Tuesday February 27, 2024

Prisoner’s dilemma

May 16, 2023

These are the facts. We are divided. Society is divided, the court is divided, and institutions are divided. The world too, after many years of single-power thinking, is today divided into two power centers: the USA and China.

Just with these facts, and nothing else, I have tried to imagine a thought experiment of what may be happening as we speak. It seems reasonable to me that the groups named above must by now have aligned themselves into two opposing camps. One camp pro-IK, and the other camp anti-IK. These two camps can be seen jostling for power locally – in courts, in press releases, on TV screens and on the street.

It is a fair assumption, in my mind, that both these camps must now also be jostling to talk to the two global powers. And the two global powers too must be talking back. Both global powers, at the same time, must be offering, to both local teams, an equal measure of demands and sweeteners. Carrots and sticks, Chinese and American, must be on offer to both parties representing our interests.

If the two Pakistani camps keep negotiating separately, they will keep paying more. Like in an auction, they will keep driving the price upward, to the benefit of the auctioneer (or in this case, auctioneers). Divided, the more the two Pakistani camps negotiate, the worse the deals become.

Imagine two prisoners being interrogated for a theft that they have both committed together. If both prisoners lie, they will both be freed. But if one of them speaks the truth, they will both be fried. If the two prisoners can somehow communicate or collude with each other, they will both get the best deal. But if they do not, they will both get the worst possible deal.

This, then, is my suggestion. We must find ways for both the camps to communicate, to collude and on some level, to trust each other. We can then outsmart both the Chinese, and the Americans. We can (in my thought experiment at least) work with China to start laying a civilian train to Kashgar. And we can work with America to fix the Afghanistan problem and connect Delhi with Kabul, an East-West corridor of sorts. We can also sign a nuclear deal with the West like India’s nuclear deal opening up our nuclear systems without giving up our capabilities. We can give and we can take. But these are details.

We need to find ways for the two Pakistani prisoners to start talking.

Talking together does not mean giving up on one’s principles. Once the deals with outside powers are secured, one is free to continue fighting till the end of time. This is a part of democracy. Democrats and Republicans collude. BJP and Congress collude. Taliban and ISIS collude too. The older parties in Pakistan – PPP, ANP, MQM, PML-N – are already colluding and will do so with the PTI, given a realistic chance.

The PTI too has colluded in the past. With JI, with MQM, and with Q League, to name only political parties. Some think the PTI cannot collude with the older parties at a time when emotions are running so high. In my opinion, it's only salvation is in collusion. That is the only way it can find a way to retrieve itself from the political corner it has painted itself into.

So, I put this to any PTI walas who find my thought experiment convincing: talk to the other prisoner.

The writer is the author of ‘A Hundred Journeys – Stories of my Fatherland’.