THE trouble in Khyber Agency with the extremists may be drawing to an end, as the jirga in Tirah seems to have made progress with Lashkar-i-Islami chief Mangal Bagh, with whom it is heading towards an agreement. Of course, it will only reach an agreement if the government accepts Mangal Bagh's conditions, or rather condition, which is the vacation of the Khyber Agency by government forces. In return, Mr Bagh is supposed to ensure the surrender of wanted men in his ranks. The operation has in the meanwhile been put on hold as a gesture of goodwill. Unfortunately, this tells Mr Bagh as well as any other militants that the best way of overcoming the writ of the state is to defy and deny it. It is positive that talks are being given a chance after so much pressure on the government to go for the military action which alone the Americans think suitable to the tribal region, but at the same time, the government must draw a metaphorical line in the sand, beyond which it will not go, and that must be not to make any agreement, preliminary or final, that involves ceding the writ of the state. It must insist in the present case that the writ of the state shall be maintained, and Mr Bagh not be allowed to gain agreement to points which mean that the state concedes in any way the absence of its writ. This also assumes that the state will behave like a state, and not allow another state, no matter how much more powerful, to interfere or intervene in any way. This means that the jirga must stop the exhibition of arms as well as get wanted men to surrender, and it must not concede points simply to get an agreement. The government may find itself in a situation where it cannot implement the agreement the jirga reaches without conceding more of its writ than it is comfortable with. In that case, it can either get out of the agreement, or implement it while making clear which are the offending clauses, and thus make clear that its objections to the agreement are its own, not imported from abroad.