26 November 2016

Modified Prisoner’s Dilemma and Line of Control Battles

Rahul Bhonsle 
Nov 24, 2016 

Modified Prisoner’s Dilemma and Line of Control Battles

Escalation on the India Pakistan Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) post the 18 September Uri terrorist attack attributed to Pakistan-based Lashkar e Taiyyaba is a matter of concern for both sides.

While the Indian Army’s, famed, “surgical strikes,” were vehemently denied by Pakistan, violations of ceasefire and brutalities inflicting on Indian soldiers indicates tacit acceptance of the losses suffered by Pakistan in the trans-LoC attacks by Indian Special Forces (SF) on the night 28/29 September.

The subsequent increase in hostilities is also evident in the sphere of diplomacy with eight accredited diplomats from each country asked to leave on the grounds of engaging in espionage and related activities. This situation is not unusual and the road has been travelled before so is the escalation on the LoC. The LoC fire assaults have consumed the lives of many civilians on both sides while posing the threat of escalation with neither side willing to step back.

In a press release of 23 November entitled, “Aftermath of Indian Army’s Punitive Fire Assaults: Pak DGMO Requests for Unscheduled Talks on Hotline,” the Indian position on the most recent incident of exchange of fire and violation of the cease-fire was outlined. The statement read,

“In an unscheduled Hot Line interaction requested for by Pakistan, Indian Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Lt Gen Ranbir Singh spoke to his counterpart this evening (23 November). Pak DGMO informed of civilian casualties on Pak side by Indian firing along the Line of Control. Lt Gen Ranbir Singh expressed grief at Pak civilian casualties but emphatically stated that retaliatory firing by Indian troops has only been carried out targeting locations from where Pakistan has initiated ceasefire violations on Indian Posts. Lt Gen Ranbir Singh expressed his concerns to Pak DGMO on casualties caused to Indian civilians and soldiers due to unprovoked Pak firing.

Indian DGMO further raised the issue of infiltration attempts by terrorists from Pak side into J&K and the un-ethical act of mutilation of the body of Indian soldiers close to the Line of Control by terrorists infiltrating from Pakistan.

Pak DGMO was exhorted to exercise strict control on their troops to refrain from any nefarious activities. This would lead to return of normalcy along Line of Control. However, he was categorically informed that if any cease fire violations were initiated by Pak troops or any infiltration attempts were made by terrorists from Pak Occupied Kashmir or territory under its control, it would invite an appropriate response by Indian Army”.

The purport of the statement was that cease-fire violations or infiltration attempts by Pakistan would be responded appropriately implying more fire assaults.

Pakistan’s Director General Inter Services Public Relations (DGISPR) in a press release the same day had indicated that three Pakistani soldiers were killed while in “retaliatory fire,” after seven Indian soldiers lost their lives.

This exchange of fire came about after, “Pakistan Army-backed terrorists had killed three Indian soldiers from the 57 Rashtriya Rifles battalion and beheaded one of them while trying to infiltrate inside the Indian territory [on 22 November]”.

This was also the first time that the two DGMOs spoke after the Indian surgical strikes, apparently indicating that the weekly communications were also suspended (unconfirmed report).

The “tit for tat,” exchange of fire on the LoC has raised concerns of possible escalation while lives of civilians on the border have been endangered upsetting routine and setting off some de-induction.

Is de-escalation likely in the near term or is the standoff likely to continue? Perhaps Game Theory can provide some answers in predicting how India and Pakistan will react to the situation.

One of the simplest yet most popular models of Game Theory is the Prisoner’s Dilemma where two accomplices in a crime are in a pact not to betray each other after they are imprisoned in separate cells. The essence of the Prisoner’s Dilemma is trust.

If trust is maximised the gains for both the prisoners are also maximum and equal. However, in case one side betrays the other there is noticeable gain and loss to the betrayer and betrayed respectively.

Applying a modified Prisoner’s Dilemma to the India-Pakistan LoC standoff, the cease-fire represents maximum gains for both sides with obvious benefits of peace and tranquillity on the borders.

However this requires trust, once the trust is betrayed by one side, and then the cycle of violence resulting in forces on both sides attempting to achieve maximum gains is set off as was witnessed after the Uri terrorist attacks by the Lashkar e Taiyyaba.

Will the interaction between the two DGMOs on the hot line on 23 November which is a military to military confidence building measures (CBM) restore trust and return to cooperation instead of competitive violence?

From the Indian perspective, much will depend on what the Pakistan Army hierarchy which is undergoing a change at the top with Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif retiring on 29 November will perceive as its interests.

There is a belief in India that General Sharif wanted to retire on a triumphant note and thus escalation of violence on the LoC post the surgical strike was inevitable.

The anniversary of the 2003 cease-fire on the night of 25/26 November provides an occasion to return to trust and cooperation.

So caught in their own Prisoner’s Dilemma will this occasion be used by India and Pakistan to return to normalcy or there is still steam left in the current phase of Indo-Pak travails remains to be seen? 

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