The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about warfare is soldiers, tanks, missiles, warships, etc. In addition to this, there is another type of war called psychological warfare, which is considered as unconventional warfare. It is the planned use of propaganda, threats, and other non-combat techniques to mislead, intimidate, demoralize, or otherwise influence an enemy during wars or periods of unrest. Ancient Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu once said “Conquer all the wars does not mean supreme excellence but supreme excellence is breaking enemy resistance without fighting them.” Psychological warfare perfectly exemplifies this maxim. To achieve their objectives, the planners of psychological warfare campaigns first attempt to gain total knowledge of the beliefs, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities of the target population. According to the psy war experts knowing what motivates the target is the key to a successful PSYOP.
When we read about psychological warfare, narrative building, propaganda it seems to be a modern concept but it’s actually not it has been practised for many centuries. The earliest examples are the arthshastra by kautilya incorporates elements of disinformation and manipulation of public opinion in its philosophy. A psychological warfare strategy was used by Chanakya against Alexander with the help of Chandragupta Maurya, which started lowering the morale of Alexander’s great army to the point that they could not invade India since their soldiers had travelled thousands of kilometres and were tired of fighting, so that’s how Alexander failed to invade India because his army had internal disagreements and rebels. After that in prehistoric times, warlords and chiefs recognized the importance of weakening their opponents’ morale from asia to europe everyone started using psychological warfare tactics.
On of the most famous and popular ruler of that time Gengis khan employed tactics that made his numbers seem greater than they actually were. During night operations he ordered each soldier to light three torches at dusk to give the illusion of an overwhelming army and deceive and intimidate enemy scouts. He also sometimes had objects tied to the tails of his horses, so that riding on open and dry fields, they raised a cloud of dust that gave the enemy the impression of massive numbers. His soldiers used arrows specially notched to whistle as they flew through the air, creating a terrifying noise. Mongols used to catapult severed human heads over city walls to frighten the inhabitants and spread disease in the besieged city’s closed confines.
With time advancements came in the way to fight psychological war. Modern psychological warfare tactics were first used during World War I. Technological advances in electronic and print media made it easier for governments to distribute propaganda through mass-circulation newspapers. The British clearly had an advantage over the Germans because they had reputed news publishing houses, which enabled them to win the war of narratives.
On the battlefield, advances allowed propaganda leaflets to be dropped behind enemy lines. Apparently handwritten notes were found on postcards dropped over German trenches by British pilots, praising the humane treatment of German prisoners by British forces. During World War II, both the Axis and Allied powers regularly used PSYOPS. Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany was driven largely by propaganda designed to discredit his political opponents.
However, in perhaps the most impactful PSYOP in WWII, American commanders orchestrated the “leaking” of false orders leading the German high command to believe the allied D-Day invasion would be launched on the beaches of Calais, rather than Normandy, France. Disinformation campaigns , narrative building played a crucial role during the cold war.
THE BATTLE OF NARRATIVES AND MINDS
Nowadays countries are spending millions of dollars in influencing the public opnion it’s called cultural war . We all have a perception in our minds that india and russian are friendly countries but at country level it is evident that no one is permanent enemy or friend but if we go down in the matter to think about from where does this perception came in our mind ? In an interview russians spies revealed that they target and invite important stakeholders in india who can influence the opinion of large masses and they used to provide them world class facilities in russia and when they came back to india they came up with a positive perception toward russia and russians they will transfer the same to other indians and
similarly china funds many USA print media and electronic media agencies to post pro-china articles. Recently a report claims that china has increased its funding for propaganda in the USA by 500 percent and these actions will greatly influence the public opinion and ultimately alter the common perception about china among americans , in fact these type of psyops has become the main reason for the economic rise of china when fifty years ago, then U.S. National Security Advisor Dr. Henry Kissinger paid a secret visit to China. At the time, China and the U.S. almost had no vessels for communication other than ko ambassador-level talks, and access to information was not as diverse as it is today.
