Generational Warfare for dummies: Pakistan’s inefficiency to understand and tackle

By: | Muhammad Ali Azlan |



The concept of four “generations” in the history of modern warfare was created by a team of United States analysts, including William S. Lind, for the purpose of an argument for “the changing face of war” entering into a “fourth generation”.

First-generation warfare refers to Ancient and Post-classical battles fought with massed manpower, using line and column tactics with uniformed soldiers governed by the state.

Second-generation warfare is the Early modern tactics used after the invention of the rifled musket and breech-loading weapons and continuing through the development of the machine gun and indirect fire. The term second generation warfare was created by the U.S. military in 1989.

Third-generation warfare focuses on using Late modern technology-derived tactics of leveraging speed, stealth and surprise to bypass the enemy’s lines and collapse their forces from the rear. Essentially, this was the end of linear warfare on a tactical level, with units seeking not simply to meet each other face to face but to outmaneuver each other to gain the greatest advantage.

Fourth-generation warfare as presented by Lind et al. is characterized by “Post-modern” a return to decentralized forms of warfare, blurring of the lines between war and politics, combatants and civilians due to nation states’ loss of their near-monopoly on combat forces, returning to modes of conflict common in pre-modern times.


Discussing fifth generation warfare (5GW) makes me think of this quote from the Bible: “I beheld, and lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled.”–Jeremiah 4:25. This defines 5GW, non-contact warfare in the present context. Since Sept. 11, 2001 the U.S. has performed more than 500 targeted killings on identified terrorists using armed unmanned aircraft.

In global intelligence agencies, the term fifth generation warfare is already used, and it means using false information, and directing it to achieve certain goals for particular countries at the expense of others. There are a number of ways of doing this; however, one of the most notable ways in which this is accomplished is through the use of media.

In fifth generation warfare, intelligence agencies cooperate with terrorist groups to coordinate and disseminate terror. The terrorist groups bomb a building or kill a civilian, and then the intelligence agency broadcasts photos, videos, and information about the number of martyrs.

The media is a tool of fifth generation warfare that depends on airing false or falsified information, designed to enrage public opinion and shake confidence in the government and the president for a number of outside parties: agencies, countries, groups, or the highest bidder.

Fifth generation warfare moreover depends on the rapid dissemination of news due to social media networks, whereby negative stories are exaggerated and played up in an attempt to inflame the public.

So, how do we confront this type of warfare?


Firstly, it is necessary to organise the media to ensure more accountability.

Also, it is necessary to develop state media tools that broadcast in either the domestic or international sphere.

Another way to face fifth generation warfare is to expose the old tainted faces of the media and hold them accountable.

We must lay foundations that do not change, even if the government changes, to deal with the media system for the next 50 years.

Lastly, we must take swift decisions because the correct decision at the wrong time is pointless.

Information Warfare

The role of media and information is a most essential tool for gripping power, and implementing policies in today’s world. Everything depends on how people perceive things. Negative and positive perception can be molded by cultivating information as shear propaganda or white propaganda, thereby achieving changes in behavior of desired targets.

Hebrew websites and magazines have been focusing on Pakistan, by organizing close to inconceivable situations regarding vulnerability of Pakistani nukes, and the possibility of their falling into Al-Qaeda hands.


India has set up a gigantic workforce of authors on the internet, and is as yet expanding its quality. Essential undertaking of this workforce would be to wage propaganda war against Pakistan, and its atomic weapons and military. Israel is pursuing an internet based disinformation and psychological war against Pakistan for a long time now. Hebrew websites and magazines have been focusing on Pakistan, by organizing close to inconceivable situations regarding vulnerability of Pakistani nukes, and the possibility of their falling into Al-Qaeda hands., and Arutz-7s Hebrew news magazine are a few to name among these media outfits where Israel is spewing venom against Pakistan.

