Capital suggestion - Game theory and the PPP Dr Farrukh Saleem
Daily Times, May 18, 2008
Pakistan's heptagonal (a polygon with seven sides) political game has seven major players: Pakistan Army, America, the PPP, the PML-N, the presidency, the media and civil society. Game theory, a branch of applied mathematics, also provides some serious applications in the field of political science. To begin with, game theory assumes that each of the seven players shall always act to maximize their individual gains by anticipating the responses to their actions by one or other players in the game. Game theory, having made that assumption, then proceeds to "mathematically capture behaviour" of players in the game.
The Pakistan Army, for instance, having dominated Pakistan's politics — and thus economics — is in the game to preserve its domination. America's foreign policy is strictly based on realism, devoid of any moral or ethical dimension. America's interest in this country revolves around the 'war on terror' and nuclear non-proliferation. As a consequence, the Pakistan Army and Uncle Sam are natural allies.
On November 28, 2007, the presidency's de facto powers were no more. In the immediate future, the PPP and the PML-N, in order to maximize their own gains, shall snatch away the bulk of presidency's de jure powers.
The Bush-Musharraf nexus can deliver little — if anything at all — towards advancing America's regional strategic objectives. The nexus, however, lives on to forestall Democrats from highlighting Republican-made Pak-Afghan policy failures.
The PPP leadership is in the game to maximize its own gains. In that sense, restoration of the judges on PML-N's terms will be a step in the wrong direction. At this juncture, I will introduce the game theory's 'perfect and imperfect information' paradigm. I submit that PPP's top leadership is taking actions based on imperfect information. To begin with, the PPP is failing to recognize the development of two other power centres in the post-March 9 Pakistan — the media and the lawyers-led civil society. I further submit that the PPP is taking actions and responding without anticipating — and modelling in — the responses of the media and civil society.
Yes, the PPP is expected to do nothing less than to maximize its own gains but there is even evidence that the PPP is playing the game based on imperfect information. The bulk of this 'imperfect information' seems to be originating from PPP's un-elected decision-makers who are not fully cognizant of ground reality. Yes, the PPP is the only party that has won seats in all the four provinces but persistent decision-making based on imperfect information does not bode well for PPP's future electoral prospects.
Pakistan's game theory may soon have another player. On May 13, Jaipur, India's 'Pink City', had blood on its streets — red blood. On May 14, "Indian military commanders lodged a new protest… with their Pakistani counterparts after soldiers came under fire from across the border for the second time in a week." At a time when Washington feels it is losing leverage over Pakistan, America may — as it has in the past — signal India to pressurize Pakistan (in order to maximize America's own gains).
Mian Nawaz Sharif, whether he knows it or not, is playing the game theory along the lines of what in political science is known as the 'median voter theorem'. The theorem states that if a politician wants to maximize his or her votes then he or she should "commit to the policy position preferred by the median voter". Rules of the game theory now dictate that isolating Nawaz would serve the interests of both the Pakistan Army and America.
Asif Ali Zardari, on the other hand, does not want to confront the presidency but is in direct confrontation with the 'median voter theorem'. True, the PPP is not in need of votes in the foreseeable future but history stands witness that a political player adamant on confronting the 'median voter theorem' stands to hurt his electoral prospects.
Mian Nawaz Sharif, whether he knows it or not, is playing the game by the rules prescribed by the 'Economic Theory of Democracy'. The theory recommends to all politicians to draw out a graph of ideological positions of voters and then to identify the median voter. The PML-N seems to have drawn out just such a graph — at least mentally — and also identified the median voter.
Asif Ali Zardari, on the other hand, is playing the same game based on strategies embedded in pure power politics, pragmatism, individual charm and realpolitik. Somehow, these strategies do not take into account the development of alternative — and intelligent — power centres, the media and civil society. And, that takes us back to game theory's 'imperfect information' paradigm.
Well, there's mathematics, applied mathematics and game theory. There also is calculus and vector calculus. Then there's geometry, trigonometry and differential geometry. There was a time when none of this was applicable to Pakistani politics. And, then the president suspended the chief justice. Don't throw game theory out the window. Remember, eight game theorists have won Nobel prizes.
The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org