Law and order in Waziristan were traditionally maintained by three overlapping, and in some ways mutually interdependent, though often in opposition, sources of authority. Together they constituted the three pillars of authority in tribal society: the tribal elder, or malik; the religious leader, or mullah; and the Political Agent representing the government. Each had a symbiotic relationship with the others while using them as a foil. This three-way relationship was inevitably changing and dynamic as each pillar strived for dominance. I was conscious of this dynamic when I took over and attempted to maintain a balance, not only between these three sources of authority but also between the tribes and clans as they were constantly competing against one another. The system was shaky and it often seemed like things could spiral out of control, but it held for years, and was particularly effective if the Political Agent understood the local people and their society and culture.At the time I took over, the Wazir were in a state of agitation due to the actions of a charismatic mullah who challenged the government and was arrested and jailed by the previous administration. Wazir buildings and shops were leveled and a large number arrested. Even their main mosque was demolished. On my arrival, I sensed the simmering anger. Some Wazir elders wanted a chance to prove themselves and their honor according to Pukhtunwali. I was determined to give them that chance. The Wazir response to my overtures sprang partly from the nature of the Pukhtun model; to establish, or reestablish, themselves as men of “honor.” Partly it was a strategic move to end their isolation without having to compromise their main objectives. Social life was slowly returning to normal in the Wazir areas after the agitation of the mullah and a delicate equilibrium was being established when the Russians entered Afghanistan in December 1979. Refugees flocked to the agency in increasing numbers and anti-Pakistan elements living in the agency, especially in Birmal, were contacted by foreign agents to create trouble, but the Wazir equilibrium held. The Wazirs responded to critical events in the agency in terms described as “loyalist” by the government; henceforth they could not be called “second-class” or “disloyal citizens.”Law and order in Waziristan were traditionally maintained by three overlapping, and in some ways mutually interdependent, though often in opposition, sources of authority. Together they constituted the three pillars of authority in tribal society: the tribal elder, or malik; the religious leader, or mullah; and the Political Agent representing the government. Each had a symbiotic relationship with the others while using them as a foilShortly after I took charge, the brother of the imprisoned mullah sent me a letter from his sanctuary in Birmal through a mutual friend. In it he argued the cause of the Wazirs. He requested that I observe and hear for myself and reach my own conclusions: “All the Wazir tribe want from you,” he wrote, “is application of balm [marham pati, literally “balm and bandages”] to their wounds,” and toward the end of the letter he affirmed, “The question of opposing administration or Government does not arise.” In my reply I promised to do my best. The “balm” was applied through word, gesture, and deed. Wherever I could I made it a point to express confidence in the Wazirs as a tribe. Rejecting recent practice, I accepted invitations to meals organized by Wazirs in their settlements. In the summer of 1979, for example, the tribal elder Jalat Khan arranged a lunch for me in the guest rooms (hujra) of his village to which some 300 elders and officials were invited. I was always careful to maintain neutrality, so if I visited one clan and were hosted by them I would also take care to visit rival clans. On these lunch visits the Wazirs expressed their loyalty and I promised neutrality in agency matters. Informal after-lunch talk, sitting on the floor on rugs, provided valuable information and helped establish rapport.I also ensured that Wazirs received material benefits. Their annual timber permits were increased in 1979 as was their food grain quota. The prestigious Waziristan Public School project was to be located in Wana. The Zilli Khel clan responded enthusiastically by accompanying me to a site that I had selected north of the Wana camp and offering fifty acres of land free to the government for the school grounds. As a gesture of confidence in the Wazirs I took to taking walks at sunset outside the Wana camp alone or with a single companion. Hill and gully around the camp provided cover for anyone contemplating a shot or knife stab. I was aware of violating established agency precedence. Many hints were dropped that I ought not to expose myself and trust Wazirs to this extent because they were “intrinsically unreliable.” The threats of the Wazirs to kidnap officials as hostages for the release of the popular mullah were put to a test. The Political Agent would be an ideal bargaining point. No attempt was made or contemplated, to the best of my knowledge. The balm being applied to the Wazirs was apparently soothing them. The time was ripe for a major psychological breakthrough to the Wazirs.I chose to perform an act of cultural significance to them. I decided to visit the shrine of the Wazir ancestor Musa Nikka, in Birmal, one of the most inaccessible parts of the Tribal Areas on the Pakistan-Afghan border. The journey proved to be a turning point in my relations with the Wazirs. In visiting Birmal I was taking a calculated risk. Estimated to be nearly fifty miles to the northwest of Wana, it had no government or modern facilities, no roads, schools, or hospitals. Even one shot fired in the air from a distant peak during the trip would be reported and exaggerated by national and international intelligence agencies. I knew the Soviets and Afghans would be watching all the movements closely.Nonetheless, I felt the risk was worth taking. The Wazirs would be delighted to have the shrine of their ancestor visited and honored. Apart from the popular cultural purpose of the trip, it would also be an important political move. For the first time a political officer would visit Birmal. Such a visit had wide implications in the Tribal Areas. If the Political Agent could manage his first journey successfully, the area would be declared “open” to other departments. Actual administrative control of the agency would shift right up to the border. It was arranged that I would visit Birmal as the guest of the Wazirs. The relationship of host and guest was made explicit. Honor and trust were involved. My dishonor would reflect on the Wazirs. Departure time and destination of journeys in the agency were disclosed by the Political Agent at the last moment for reasons of security. Even if the timing was announced to the escort, the destination was kept a secret. Information about the Birmal trip was thus closely guarded, and not even my seniors were informed. The obvious problem of when to inform the many Wazirs who had to accompany us as hosts was solved by the Assistant Political Agent in Wana. We invited the Wazirs for tea on the afternoon before the trip. When the Quarter-Guard of the South Waziristan Scouts-the government paramilitary force in the agency-sounded the bugles at sunset, the camp gates were closed as usual and the Waziris were perforce guests for the night. Although they speculated that some such trip was being planned, the information was contained within the camp. We provided a red herring by dropping hints to the staff about a tour to the Gomal River in the south. So effective was the ploy that the agency surgeon, of the Mahsud tribe, accepted the rumor as gospel truth and positioned himself with his escort by the Jandola gate, east of the Wana camp, at the appointed hour, whereas we, of course, left from the Durand gate, west of the camp.The writer is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, School of International Service, American University, Washington, DC, and author of Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and IdentityPublished in Daily Times, January 20th 2019.