It was something of a coincidence that Mian Nawaz Sharif missed the two most important speeches of the year. The first was that by the President, delivered to a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament, in which he reviews the year past, and talks of the year to come, including any subjects of legislation that the government intends to carry out. The second was that by the Finance Minister, delivered to the National Assembly, in which the government’s policy is spelled out in the most effective fashion; by making it public where it intends spending, where taxing. In short, the government puts its money where its mouth is.

Members are now bound to vote as directed by the party leader, but traditionally, the votes involved in these two speeches are issues of confidence, and deviation is supposed to potentially lead to the fall of the government. Pakistan’s Constitution provides for a vote of no-confidence, but these speeches lead to votes which are votes of confidence.

The President’s address leads to the two Houses moving votes of thanks to the President for making the speech. This is because the speech itself is modeled on the British monarch’s speech at the beginning of every parliamentary year from the Throne, delivered in the House of Lords (and where, because the Hall is not large enough, some MPs have to sit on the steps of the Throne). The Prime Minister is head of the monarch’s government, and his ability to get that vote of thanks passed is crucial to his remaining in office. The Pakistani Prime Minister is supposed to head the President’s government, and if the resolution fails, he will have lost his majority.

On the other hand, the presentation of the Budget leads to the passage of the Budget, failing which, the government would grind to a halt. That is why, in accordance with tradition, backbenchers often devote their speech in the Budget debate to the failure of the government to spend money in their constituency. If the Budget should fail to pass, it means the government does not command a majority in the National Assembly. Not just the demands for grants (which are actually permissions to departments to spend), but also any changes to the tax laws, must be passed. It is the ability to get them passed that is supposed to give the government the right to control the executive.

It is worth noting that the Prime Minister may well not speak to either motion, leaving the Law Minister to wind up the presidential address debate, and the Finance Minister to wind up the Budget debate, after which the Budget is formally passed. The Budget has to be passed by June 30, and invariably is, but the vote of thanks debates generally meander on, seemingly forever, and are often a sign that the government has nothing better to put on the agenda.

Mian Nawaz had already signaled his preference for modern technology by his preference for broadcasts to the nation, than a statement to Parliament, where the representatives of that nation sit. Now he has presided over meetings of the NEC and the Cabinet while not physically there, using the videolink technology. The videolink was with the Pakistani High Commission in London, where the Supreme Court wanted to take a deposition from former Ambassador to the USA Hussain Haqqani in the investigation into the US raid that killed Al-Qaeda chief Osma Bin Laden. The judiciary seems comfortable now with videolink testimony, the latest example being Mark Siegel’s testimony from the USA in the Benazir Bhutto murder case. The executive seems to have adapted to it, in his latest example. Though the Cabinet and the NEC are the highest executive levels, there have been lower-level precedents, with the Punjab Chief Minister having held inter-divisional administrative meetings by videolink rather than summoning all the divisional chiefs to Lahore. The legislative branch is left, in that it still requires members to be physically present in the House before they can be given the floor: the President and Finance Minister both had to come to Parliament to make their big speeches.

The latter seems to have got more approvals than he actually implemented. The main example is the increase in the withholding tax on property sales, which was not in the taxation proposals. The Budget itself, as approved, was about Rs 150 billion more than what was actually presented. This shows, more than anything else, that any given year’s budget is but a work in progress, which can only be considered final after the supplementary grants have been passed, and the figures finally reconciled.

Senator Dar might have different reasons by which he would like this Budget to be remembered, but it is unlikely that he would like the main reason it is likely to be remembered: the last time less than a trillion were budgeted for defence. In 2016-7, Rs 860 billion have been budgeted, and the way things are going, in 2018-9, that total will cross Rs I trillion. (This year, the increase was 11 percent, and similar increases will not make it cross a trillion next year, but the one after that.) Already, defence is not the most expensive item in the budget. That distinction goes to interest payments, which crossed the one-trillion-rupee mark a couple of years ago, and are now budgeted at Rs 1.36 trillion. Defence once used to be the largest item in the budget, but now interest payments are. Could they be inter-related developments? It seems likely, as the need to bolster national defence is constantly felt. That has long meant that the country has had to borrow to pay the costs of its defence. This has meant a squeezing in other sectors, such as the money spent on education, healthcare and welfare in general.

That means that corruption, morally reprehensible as it is, is not as big a cause of impoverishment as is thought. While Senator Dar had the difficult task of making a budget, it was within the parameters laid down, that Pakistan pay money extracted from taxpayers, who cover everybody once indirect taxes are included, to pay off debts, and to pay for defence.

This herculean effort is not made so much that the military fight a war, as that it rule. It must be noted that there have been four wars, and four episodes of military rule. The period of war totals months, the period of rule totals decades. The last time there was a war, East Pakistan was lost. Yet the military still consumes so much of the Budget so as to remain a potential ruling force. Mian Nawaz may have missed both speeches this year, but he comes back to the problems implied in them. Perhaps the biggest problem he faces is that of managing the change of guard, for not only does he have to pick a new COAS at the end of the year, a new US President will be elected. The USA will choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and Mian Nawaz is left to choose the next man who could overthrow him. If two didn’t, it doesn’t mean the third won’t. Actually, especially in the nuclear age, whether or not someone is likely to overthrow the government, is not a good basis to decide who will head the organisation which also spends so much money.

The Prime Minister may well not  speak to either motion, leaving the Law Minister to wind up the presidential address debate, and the Finance Minister to wind up the Budget debate, after which the Budget is formally passed.