Since 1947 we have seen 13 years of military rule by Field Marshal Ayub Khan and then General Yahya Khan from 1958 to 1971, 11 years of military rule by General Ziaul Haq from 1977 to 1988 and a little more than 8 years of military rule by General Musharraf from 1999 to 2008 " summing up to 32 years out of 60. Since the adoption of the constitution in 1973 the period(s) of military rule add upto 19 years out of 35. During the 60 years of our independent existence, and more so perhaps since 1973, the armed forces have performed four main roles " mostly through the person of the chief of army staff " in the context of the civil-military relationship. First, a "role of giving advice" whenever asked or whenever needed. This is a role that is normally performed by a head of state in countries where the effective head of government is the prime minister. Second, a "participatory role" in the three tiers forming part of the Higher Defence Organisation viz the Defence Committee of the Cabinet whose meetings are attended by the service chiefs on invitation, the Defence Council headed by the defence minister whose meetings the service chiefs attend as members, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee chaired by one of their own. Third, a "role in implementation of policy" as aid to civil power. Over the years this role has extended beyond giving help during floods and other emergencies such as earthquakes, and control of law and order situations, to checking of electricity theft and uncovering of ghost schools. And fourth an "extra-constitutional role" in which the civil governments have been replaced by martial law or military governments. Every civilian government has readily conceded to the armed forces the first three roles. The army chiefs have, sometimes openly and publicly, advised the civilian governments on the policies they deem to be correct and necessary. Martial law was lifted in 1985 and there was a civilian government in position but effective and ultimate state power remained in the hands of a president who retained the office of the chief of army staff and who openly declared that his real constituency was the army. Even after separation of the two offices in 1988 the army chief remained a key player in the troika that took the final decisions of State at times of crisis. Throughout the period of the civilian governments in between 1988 and 1999 it is a question mark what, if any, was the civilian input/control over the size of the defence budget. It is certain that such civilian input was minimal with regard to allocations within the defence budgets. There was no debate in any National Assembly during these 11 years on either the quantum or the details of defence expenditures. In this background the decision taken by the present government to disclose the details of the defence budget to the National Assembly is a most welcome development. It constitutes the first step to re-assertion of parliamentary control over the armed forces. The armed forces are no doubt one with the civilian governments in the desire for economic and social progress and institutional continuity. They are sensitive however to real or perceived threats to their autonomy and cohesiveness and want control over polices that require military expertise or which affect their operational activities. In the normal course this should not lead to a breakdown of the civil-military relations. It is crisis situations that undo the balance. What happens when perceptions differ and the armed forces feel that the government of the day is acting against the national interest? What happens, in a time of crisis, when a significant body of political and public opinion shares the perception of the armed forces that the government of the day is following a course detrimental to the national interest and encourages the armed forces to intervene? What are the service chiefs, in particular, the army chief, to do in such a situation? Are they the servants of the State or of the government in power? Should the army chief have intervened to prevent the storming of the Supreme Court on the basis of the letter written to him by its chief justice? If there is a perceived clash of loyalty between the State and the elected government what should the army chief do " make his views public and resign or intervene? Are we ever likely to see a situation in Pakistan in which the military is subordinate to the civil power in the manner seen and understood in the West? In seeking reasoned answers to the above and other questions it is necessary also to take note of the provisions of Article 243 of the constitution which, while vesting control and command of the armed forces in the federal government, declares that the supreme command shall vest in the president. A question arises whether it is desirable or necessary to give the president, in his capacity as supreme commander of the armed forces, a meaningful role in matters relating to defence and national security. In trying to answer this question we should leave to one side the fact that the present president is General (retd) Pervez Musharraf. What would be our answer if the next president were to be Asif Zardari or Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif? As a result of re-organisation subsequent to the East Pakistan debacle in 1971, the higher defence organisation comprises three tiers. The first tier is the Defence Committee of the Cabinet chaired by the prime minister. The second tier is the Defence Council headed by the defence minister. The Defence Council includes the foreign minister, finance minister and the four service chiefs as its members. It was constituted with the object of coordinating the defence, foreign and finance polices of Pakistan, and for approving induction of new defence systems, subject to the final approval of the Defence Committee. The third tier is the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Since 2004 another apex tier has been added in the form of the National Security Council (NSC) through the National Security Council Act 2004. The NSC is chaired by the president and includes as its members the prime minister, the senate chairman, the NA speaker, the leader of the opposition in NA, four chief ministers and the four service chiefs. The stated function of the council is to serve as a consultative forum for the president and the government on matters of national security including sovereignty, integrity, defence, security of the state and crisis management, and to make recommendations in any of the above matters. Is the chairmanship of the NSC a permissible role for the president as head of state and/or in his capacity as the supreme commander of the armed forces? It may be useful at this stage to see how such councils are organised and perform in other countries. In the United States the NSC was created through the Act of Congress in 1947. Presently, its members are the president, the vice president, the secretary of state and the secretary of defence. Others who attend NSC meetings on a regular basis include the chairman joint chiefs of staff, the director CIA, and the national security advisor. In India the NSC was established in 1988 as a three tier structure. At the apex there is a six-member body chaired by the prime minister and including the union ministries of home, defence, external affairs and finance and the deputy chairman of the planning commission. The prime minister's principal secretary is the national security advisor. The second tier is the strategic planning group headed by the cabinet secretary and including the three service chiefs, the governor of the Reserve Bank and concerned federal secretaries. The third tier is the National Security Advisory Board which comprises persons of eminence from outside the government with expertise in external and internal security, foreign affairs, defence and military affairs, science and technology and economics. This board acts as a think tank for the policy makers. In Iran the NSC is called the Supreme Council for National Security. It is headed by the president and includes the heads of the three branches of government, the chief of the Supreme Council of the armed forces, the officer incharge of Planning and Budget Affairs, two representatives nominated by the supreme leader, four cabinet ministers, the highest ranking officer from the armed forces and the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. There are three uniformed persons out of a total of 14. In Israel the NSC was established in 1999 through an executive order. It derives its authority from the prime minister. It is headed by the national security advisor to the prime minister and includes the divisional heads incharge of the security policy, foreign policy, company and infrastructure, terror combat, and organisation and operations, an economic advisor and a legal advisor. In Turkey the NSC is a constitutional body. It is headed by the president and includes the prime minister, the chief of the general staff, the ministers of defence, internal affairs and foreign affairs, the three service chiefs and the commander of the Gendarmerie. The constitution makes it obligatory for the cabinet to give priority consideration to the recommendations of the NSC. The Turkish forces have the constitutional obligation not only to defend the territorial integrity and independence of Turkey against external and internal threats but also to defend the "basic" nature of the Turkish Republic viz republicanism and secularism. All our political parties need to work together to bring about a strengthening of the institutional structures relating to the civilian-military interaction. While doing so they would be well advised to take into account the views and concerns of the armed forces. If this is not done it is possible that we will remain a prisoner of our history which has seen, again and again, the swing of the pendulum from one side to the other without striking the desired balance. The writer is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court and former governor, Punjab