Kissinger’s trip in July 1971, which turned out to be a great success, was made possible after cautious, tentative, and skeptical contacts between the two countries. Messages were exchanged through third parties. It paved the way for President Richard Nixon’s ice-breaking visit to China the following year, which marked the beginning of the normalization of bilateral ties and economic rise of China.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL WAR AGAINST INDIA BY IT’S ADVERSARIES
Realising its incompetence in winning a conventional war against India, Pakistan, since the 90s, has been waging a Psywar against the nation. From spreading its anti-India propaganda and shaping public perception against India, through objectionable pamphlets and newspaper entries, to using social media platforms for circulating fake news and videos, Pakistan has been using information as a weapon and has accelerated its psychological operations against India through disseminating misinformation, false news, images, videos, etc. As a delivery system for its psychological war against India, the internet, social media, and other platforms have been used. Green Book 2020, a publication of the Pakistan Army released recently, also revealed its plans to intensify the Information War against India by creating/supporting anti-Indian propaganda, opening a fund to support Kashmiris against India, and projecting terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) as a local movement by supporting groups like The Resistance Front and buying air-time in both domestic and foreign media for Psywar.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), its military’s media wing, has been at the forefront of building false narratives and spreading misinformation through its army of trolls and bots. It is interesting to note that Pakistan has a well-organised machinery for unparalleled propaganda, social media weaponisation and planting of fake news. It is carried out by millions of bots on social media platforms, brainwashed youth, hackers, social media influencers, state-sponsored think tanks, ex-servicemen, renowned journalists, the non-native community amongst others. ISPR has been recruiting youth to spread propaganda against India on social media and recruits over 1,000 interns each year who are given a detailed list of social media handles of influential Indians to be targeted and are asked to set a different narrative about Indian leaders, soldiers and bureaucrats. The Indian Armed Forces do recognise the gravity of information warfare and started taking steps to curb the information warfare by the enemy. In spite of such visionary thinking, how far has India succeeded in winning the Psywar against Pakistan? Pakistan’s success in Psywar was most prominent after the Balakot airstrike, conducted by the Indian Air Force (IAF) on February 26, 2019. India carried out a pre-emptive strike on terrorist launch pads on Pakistani soil, proving Pakistan to be a safe haven for terrorists. Despite this, Pakistan received undue attention internationally due to its fake news and propaganda-producing machinery. Pakistan exploited the time lag between the airstrike and its official confirmation by India. Using bots and fake accounts, Pakistan conveniently built a false story of only trees having been hit by the strike and that the Pakistan Air Force’s quick response pushed the IAF back. The misinformation campaign led by Pakistan succeeded in shifting focus from Pakistan’s real issues.The quick psychological operation by them painted India as an aggressor state and itself as a victim in these developments.
Beijing has launched its psychological warfare with strong propaganda during recent tensions along the Indo-Chinese border. It has sought to influence the Indian people in general, and the Indian Army in particular. In their attempts to subvert the Indian Army and the common people, they are conspicuously pursuing the strategy of subverting them. These people, although very concerned about the prevailing border situation do not have access to exactly what’s going on at the border. One of the first examples of propaganda was seen after the Galwan clashes when India lost 20 brave men and China did not disclosed it’s casualties. CCP-controlled Chinese media houses claimed that India lost men due to inefficient first medical response and poor medical staff. But actually Indian base hospitals are closer than Chinese base hospitals. When boycott china movement gained speed in India after galwan clashes, government banned chineses apps then China released numbers showing that India’s import from China have increased to influence and demoralise Indian that their campaigns are useless against china. But the fact was that the trades just started after being halted for 6 months due to covid. Through all these propaganda China’s main agenda was to portray that India will not be able to fight a coordinated war against them.
China and Pakistan not only wage psychological war against India, but also use these tactics to hide their shortcomings. They have banned almost all foreign social media apps and news agencies to create a firewall to filter the content which criticises their policies . China has banned every social media app and news outlet which belong to foreign countries , only global times is prevalent in their country which is a state sponsored media outlet and it only produces pro establishment news which supports the narrative of their government and hides their shortcomings and their incompetency.
Nowadays, probability of a full blown war is less but psychological warfare will remain a battle space for countries. So countries with hostile enemies need to buckle up their PSYWAR tactics to gain advantage over it’s enemies.The enemy spreads propaganda videos and misinformation, and some people simply forward them repeatedly to their entire network without checking its authenticity . Doing so is a psychological war against your own country. We should consume news and updates from verified and genuine sources, and confirm the news before forwarding it to others. Because it’s solely not the responsibility of government or armed forces but it needs a collective effort of common people as well.