After seeing off Prime Minister, I travelled with General Jamaldar, a member of the National Assembly from the Agency, on the way back from the agency headquarters. Tall, erect and always dressed in smartly pressed shalwar-kameez with an impressive tribal turban on his head (that made him look even taller), he was one of the most prominent figures from the entire Tribal Areas and a Sandhurst graduate to boot. Central casting could not have selected a better military officer. He would come to dine with me every few weeks and we would exchange notes. He had a great sense of humour and I enjoyed his company. As we hurtled down the mountains to my headquarters in Hangu in the General’s car, the Pakistan flag flying and flapping in the wind, I asked him why he took so much nonsense from Bhutto who had upbraided him in public in front of his tribe. The General thought for a moment, and then pointed to the flag with a slight smile and said, that is the answer. He meant that the power and status provided by his appointment were seductive and dulled a man’s sense of honour. When the elections for the assemblies were to take place in the Tribal Areas, General Jamaldar approached me to persuade the Maliks, who then had the sole authority to vote for the assembly members, to support him. I genuinely admired the General and said if I had a vote, which I did not, I would give it to him but I was going to be perfectly neutral and not exert my authority on anyone’s behalf. The General became irritated and reminded me that he belonged to the ruling party of Mr Bhutto who would be informed that the Political Agent of Orakzai Agency was not cooperative. The implications were dire; transfer and even removal from service were on the cards. The matter created some tension between us and I was informed by the General that I should be ready to receive a call from the prime minister himself early next morning. I arrived early at my office, as was my wont, and waited for the call. It never came. Later, when General met my father in Peshawar, he praised me to the heavens, saying that I was the best political officer since the time of the British, but that I had ruined his political career. My father also admired General and told me this was conveyed in a semi-humorous way. The other big event that took place during my time was the shifting of the Agency headquarters from Hangu to deep into the Agency for the first time in the history of the Orakzai. My main task then was to get people used to the idea that we intended to move into the Agency and help them to see its benefits. I took several steps, some small and some significant, to signal the move. I took to visiting the most inaccessible areas like the Mullah Khel, where I spent a night with the tribe. My staff warned me against this plan citing the passions and unreliability of the tribes and the risks involved to my person. The story of Orakzai is a part of a larger story that includes forces emanating from Kabul and Islamabad. Living deep in Tirah on the borders with the Afridi tribes, the Mullah Khel were staunch opponents of the British. When I became the first Political Agent to tour the area, there was a great deal of tension and even hostility in the air. There was firing all night. I along with my bodyguard spent the night with the elders. But once I joined them for the evening prayers that tension melted. Suddenly, I was one of them. In this aspect, I had an advantage over the British. Then, along with my staff, we shifted deep into the interior of the Agency in a broad and beautiful valley surrounded by mountains in the area called Kalaya. This is where the future headquarters would be situated. As I arrived with my staff, I was conscious of a thousand curious eyes following my every move. To show commitment on behalf of the government, I decided to spend the night on the intended site of the new headquarters. Just my spending the night made a major statement. The government had arrived. I prepared to sleep for the night in the small rest house on top of a hill in the middle of the valley. I expected some reaction but not as intense as what happened. There were shots fired at the rest house all night. I then decided to exhibit a show of strength by walking through the mountains and then around the Agency, coming out near Peshawar to indicate to all that government had irrevocably arrived. There were no roads and we could only travel on foot through rocky and difficult terrain. This was part of Tirah, famous in history as one of the most inaccessible areas in the entire region. I had instructed my assistant political officers to spend time persuading tribal elders to make sure everything went well and I was received without any mishap. They had promised a warm reception. We left early in the morning, I at the head of a convoy of some one hundred para-military men under my command. As there were no roads we bumped and struggled through the rocky ground. I was sitting in the first jeep confidently looking at the mountain peaks running along our left flank and thinking that they would make the perfect ambush on our convoy. This is exactly what happened. When the attack began, I heard a gentle plop, plop, plop, plop. It sounded like raindrops and, sitting in the front seat of the jeep with my leg virtually hanging out, I saw the dust around the front tires shooting up. I thought maybe it was drizzling. My assistant was wedged in the backseat and I said half-incredulously, “I hope we’re not being fired on.” He replied, “No, no sir, these are our friends, I have worked hard with them.” But the next volley of shots was uncomfortably close and I yelled, that these are real bullets and we will be killed if we continue to remain in the jeeps. I ordered the convoy to stop and for everyone to take cover. We jumped out and hid behind the large rocks. Once we were behind the rocks, I asked about our relative strength in case we had to face a full assault. How many men do we have? He replied, about 100. I felt confident. I calculated the tribesmen would require double that number to prevail. Just then a group of our men weaving and ducking to avoid the bullets came to talk to us. They appeared in a state of agitation. I asked sharply why our men were not firing back? They don’t have any bullets in their guns, came the reply. This information altered the situation. From then on it was a sheer bluff. We refused to move from our positions. When a messenger came down from the hilltop and asked us to return immediately, I replied in the grand tradition of the officers of the Frontier, the Government does not go back, it only moves forward. This show of strength, I was told later, convinced their leaders that I had a large number of Pakistan army soldiers ready to join us in case of real danger. Shortly afterwards the tribesmen sent down a small group of elders carrying white flags denoting the desire for negotiation. Pinned as we were, I considered my choices: I could retreat or call for the army and even the air force. In the event, I chose none of these options. I would handle this in the tradition of the old Frontier: I sent them a message that as I refuse to turn around and go back, I would invite them to join me on my journey through their areas. I would be their guest. My honour was in their hands. I had said that I knew they were hospitable people and I was prepared to travel from this point on along with them as my companions so we would see the agency together. This appealed to them, and it became a way out of the impasse. After some debate amongst them, they agreed. Everyone’s honour was preserved. We walked for several hours and eventually came out of the Agency without any incident. Some of the elders warned me that we could be attacked at any point as some people were foreign agents. Along the way, those we met greeted us cheerfully and offered us hospitality. Many joined our march. By now, we had formed into a large procession. We finished completing the loop around the agency late into the evening and emerged on the main Peshawar road. The Agency had now been officially “opened” and we did not face any such incidents in the future. So much has changed since I was in the Orakzai Agency. To start with, the Tribal Areas of Pakistan in which was situated the Agency is no longer in existence. The agencies have been absorbed into Pakistan and are now converted into districts, subject to the regular criminal civil and revenue laws of Pakistan. Prominent members of the Orakzai tribe serve in the military and civil services and are a part of Pakistan’s development. Most important to note, the Agency is now in the front line of the great and dramatic changes taking place in the region, lying as it does almost on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. What happens here will directly or indirectly impact Pakistan. In my time, we were on the eve of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and with it, the Great Game, the rivalry between world powers, would arrive at the doorstep of the Agency. It would ultimately set the stage for the emergence of the Taliban leading to the events of 9/11 in the US and the invasion of Afghanistan for the next two decades. That invasion led to disruption in the entire region including in Pakistan. The Orakzai agency would never be the same again. Almost half a century ago when I shifted the headquarters into the agency the assumption was that colleges and other developments would follow. The battle for the future of this region will depend on how the government can introduce well-funded and excellent colleges, schools, major roads and industries, and development schemes. If this does not happen, then the frustrations of local people will provide an explosive background to the turmoil in the region. In some dramatic sense, the battle for the future of Pakistan will be decided in these former Tribal Areas of the land. I found the people of the Orakzai Agency to be warm, intelligent and graceful. Given the opportunity in service and with some education, they were capable of competing with the best of Pakistan. In my estimation, they needed three things urgently: education, peace, and development schemes. This would help them take off as a society and their natural talents would see them soar. I always felt the priority was to provide education through good schools and teachers. Failing that, I feared this entire region could become rich grounds for radicalised groups influenced by outside forces. Though it was a tough posting as Political Agent, looking back, it also carried sweet memories as I met some extraordinary people and was awarded several letters of commendation from the Governor for valour in the field.?The story of Orakzai may just be restarting. It is a part of a larger story that includes forces emanating from Kabul and Islamabad. Perhaps, the best first step is to attempt to understand this land and its people by reading King’s monograph on the Orakzai. There is a lesson for both the government and the elders of the tribe: unless you understand the past, it is not feasible to plan for the future. Only by reading history, do we understand what needs to be done to bring peace to the region and only by knowing what caused the wars of the past can we have harmony in the future. (Concluded) The writer is Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, School of International Service, American University and author of The Flying Man: Philosophers of the Golden Age of Islam.