The present troubles in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) can be said to have begun in 2003 when the army conducted its first forceful action (as distinct from peaceful entry to the so-called No Go areas in 2002). The operation was mounted because of reports that militants from Afghanistan were present in the Frontier. The US Congressional Research Service recorded that "Senior Pakistani officials reportedly said that heavy US pressuree had contributed to preparations for a major new military operation against Al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants in the NWFP near Afghanistan," and that on February 24 "Pakistani troops using helicopter gunships and artillery launched a counterterrorism operation in South Waziristan that resulted in the arrest of 20 suspected Islamic radicals." So began a new era of military confrontation in FATA, most of whose male inhabitants relish the opportunity to indulge in savagery in what they have been persuaded to perceive as a justifiable war against those they regard as infidels. The mantra of the Kabul government and foreign military forces in Afghanistan is that militants responsible for mayhem in that country are aided by what they consider to be Pakistan's inability or even reluctance to prevent them from crossing the border. This is patently ridiculous and even insulting, as Pakistan has suffered the death or wounding of thousands of army and Frontier Corps soldiers in operations in FATA. Further, it takes two sides to prevent border crossing. Plaintive and fatuous cries for Pakistan to "seal its border" with Afghanistan ignore the reality that this is impossible. After all, the US border with Mexico is crossed illegally every year by over a million Mexicans and countless tons of drugs in spite of high-tech detection devices, 10,000 guards of the Border Patrol plus 6,000 National Guard soldiers, and expenditure of billions of dollars. And if you want a laugh about the penetrability of borders, go to the website of the US Border Patrol where you will see such gems as "It is unfortunate that Mexican citizens legally and illegally in the United States today are responsible for as many deaths and as much total property damage in our country on a daily basis as Pancho Villa's raid on the town of Columbus in 1916." [That number was 24; and Pancho Villa was supplied with weapons by an American businessman. You couldn't make this up, it's so preposterous]. The Patrol continues by saying that "The total deaths within the United States due to illegal aliens alone exceeds 4,000 per year. Yes, that is more than died on 9/11 and more than have died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq to-date combined." The really comical thing about this semi-literate website's chest-thumping racism is that the US sent thousands of soldiers into Mexico to try to find and kill Pancho Villa, but never caught him. Shades of the search for bin Laden. Given cultural similarities between the inhabitants of each side of Pakistan's western border it would be surprising were there is not intensive communication between them, irrespective of any other factor. Cross-border passage of licit goods and citizens of both countries accounts for movement of several thousands of people each week, via supervised routes and other informal tracks; but it is transfer of highly profitable illegal goods that causes concern. The drug moguls in Afghanistan are immune to its laws, such as they are, and foreign troops are forbidden to interfere with their lucrative operations. Accordingly, they prosper mightily. As we all know, the system of governance in FATA is based on the Political Agent (PA) of each Agency. These officials operate on the basis of cajolement, bribery (in cash and favours, such as offering road construction and electricity reticulation), and the threat of force. But while this system may have worked to the satisfaction of the tribes and the government in times of peace, it is apparent, now, that there has been a breakdown in efficacy of the PA and of the system of collective agreement concerning disputes. The custom of the jirga for settlement of quarrels is ceasing to work because they are increasingly at the mercy of mullahs, religious figures whose influence is almost impossible to counter . In the Frontier the enemy is held to be those who in any way oppose the mullahs' interpretation of the religion. Evidence of what is generally referred to as Talibanisation of the region is undeniable: there have been closures of schools, including almost all girls' schools, some of which have been burned down; imposition of a non-shaving ukase (with dire punishment for the unbearded); the bombing of NGO-sponsored hospitals; destruction of shops and persecution of shopkeepers selling "un-Islamic" dress, music CDs and film DVDs; enforced refusal of polio injections for infants; banning of music cassettes in vehicles; and other absurd decrees having nothing to do with Islam, but much to do with the dogmatic self-importance of semi-educated self-appointed clerics who have embraced what they regard as a heaven-sent opportunity to direct an already primitive society in the most dismal and reversionary fashion. The tribes have their own problems, as feuding is rife. The Wazirs and Mahsuds of South Waziristan, for example, are unlikely to form any other than an uneasy and temporary alliance, and this holds for other Agencies. In Khyber there is a savage feud between the Deobandi and Barelvi sects of Sunni Islam, and the Sunnis and Shias of Orakzai and Kurram Agencies lose no opportunity for reciprocal mayhem. The art, in the past, was to keep these feuds at a level at which they distracted the tribes from waging war on government forces while limiting the amount of damage and carnage in the frontier as a whole. But this is impracticable in current circumstances. The insurrection (for so it must be called) in Pakistan's tribal areas cannot be easily contained and it cannot be defeated by exclusively military means. No matter the sophistication of modern weapons and the advanced systems available to identify their targets, whereby dozens, scores or even hundreds of tribals might be annihilated in a single engagement, there is no possibility that the religious and cultural intolerance of these peoples can be eradicated. For every tribesman who is killed, another - at least one other - rises to take his place. It was ever so, and will ever be so. A practical tactic, and a necessarily devious one, is the time-tried and effective means of discreetly-implemented generous bribery to persuade tribals to take or adhere to a desired course of action. This approach requires finesse, tact, a deep understanding of the tribes, and even some degree of sympathy for their inherent brutality and intransigence. The thrust of proposals must be simple and realistic, and the tribal figures involved must be known as those who can deliver at least some of what is promised. It cannot be claimed that bribery is a panacea, but it is a cheaper and more realistic method of restoring at least some tranquillity to the Frontier than exercise of military force to the exclusion of any other policy. The long-term aim of the government of Pakistan is to encourage the tribes to accept education and development combined with "enlightened moderation" in the practice of religion. At the moment attainment of these objectives appears impossible, but establishment of calm would be a first step in transforming a lawless and unproductive battlefield into a region of relative modernity. But foreigners must stay out. (This is an abridged and updated version of a paper written in for the Pakistan Security Research Unit of the University of Bradford). The writer is a South Asian political and military affairs analyst