Newspapers report that the NWFP government has decided to issue 30,000 rifles to especially chosen civilians in order to help the police. Law and order a shamble in the province, the responsibility for maintaining it is indeed a provincial subject. The federal government has always found it convenient to deflect the flak of public criticism on law and order by taking cover behind the constitution that provides a division of subjects between the centre and the provinces. FATA, the federally administered tribal area of over 27,220 sq km and over three million people, has a special position in the federation from the beginning. A people proud of their identity, history and culture, the tribes joined Pakistan after they had ensured that they would not be ruled by the laws applicable to the settled districts except as provided for in the agreement they signed with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the country who became the first Governor General of Pakistan. In a nutshell, they would remain loyal to Pakistan but be governed by their own customs and tradition as historically practised in the tribal area. The British ran the tribal area fundamentally on tradition, encoded in the Frontier Crimes Regulation (1901), which laid down the parameters of the management of the tribal area. The duties and privileges of the tribes and the powers of the political agents, the tribal elders and local imams through whom the tribes were administered, were defined. This was a sophisticated system that worked smoothly under the British and was continued by the Government of Pakistan under the new agreement. Carrying arms is one tradition that Pathans cherish in the tribal area. A personal weapon is not property to a Pathan; it is an extension of his body. Children grow up watching adults go about their daily lives with a rifle slung around their shoulder, or a revolver hanging from the bandolier around their waists. In fact, by the time he is ten, a boy has already used a weapon and done some target practice. To lose his weapon for a Pathan is considered a matter of dishonour. The tribal area bordering Peshawar has several small arms factories that cater to a large demand. Life in the settled district of the NWFP has gone through the urbanisation process over the years, especially after three million refugees resulting from the Soviet invasion entered the province in the eighties, as more and more tribes migrated and mixed with society in the rest of the country. But people's attachment to weapons has remained intact through the ages and it is difficult to come across a household that does not possess a weapon. By the time the Soviets left in 1989, Pakistan was proliferating with arms and ammunition so freely supplied during the jihad. Availability of weapons leads to a rise in violent crime in communities: Pakistan has been no exception to that rule. All this to say that there is no dearth of weapons in this country, even less in the NWFP. It is against this perspective that the decision of the government to create village defence committees (VDC) and arm 30000 people needs to be seen. In a province already bristling with arms and ammunition, issuing more weapons to the people is only going to worsen the situation marked by violence from one end to another. It is not understood how such private militias are going to counter militants who have not been defeated by the army that has been actively engaged in operations across the province. The British Afghan wars of the 19th century, the Soviet bloody nose about a hundred years later, and the plight of the US and NATO since 2001 - all bear evidence to the depth of the tribal resistance. Even the settled district of Swat could not be subdued with force by the army. The government claims that if the weapons issued to the VDCs are not used against insurgents and terrorists, they will be withdrawn. This has been a pious hope of many clerks who take such unrealistic decisions. Experience shows that it never works. Weapons were similarly issued in Swat a few months ago that showed no positive result. And now to withdraw them is an uphill task in that volatile area. The danger of some of the weapons going into the hands of the insurgents cannot be ruled out by a government which is singularly marked for an impotent administration. At best they will be treated as welcome gifts. The real problem is an under-motivated police leadership and a demoralised force. The need of the hour is to beef up the regular police force through meritorious recruitment, sound training and suitable equipment. How can the VDCs succeed where the police have failed? Issuing arms to private individuals in such a volatile situation will amount to adding fuel to the fire. The writer is a former ambassador at large