Game Theory, President Zardari and Pakistani Politics

President and game theory

Sunday, November 15, 2009 (The News)
Dr Farrukh Saleem

President Z is entangled in a non-cooperative game with a whole host of other players whereby each player’s “success in making choices depends on the choices of other players.” That in essence is “Game Theory”–an attempt to mathematically capture the behaviour of “intelligent individuals interacting with one another in an effort to achieve their own goals.”

Pakistan’s heptagonal (a polygon with seven sides) game matrix has President Z, the Pakistan Army, the PPP, the PML-N, America, the media and the judiciary as major players. Game theory assumes that each of the seven players shall always act to maximise their individual gains by trying to anticipate the response to their own actions by one or other players in the game.

Game theory also assumes that President Z is a rational player, and that means he is in the game in order to seize–and sustain–as much power as possible. Being rational also means that President Z undertakes a conscious cost-benefit analysis for every power he has seized or thinks of abdicating. And, that means President Z will not voluntarily give away any of his powers, including the 17th Amendment, unless the cost of retaining that power exceeds its benefits.

Game theory assumes that the Pakistan Army, that continues to be the dominant player, is in the game to preserve its political as well as economic domination. Being dominant also means that the Pak Army can influence the moves of other major or minor players (the media and the MQM, for instance) to achieve their own goals.

Then there’s America, whose foreign policy is firmly rooted in realism, devoid of both ethics and morals. Within America, the two major players looking at Pakistan are the White House and the Pentagon. The Pentagon is convinced that the Pak Army is in control of the game in Pakistan; the White House not so clear. Clinton, it appears, was here to find out for herself as to who is in charge–President Z or the army. Moves made by the MQM subsequent to Clinton’s visit provide circumstantial evidence that the White House now concurs with the Pentagon’s stance.

America’s readily identifiable interests for remaining in Pakistan’s heptagonal hypercube are two fold-the “war on terror” and nuclear proliferation. Ironically, both the “war on terror” and the nuclear dimension are driven by the Pak Army. Consequently, America and the Pak Army share the same bedroom within the hypercube.

Nawaz Sharif seems to be basing his game plans on the “median voter theorem” (“if a politician wants to maximise his votes then he should commit to the policy position preferred by the median voter”). Such game plans have pitched Nawaz Sharif against the other major players, both the Pak Army and America.

Let the games begin. Clearly, game players right now are busy increasing the costs for President Z to continue holding on to the 17th Amendment. Yes, “No criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the President… (Article 248).” Yes, an impeachment resolution has to be passed at a joint sitting “by the votes of not less than two-thirds of the total membership (Article 47).” But, come Nov 28, all the king’s knights and all the king’s pawns may be forced back into the box, leaving no cloths for the king to wear.

Then there’s the “imperfect information paradigm.” I submit that President Z is playing the game based on imperfect information and that President Z’s imperfect information database is rooted in the PPP’s pool of un-elected decision-makers. Then there are games within games and a fool only wins the first game. And, that ushers in either Fazal Illahi or Sonia Gandhi while the average Pakistani survives by the skin of his teeth.

The writer is the executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS). Email: