Game theory: what makes SF raid inside Pak optimal

India under the leadership of PM Modi is finally showing the signs of coming out of “Kadi Ninda” or no response regime to terrorist acts of Pakistan. In the aftermath of Uri terrorist attack, Indian Army conducted a raid on terrorist camps inside PoK, the camps which were used as launching pads for the terrorists. There are two things which make this raid special. 1) Overt declaration by the army, that it conducted such an operation and 2) the size and scale of this operation, which targeted multiple such terrorist hideouts across the whole LoC. The first point is the more important change here because even in the past small time raids have been conducted across LoC to keep up the troop morale but it was never meant to get a nod/reaction from the government. But what made the current PM Modi government change this?

One should look at this scenario using using Game Theory and understand it in terms of assessing relative Payoffs for each player i.e. India, Pakistani government and Pakistani Army. First of all, one needs to understand that the current adversary for India i.e the real opponent, which takes all decisions is the Pak military generals. Pak’s overall population and politicians, although hostile are just pawns in the game, not the decision makers. So one can ignore them for most of this analysis.

Before this SF raid, the Pak generals achieved positive Payoff by committing proxy terrorist attacks in India. They get a Payoff- the benefit of positive adulation from Islamic supremacists and the overall Pak population. Any criticism (negative Payoff) was deflected by claims that it is third party actors committing the terrorist atrocities and not the Pak military. Also the Pak military keeps getting funded as they keep pedalling the inherent Muslims persecuted by Yindoos myth and the need for an effective Pak military to counter Yindoo kafirs.

Now the Payoffs from the Indian perspective, up until the recent PM Modi government, perceived options were limited. Terrorist acts in India were negative Payoffs, but the alternatives were considered even worse. Cold Start Doctrine, which was formed post 2001 Parliament attacks, was obviously considered as a non starter because of the fears of escalation to nuclear conflict. Indian leaders had to consider the death of millions on the Indian side, whereas Pak generals don’t give a shit if millions die on their side. Basically Pak generals were by accident or design positively playing the ‘Game’.

So what could have been done to reduce the Payoffs for these Pak Generals. First of all, CSD is a non starter, as the payoffs from a nuclear conflict remain the same, i.e. millions die from both sides as Pak Generals think it’s for the greater Islamic good. Without a credible ABM shield for India in the 90%+ effective range, there is no way that the relative payoffs can change in the near future.

On the other hand, any strike backs on the Pak military/civilian or terrorist assets, without giving the Pak generals an excuse for all out war, would achieve negative Payoff for them, as it would make them look impotent/incompetent/stupid from the perspective of the Pak population and Islamists generally. On the other hand liberal Pak politicians (if they are hiding somewhere) would archive positive Payoff by being in a position to finally take on the generals.

So what forms can such strike backs that don’t escalate into a full blown nuclear war be? Well first of all, support for freedom movements and balkanisation by proxy is a definite tactic that seems to be working at the moment. PM Modi’s support to Balochistan should be seen in this perspective. Whether or not the current Modi government is actually supporting the Baloch freedom movements, the Pak generals seem impotent to do anything about it. Hence the negative Payoff and their whining, which is good news for India.

Additionally any Indian strikes at specific targets like the ones that happened this week also achieve the same objective as long as the Pak generals don’t have an excuse to escalate it to full blown war. Indeed the strikes don’t even have to be particularly accurate as long as they cause negative publicity in Pakistan and the Pak generals are shown as weak and impotent to do anything about it. Take out terrorist leaders, or camps by all means. But even if there is ‘collateral damage’ as long as it is mostly to infrastructure rather than people, India can always say- Oops, so sorry, we were hunting terrorists. Blow up a bridge, a ship whatever. Just says- Oops, so sorry collateral damage. Keep firing off artillery, as Modi government did in 2015! Pak will criticise it, but Pak generals cannot do anything about it and will look impotent.

Now once having explained the rationale for retribution against Pak, the question why to make it explicit and declare that India targeted terrorist launch pads. Fans of covert only operations fail to realise that covert strike is not a valid option against a major terrorist attack. Covert operations is a long term strategy with a long term payoff of balkanisation/instability, but it has no effect on single terrorist incidents. Look at the perpetrators of the previous Mumbai incidents, they are still roaming freely in Pakistan. Also covert operations do not preclude overt operations. No one can argue against covert operations, but as a background longer term strategy. In shorter term, overt action gives the signal and shows India’s resolve to not sit back in case of a terrorist attack. Also, this is the only way to show weakness and impotence of Pak Generals, which covert operations cannot.

Also read, Why raid by SF inside Pakistan is strategically brilliant.

The ultimate objective of Game Theory is to induce alternative behaviours in your opponent. During the Cold War, Game Theory was used to prevent all out war between the US and USSR, whilst still each side asserting their interests. Game Theory is said to have been used by Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis, to browbeat the Soviets into recalling their ships. The negative payoff to Pak General should be seen in this regard.

Image Source: Indian Express

  • Prashanth Ravindran

    The only negative payoff scenario (for India) I see is one where a.) There is a war & b.) India is seen as having initiated it. Not very clear about the escalation matrix from the Paki side, given that winning wars on the pages of history textbooks is all that seems to matter for the mard-e-momins.