Cyber Warfare

It is the kind of non-kinetic war, in which attacks can disable servers, websites and networks, cripple financial systems, steal classified data, hack into enemy servers, and disrupt essential services. In certain aspects, cyber warfare is complex, more penetrating, and detrimental to the national security than conventional warfare. It is fought on the cyberspace using weapons like cyber espionage, web vandalism, gathering data, Distributed Denial-of-Service Attacks (DDOS), equipment disruption, attacking critical infrastructure, compromised counterfeit hardware, virus and worm release.


From Pakistan’s perspective, unlike any other conventional threat, cyber warfare is rather a new battle field. Pakistan is not geared up for battle against this latest threat, whereas India has all the resources to use this as a weapon against Pakistan. In the aftermath of the recent offensive operations in Myanmar, India would wage this war as a reinforcement tactic to expand their concept of blue navy.

Soft Power

It is a term, which was coined by Joseph Nye – an American political scientist to describe the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce, and often using money as a means of persuasion. The tools of soft power are values, ideologies, culture, policies and non-governmental organizations. Soft power can be converted into Smart power.

In certain aspects, cyber warfare is complex, more penetrating, and detrimental to the national security than conventional warfare.

The use of soft power from India, and its conduct of diplomacy are well fabricated and well-articulated. India has captured the world’s notice through its concepts of spiritualism, yoga, movies and television soaps, classical/popular dance and music, sports, cuisine, plural society, principles of non-violence, and democratic institutions. Ironically, Pakistan is in the shadow of Indian soft power, making it vulnerable to this power, giving a psychological edge to India.

It is only over the past decade or so that India began to play its soft power cards more systematically. India is utilizing their soft power to support larger foreign policy initiatives, such as, the Look East Policy (now Act East), the Connect Central Asia policy, and developing strategic aid and trade partnerships in Africa. Pakistan should avoid jumping on the bandwagon, and rather focus on their cultural diplomacy and soft power, so they can outmaneuver Indian outrageous aims.

Creative Chaos Theory

Creative Chaos theory was given by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Existing chaos is either exacerbated or chaos is deliberately engineered to distort public perceptions, cultivate favorable space and environment in pursuit of envisaged policy objective. Middle-East, and in specific Iraq is considered true manifestation of creative chaos theory, which is basically a subset of non-kinetic theory.

As regards Pakistan, hostile actors have been engaged in creating chaos, and endeavoring to destabilize the social fabric and economy of Pakistan.

As regards Pakistan, hostile actors have been engaged in creating chaos, and endeavoring to destabilize the social fabric and economy of Pakistan. The most important aspect of this war in Pakistan is that, different state and non-state actors are involved in organized crimes to create chaos regarding non-lethal components having a matrix of DIME (Diplomacy, Information, Military and Economics).


Pakistan is in a transition phase; projections expect to finish the discrimination between good Taliban and bad Taliban in quest of peace and security. The new situation thus requires an expansive consensus within Pakistan’s political streams – a step critically important for the country’s rejuvenation in the aftermath of ‘war on terror’. Pakistan has encountered a massive destruction in its territory due to non-kinetic/fourth generation warfare. There is great emphasis on the quest for security and stability, but without revisiting and re-fabricating the fault lines of the country, it is unachievable. These fault lines are explained below in detail:

Ethnic Issues: The first fault trend is extreme violence in FATA, where terrorism is associated to geographic location, thereby demonizing the entire ethnicity. In addition to this, drone attacks in FATA have strengthened this fault trend, and are changing the perception of people of FATA against the Federation of Pakistan.

Civil Military Tensions: The second fault trend is the civil-military relationship as it is used to create intense social divide between the civilian population and military of Pakistan on the basis of military incursions into civilian’s space.
Political Issues: The third fault trend is political strife, which is generated domestically in Pakistan, and is cultivated from grass root level to the highest level. Best example is recent rigging in elections and the Islamabad sit-in.

The Centre-Federation Issues: The fourth fault trend is a perception of institutional decay related to state-run organizations, such as PIA, national railways, electricity, oil and gas. There is a constant threat of implosion as state institutions collapse. There is also a constant questioning of the credibility of the Pakistani armed forces and paramilitary forces to be the only legitimate actors able to use force in Pakistan.

