One of the most important decisions emanating from the London conference of January this year was the formation of a $500 million Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund for reconciliation, demobilisation, and rehabilitation of the Taliban rank and file and for buying the loyalties of the tribes in order to end their cooperation with the Taliban. This offering of financial inducement has always been a traditional policy of all empires while dealing with the tribes as they form an important part of the fabric of Pashtun society. Qayyum Khan had outlined this in his book Guns and Gold on the Afghan Frontier, and the policy was followed by the Mughals and the British. In our times earlier, the Russians followed the same policy and now the US is trying to do so. Interestingly even the Germans had tried their hands at this policy during the Second World War, but their intention was to create trouble rather than to stem it. Gregorian in his book titled Afghanistan quotes from German intelligence files showing that it was a remarkably successful policy with five British divisions being tied up in what is now FATA through the judicious dispensation of a few bags of gold, mostly in Waziristan. The British were of course much more thorough and having inherited the tribal boundary from the Sikhs in 1849, through a trial and error mechanism , finally devised a system of border control under Lord Curzon (1894-1908), which lasted more or less unchanged until quite recently. The system was based on an elitist and extremely competent Indian Political Service (the political agents - PA system established in 1878) which followed a policy of conciliation mixed with force. It had as its coercive instrument a paramilitary force (Frontier Corps - FC), originally called the Punjab Frontier Force, which was made part of the army in 1886 and is the ancestor of our Piffers. The cooperative aspect comprised friendly Maliks and Khassadars (tribal levies) who were generously compensated for their support. This system functioned under the legal framework of the Frontier Crimes Regulations 1872 (FCR), which included such draconian measures as collective tribal responsibility, blockades, fines and aerial bombardment (with proper warning through dropping of leaflets). The British realised, however, that they could never satisfactorily resolve the situation of armed independent tribes co-existing with a civilian government and settled for a partial solution of managed conflict which we inherited in 1947. One point emphasised by Lord Curzon and his successors was that the friendly Maliks and Khassadars had to be fully supported by the FC and the army in order to maintain their prestige and effectiveness. This was also brought out strongly by Maj Gen Akbar Khan in his book Raiders in Kashmir in which he proved that unless the tribal militias had a secure base provided by the army they merely degenerated into a rabble. Properly handled, however, they managed to hold the Indian army at Chakoti by assisting the Pakistan army in the capture of the Pandu heights. From this heyday of the tribes fighting for Pakistan we have degenerated into a situation where the entire FATA is on fire and the military has to be called in to assist the FC in nearly every agency. During the Bhutto era problems with the system had already begun to exhibit themselves and military operations had to take place in Dir and Waziristan. However, Maj Gen Babar, then IG FC, managed to stem the rot and stabilise the situation. Since then the slide started as we decided to weaken the civilian bureaucratic institutions and reverted to our traditional style of governance based on oriental despotism, while inflation took care of the tribal allowances, and development was not considered as an option. Luckily, we still have a group of capable administrators who held the peace on the Frontier for the first five decades since our independence and if the political will exists their expertise can still be utilised to try and recreate the relatively peaceful conditions of a bygone era. On the other side of the border, the US is now trying a system of co-opting the tribes in order to mobilise them against the Taliban. However, they are trying to do this without the infrastructure painstakingly created by the British. So far the programme is without any institutionalised bureaucracy (political agents) versed with the social and cultural skills required for dealing with the complex intricacies of tribal politics or the language skills and patience to deal with the interminable jirgas. They would also be without any Maliks, Khassadars and FC. Using the army alone never works in the long run with the tribes and is usually counterproductive. An additional problem in Afghanistan is that the Afghan Taliban have extremely close links with the tribes, as they had always operated through the tribes during the jihad against the Russians. This contrasts with the Pakistan Taliban, who have alienated the tribal leadership by trying to destroy the Maliki system by large-scale assassinations. The Pakistan army was, therefore, successfully able to raise tribal lashkars to assist them in Dir, Swat and Bajaur. To make matters worse for the US, the tribes are fanatically religious and it would be nearly impossible to garner large-scale continuous tribal support for what is considered by the Afghans to be a crusader force. The narrative on the Taliban side is much stronger as they have been able to successfully portray themselves as fighting for Islam and Sharia and the rights of the Pashtuns against the excesses of the warlords. At the most, what the US could hope for is a temporary shifting of tribal alliances but a strategic shift is difficult to foresee. The Small Wars Journal has also recently highlighted an additional danger with the 'fund', as it could provide an incentive for civilians to join the insurgency, as a means of obtaining economic opportunities. To some extent, this has already happened as after the announcement of the US withdrawal date, the ranks of the Taliban increased and the announcement of the 'fund', even though it has yet to become functional, is also leading to a further influx of recruits who hope to benefit from the programme. The writer is a former ambassador.