Small Wars Journal

The Need for Détente: Cyberwarfare in India/Pakistan Conflict

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 9:25am

The Need for Détente: Cyberwarfare in India/Pakistan Conflict

Jonathan Lancelot

Sometimes brutal honesty is the best form of diplomacy, and if there is a conflict that is in immediate need for some kind of resolution, it is the conflict over the region of Kashmir between Pakistan and India. As both nuclear nation-states are within instant reach of one another, the conflict has reached a new high beginning in early 2019, and the escalation includes use of cyberwarfare. “While countries like Russia, China, and North Korea have often dominated the international landscape for their cyberattack capabilities, both India and Pakistan also have formidable government hacking programs, as well as populations with strong technology skills and access to hacking tools” (Fazzini). Granted, the cyberwar between the two nations have been ongoing since the late 1990s. Recent escalations have led organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations or individuals like Alex Stamos, former chief security officer of Facebook to be deeply concerned. This concern should lead to diplomatic interventions from the United States, China, Russia, and Iran as three of these nations have a geopolitical interest in helping the cyber conflict from metastasizing into a full blow conventional war, and the United States interest in mitigating the conflict is within responsibility of the most powerful nuclear nation-state on Earth. 

The biggest hurdle to a strategic partnership between the US and the other three nations is evident. There is respective mutual tension amid the US and each of the three, preventing a geopolitical collaboration that could possibly solve the real danger of an escalation and nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India. There could very well be a partnership between Russia, Iran, and China to help the situation, yet China might not be an impartial partner as they might side with Pakistan against India due to historical relationships. These are examples of vulnerabilities within the international system’s capacity to collectively solve the Kashmir problem. 

Nonetheless, the focus here is the possible danger of a cyberwar turning into a conventional and/or nuclear war. This is not a hypothesis that has no practical possibility, firstly a cyberwar turning into a conventional war. For example, “the India/Pakistan conflict has been plagued by the rapid spread of inflammatory rumors on Facebook and messaging services, some of which escalated into real hands-on fighting (Fazzini).  When we look into the multiple layers (in addition to social media) where a cyber operation can strike and escalate the conflict into real space are critical infrastructure, military assets, and government networking systems. In essence, the fact that inflammatory rumors could start a conventional war should concern world leaders as a cyber-attack on the critical infrastructure of India or Pakistan could have the same effect to a higher degree.  

Cyberspace has encroached on the diplomatic policy space indefinitely, and any solution to this socially complex and delicate situation in the conflict over Kashmir has to contain an anti-escalatory cyber policy solution in addition to a nuclear arms control agreement. The center of the solution has to contain a permanent resolution on the destiny of Kashmir as a region, the most desirable being Kashmir Valley becoming a governing state independent of both India and Pakistan. “An independent Kashmir Valley has been considered by some as the best solution because it would address the grievances of those who have been fighting against the Indian Government since the insurgency began in 1989” (BBC). Of course, the two issues with this solution is how the new state would sustain itself without outside relief economically, and if India would agree with the solution. Cyber-Diplomatic tools called the ‘Components of a Cyber-State’, would help the Valley build itself into a modern state based on innovative technologies gear toward nation-building in the cyber-age. In other words, this would be an opportunity for the international community to help a region of the world that has been troubled by conflict rebuild into one of the world most modern countries. The latter would require India to see the value of letting go of the valley and continuing its journey to be one of the world’s technological superpowers along with the United States and Russia. Of course, we would have to ensure that Pakistan would respect the formation of a new independent state in the region and continue to decrease its nuclear arms in tandem with India to relieve the specter of nuclear annihilation felt by the greater population in both nation-states. It would also reduce the pressure on a region of the world that that suffered from conflict for decades, complicating stability and regional peace.

Whether the solution here is seen as an unlike solution or a waste of resources, a solution is required more now than ever. Cybersecurity policy is not a side issue and should not be treated as separate from critical diplomatic solutions proposed to both sides of the conflict. Cyber-diplomacy must be a top priority with the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, and the discouragement of conventional warfare ought to be the goal of future negotiations. War in cyberspace could be just as deadly as a conventional war in this conflict in particular and advising policymakers who are unaware of how computer networks make every policy maneuver a lethal practice in brinksmanship is fundamental to subverting an international humanitarian disaster.


BBC News. (n.d.). In Depth: The Future of Kashmir? BBC News. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from

Fazzini, K. (2019, February 27). In India-Pakistan conflict, there's a long-simmering online war, and some very good hackers on both sides. Retrieved from







Categories: India - Pakistan - cyber warfare

About the Author(s)

Jonathan Lancelot is a cybersecurity analyst at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and principal policy analyst for the OSET Institute focused on election cybersecurity in the context of national security. Jonathan graduated from Norwich University with a Master of Diplomacy with a focus on cyber-diplomacy. He published the widely shared papers “Russia Today, Cyberterrorists Tomorrow: US Failure to Prepare Democracy for Cyberspace,” which is published in the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Journal of Digital Forensics, Security and Law, and “Cyber-Diplomacy: Cyberwarfare and the Rules of Engagement,” which is published by the Journal of Cyber Security Technology. He is a contributing writer at Small Wars Journal and is currently researching cyberpolitics, cyberphilosophy, and cyberdefense. Jonathan has an extensive technical background in computer science and is a certified Apple systems administrator. His past work has taken him through Apple, Inc., the United States Senate, and the US Department of Defense.  Twitter: @lancelotpolitic