. Accurate maps are freely available on the internet to enable them to plan their movement. The internet and excellent mobile communications permit terrorists to link up and coordinate their activities. Because of the vast volume of traffic, real-time monitoring and deciphering is near impossible. As population increases, jobs and resources become scarce, and urban areas, particularly those which are overcrowded and inhabited by poor, become fertile breeding grounds for recruiting terrorists. Post attack, they can then mingle in the crowd with ease, with little fear of identification.
Weapons and ammunition including shoulder-fired rockets and missiles are easily available. Lethal improvised explosive devices with a variety of triggering mechanisms can be fabricated with relative ease. There have been instances of use of biological and chemical weapons such as gas. Also, there is the possibility of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) reaching their hands in the not so distant future. Transportation systems like metro and railways, markets, cinemas, theatres, places of religious worship, provide soft targets. Public utilities such as water, electricity and gas supply, communications, stock markets etc., can be physically targetted.
But physical damage and destruction of life and property is not the only way in which such organisations or nation states are capable of causing harm. Most banking systems, energy grids, including nuclear, pipelines, communication and transportation system are vulnerable to cyber attack with the advantage that the aggressor can neither be easily nor conclusively identified. There is no formal declaration of war.
The past decade has seen a phenomenal increase in social media networks and their reach to all sections of the society. These networks can easily be utilised by groups both to spread their political, ideological and religious beliefs, and also to target the ideological and religious sentiments of their adversaries. Rumours can be spread using the internet, mobile phones and other communication devices. They attack what is most vulnerable – the minds of the target population, and this can cause panic and hysteria, which may be extremely difficult to counter and control. India has recently had a brush with such a situation. No borders were violated, yet we were under attack. Are borders becoming irrelevant?