What is in effect the PPP government has commenced a budget session which is meant to do two things: pass a budget for the next financial year, 2009-10, to begin on July 1, and to carry out any other legislation that might have been left over during the year, for though the assembly-year is supposed to run from the date of election, in this case February 18, the true annual cycle revolves around the budget session, where after the budget itself, all other business is shoved in. In the case of this particular National Assembly, the catchall phase includes a constitutional amendment bill, the 18th, by which the PPP hopes to fulfil one of the Opposition promises in the last general election, that of restoring the judges. The 18th Amendment hopes to fulfil three objectives: first, bringing the constitution as far back to its position at the time Ziaul Haq took over from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto; second, not just reforming the judiciary but bringing it under parliamentary control at least at the time of appointment; and third, providing President Pervez Musharraf and others an indemnity for acts performed while imposing an Emergency last November. The last two have created a problem, which has forced the referral of the draft to yet another committee of the two major parties, the PPP and the PML-N, and has caused something like a backbench rebellion in the latter, which insisted that the judges had to be restored through an executive order backed by a parliamentary resolution, as envisaged by the Bhurban Declaration. The judges' issue was paradoxically not as prominent during the election campaign as now, and the nation badly wants it resolved, preferably well, but ill if needed. At the same time, it has also become involved with the very survival of the president himself, even though nothing in the coming budget or the constitutional amendment bill in any way challenges his position or forces him to resign. Therefore, the transatlantic calls that have been made, to shore up President Pervez Musharraf's position, were the result of the judges' issue. The main objection to replacing Musharraf is strictly a utilitarian one. Who would be better for allied interests? If there was a reasonable answer to that question, that person would be in, but whoever comes next as president will be another Fazl Ilahi Chaudhry or Rafiq Tarar, a politician without any power. The 18th Amendment makes a lot of attempts to prevent a future take over by the military, such as including validating actions by the judiciary within the definition of high treason, but the basic question is unresolved: the constitution placed enough bars on the armed forces already, and the civil administration, without whose obedience military rule was impossible, was governed by no Army Act. So what will prevent a take over in the future? As long as the military, as well as a significant portion of the civil society, is still convinced of its special role in holding Pakistan together? Apparently, that will require the Americans and their allies to be convinced that civilians can play the same role as effectively. Only then will the military be convinced that they must follow the same constitutional path as armed forces the world over, which have obedience to the civil authority as their cornerstone. But whatever the contents of the 18th Amendment, any attempt to amend the constitution by an 80-clause bill which would have the effect of changing 74 clauses and 4 schedules, must be a lengthy one, which can only come after the Budget. Apart from the rounding up of the requisite majority in the senate will be the sheer hard work of passage, which will probably make Farooq Naek regret taking the law ministry. And yet that is by no means the main work of the session. That must remain the Budget, the main moment for the finance minister to shine. It is through him that the government delivers the Budget Speech, which is the government's commentary upon the year that has passed, and its explanation of why it is doing what it is doing. The minister is expected to state what the main sources of revenue are, and what the main heads of expenditure are. In explaining the former, the minister also informs the House, and through live coverage the whole world, of any changes in taxation that the government is carrying out. The purpose of taxation is not just the raising of revenue, but also the carrying out of government policy through a form of social engineering. This year, the government is faced with many crises which it will try to tackle through the budget, such as the power crisis and the wheat crisis, even though the latter should be handled more by the provincial governments, whose budget speeches will succeed the federal in days. The budgets are also the means by which the government will deliver on development in the tribal areas, and on other measures promised taken in the War On Terror.After the statement of revenues and expenditure will come, the really boring part, the passage of the demands for grant, which are presented ministry-wise, and which are subject to cut motions, motions calling for a token cut in a particular grant, and meant by the mover to provoke debate on the grant. The motion is always defeated, and then there is a vote on the demand, which is always passed. If ever a demand is defeated, it should cause the fall of the government, but not in any Pakistani assembly, because the constitution prescribes two different procedures to be followed in these cases, which should remain, though with substantial changes, after the passage of the 18th Amendment, the vote of no-confidence and the vote of confidence, but actually the main duty of any government, federal or provincial, to the head of state or his provincial representative, is to pass a budget for the coming financial year. Even members complain of the burden of figures, but the fact remains that the demands for grants place an upper limit for expenditure. That can only be exceeded by a supplementary grant, which is passed ahead of the budget proper. The Budget and its procedure evolved out of two conflicting impulses. First, the bureaucratic desire to keep things as they are for them, no matter the revolution occurring elsewhere. Second, the desire that government be accountable for the money it spends before an elected body. After such a huge enterprise as the Budget, passing the 18th Amendment will be heavy on parliament, but it will have to be done. E-mail: maniazi@nation.com.pk