Sectarian Issue: The main fault trend which leads towards violence and insurgency is sectarian issue between Shia and Sunni community. It’s a rational target of NSA’s for creating instability in the region.
External Pressures: A major fault trend is external pressure from the United States of America. No matter if it is the case of Raymond Davis or a simple pay back installment of IMF, the external pressure is always exaggerated in Pakistan.

Religious Issues: Another most important fault trend is Pakistan’s religious issue. Since Pakistan was created on terms of Islamic ideology, this fact has been high jacked and exploited by religious radical groups; especially the often misinterpreted concept of Jihad by extremists has created a negative ripple effect. Collectively, there has been a dangerous onslaught on the Islamic identity and ethnically pluralistic nature of the state of Pakistan, not to mention the socio-economic divide between different segments of the country that have led to a constant struggle for a well-defined social, cultural and strategic identity of the state of Pakistan.

All of these fault trends are the prime target of hostile networks and NSAs who aim to increase vulnerabilities, and set the institutional implosion process in motion.

It is clear that non-state actors are no longer mere proxies of a state, but the prime threat. Fourth and fifth-generation warfare are post-Westphalian in the sense that they mark the end of a nation/state’s monopoly over violence.

Fifth-generation warfare has further blurred boundaries: What is a battlefield and what is not? Who is a combatant and who is not? Which is a weapon and which is not? If you take the war to the militants in North Waziristan, they will bring it to the urban centers. If you attack throat-slitting brutes, they will attack 14-year-old school children. While you ponder over the legality and reasonability of the use of airpower and heavy artillery, they will brainwash youngsters to blow themselves up amongst unsuspecting civilians.

Fifth-generation warfare has further blurred boundaries: What is a battlefield and what is not? Who is a combatant and who is not? Which is a weapon and which is not?

Pakistan shows all the signs of the onset of 5th Generation Warfare and this war can only be won if dire measures are taken, and out of the box solutions are conceived by the government involving all major institutions and stake-holders, and the first and foremost initiative that can be taken in this regard is to chalk out an effective national action plan (NAP). Media, social media, information technology, psy-ops, counter propaganda are all weapon systems, ways and means of non-kinetic warfare, and Pakistan has to excel in all this if it wishes to weather the storm of 4th and 5th generation warfare.


Asymmetric warfare (or asymmetric engagement) is war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly. This is typically a war between a standing, professional army and an insurgency or resistance movement.

Asymmetric warfare can describe a conflict in which the resources of two belligerents differ in essence and in the struggle, interact and attempt to exploit each other’s characteristic weaknesses. Such struggles often involve strategies and tactics of unconventional warfare, the weaker combatants attempting to use strategy to offset deficiencies in quantity or quality. Such strategies may not necessarily be militarized. This is in contrast to symmetric warfare, where two powers have similar military power and resources and rely on tactics that are similar overall, differing only in details and execution.

The term is also frequently used to describe what is also called “guerrilla warfare”, “insurgency”, “terrorism”, “counterinsurgency”, and “counter terrorism”, essentially violent conflict between a formal military and an informal, less equipped and supported, undermanned but resilient opponent. Asymmetric warfare is a form of irregular warfare.

By being stuck and still debating and deliberating upon definitions of Good and Bad, Terror, Terrorist and Terrorism we still fail to realize the magnanimity of the situation and are trying to deal with it as a law and order issue failing to see the obvious, this is indeed a war.

What Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq among other face today is not mere disruption of law and order but a well thought out and executed (unfortunately) master plan to divide, conquer and annihilate.

Currently all the fault lines in Pakistan have become more exposed and vulnerable than ever, the enemy has planned and it has planned well to reap maximum benefit with minimal effort.

Now the question that everyone must ask to him and herself, is it too late?


The writer tweets @MuhammadAliAzlan



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