The effectiveness of a Tit for Tat Strategy (Or Why it doesn’t pay-off to always be nice to Pakistan)

Robert Axelrod was an American Political Scientist, researcher and teacher at the University of Michigan (incidently, my alma mater ). In 1984, he published a book on the Evolution of Cooperation. The crux of this book is the Prisoner’s dilemma, a popular topic in game theory which Wikipedia describes as such:

The prisoner’s dilemma game[6] (invented around 1950 by Merrill M. Flood and Melvin Dresher[7]) takes its name from the following scenario: you and a criminal associate have been busted. Fortunately for you, most of the evidence was shredded, so you are facing only a year in prison. But the prosecutor wants to nail someone, so he offers you a deal: if you squeal on your associate – which will result in his getting a five-year stretch – the prosecutor will see that six months is taken off of your sentence. Which sounds good, until you learn your associate is being offered the same deal – which would get you five years.

In order to test the best strategies to play this game in a two player setting, he invited professional game theorists to send in entries for a tournament where each entry would be a computer program which would face off against every other program in a round robin tournament. The winner of the tournament was decided as the program which would cumulatively get the most number of points. The winner of this tournament in the first round was also the simplest, the TIT for TAT strategy, It really meant the following:It starts with a cooperative choice and thereafter did what the other player did on the previous move. Hence, if the opponent cooperated, it would; otherwise, it would also defect.

The results of the first round were published and the strategies were made public. There was a second round conducted where the participants could submit any program, including any program submitted by another participant in the first round. No prizes for guessing, TIT for TAT won the second round too ! It also beat other versions which were more or less generous but were closely modeled to it.

This research of Axelrod is in use in multiple real life applications of game theory and he is involved in things as important as foreign relations and stopping nuclear wars. We are studying this subject in a course called Strategic Thinking and Decision making, taught by a brilliant visiting faculty, Prof. V.N. Bhattacharya. The clear message from TIT for TAT are as follows:

In a double player or multiplayer game, which is played infinitely, the best strategy is to

  1. Be nice
  2. Be retaliatory
  3. Be forgiving
  4. Be clear.

I believe that Tit for Tat is exactly what we should do with Pakistan when provoked. I make the following assumptions about the situation:

  1. Both India and Pakistan are rational players. For those who say that Pakistan is irrational in its behavior, I would counter that the opposite is true and in fact the people in power, either in politics or the armed forces or the terrorist social network are extremely rational and intelligent men. Just to prove a point, Pervez Mussharaf undertook defense studies in the United Kingdom with some Indian classmates and he was by far the best student in his class and wrote a brilliant Master’s thesis titled “Impact of Arm Race in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent”. To put it short, these guys know what they are doing but its still shit.
  2. This is a game to be played infinitely. Lets face it, we are neighbors and have nowhere else to go.
  3. There are payoffs for cooperating (peace) and defecting (bloodshed). If one player cooperates  and the other defects, the defecting player still causes bloodshed. the only way to avoid bloodshed is if both cooperate for peace.
  4. Both have the ability to play the game of their own volition (which has been proved by the fact that none of the countries which Pakistan ran sobbing to stood by their corner recently).

Under these circumstance, it pays for India to adopt a Tit for Tat strategy. Cooperate with Pakistan if it shows similar initiatives for peace; hit it with equivalence if Pakistan shows signs of defecting and plays mischief. However, India should not respond with a stance of never budging (and hence I dont agree with Ram Madhav’s “Jaw for tooth” argument) but should go back to cooperating if Pakistan also does. Remember; be nice, retaliate, be forgiving but by all means be clear of your strategy. This, in my opinion, is the only way to bring peace to the sub-continent.

For all the doves of peace out there, I would strive to reassure them that this is a real game of strategy we are playing, not a fantasy game of wonderland where wars can be stopped by having Pakistan artists act in our movies or our cricketers playing in their stadiums (Oh wait, they dont play international cricket in Pakistan anymore, no prizes for guessing why ! )

If a mere MBA student could figure all this out, I believe that the representatives of our government and armed forces would have done a much better job of figuring out plans of action. While we have had two successive Prime Ministers who have the knowledge and wisdom (albeit acquired in different means, one being academic and the other pragmatic) to craft such strategies, we are fortunate that our current leader, unlike his predecessor, has the spine to execute. That too, in abundance.

I see hope for peacec in this region.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s