Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharifs recent proposal for an all-parties conference with a difference, with the military and the judiciary present, caused a lot of controversy among everyone, but only parties could go public with their views, leaving the military to continue to guard a silence on the subject, while the judiciary prepared for another round of confrontation with the executive over the basic question of whether or not its verdicts were to be implemented. Mian Shahbazs proposal caused controversy particularly as the PML-N, his party, had entered a new phase of relationship with the PPP, having just thrown it out of the Punjab government. His proposal was seen by the PPP as providing the military a route into politics, following up on MQM supreme Altaf Hussains call for 'patriotic generals to take over. Mian Shahbazs proposal was also seen as an attempt to upstage the PPP proposal of an APC, apparently now dead in the water, and thus the opposition was redoubled. However, the underlying assumption, that the military and the judiciary, are supposed to stay out of politics, is based on the British division of powers, which does not take account of the experience of the institutions, either before independence or afterwards. The military and judiciary did stay out of politics before the independence, but only in the sense of not supporting any political party. Both were loyal to the state, and were its principal upholders. It was only before independence came that the parties came on the scene, and with partition, both the military and the judiciary carried on, maintaining a continuity with the Raj that set the scene for a struggle with politicians and parties. The military carried out the coups, and the judiciary validated them. However, that compact seems to have been broken, and the latest military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, found the judiciary trying for the rule of law, something not possible under martial law. Mian Shahbazs proposal also recognises that it will not really be enough for politicians to agree on a course of action, if the military will turn around and use that very course of action as the reason for a coup. Further, Mian Shahbaz seems to have recognised the newfound independence of the judiciary, and wants the judiciary present because it should not happen that the politicians might take a decision at great cost, only for the courts to strike it down. A common thread is thus visible: Mian Shahbaz wants to take the risk out of politics. He does not want the politicians to have to play a guessing-game. Like a practical politician, he doesnt want the military and judiciary to gang up on the government. He also acknowledges that both are political players. The judiciary became a player at the same time as the military, by validating its takeovers. However, the same desire for a legal cover is that which is keeping it away from this conference. The Sharifs have only come into contact with the military after Mian Sharif had the Ittefaq Mills returned, but the contact with the legal fraternity dates back to when he entered business. This respect for the courts has been reflected in his sons politics, symbolised by the PML-N having always put up a former Supreme Court judge for the presidency, both before and after the Musharraf takeover. It is perhaps paradoxical that the criticism of the proposal should come from the PPP, but it does not regard the state, of which both the military and the judiciary are components, as a goal to be achieved only intermittently, but a permanent adjunct to the party. This is an inheritance from the founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whose own experience of the state, as a minister in the Ayub Cabinet, was of the Raj, when both institutions were firmly subordinated to the purposes of the state, which was primarily to control the people, and make them accept a rule they did not want, that of the British in one case, and in the Ayub era that of the military the British had left behind. This melded well with Bhuttos conception of the PPP as a vanguard party, which would command all the institutions of the state. However, the judiciary does not seem to be willing to be part of that pact, having thrown in its lot with the forces that want the military kept out of politics. The military is for the moment inclined to stay out of politics, in the sense of ruling directly, but has not wholly given up its political role. It is perhaps not possible for the military, even though it is very proud of its Raj heritage, including the suppression of revolts against it, but it has become a Muslim army. It was not formed by Ziaul Haq, but he was a product. The spirit of jihad has been used against India, and is one element which was kept out not just of the British Indian Army, but of pre-Raj Indian armies, which may have been raised and commanded by Muslim kings, but which had sizeable Hindus components. Nevertheless, while the military is inclined to use Islamic concepts, its leadership is more subservient to the West, and the latest statement by the ISPR spokesman, which also calls into question the civilian military budget, shows that the Pakistani military retains a political role, for no other civil servant would dare to criticise by implication his political masters thus. It is another matter that the criticism has not been rejected as such. Indeed, those vocal against Mian Shahbaz have not criticised this statement, not even the government, as if conceding the right of the DG ISPR to make such criticism. Nonetheless, not only is the military privileged in Pakistan, but as in the rest of the Muslim world, historically, it has also thought it has the right to rule. There is no text, either Quranic or in the Sunna, justifying, or even being taken as giving the military a right to rule, but the Muslim state is supposed to have the ability to protect itself. In fact, the civilians, who were the rightly guided Caliphs, tried their best to keep their militaries under control, the best-known example being the Caliph Umar (RA)s sacking of Khalid ibn Walid (RA) as commander. It is perhaps symptomatic that the sacking was on the grounds of what would today be called codal irregularities. It is perhaps in continuation of that tradition that the ISPR spokesman found it necessary to make a statement about the militarys budget. It should also be noticed that one reason why Khalid ibn Walid (RA) accepted the orders was because the Caliph himself was most punctilious about applying budgetary restrictions to himself, to the extent of creating those restrictions himself. The political role of the judiciary has been less obvious in Muslim history, but has generally been present in the form of court scholars being appointed to high judicial office. It should therefore be seen that Mian Shahbazs demand may not be in line with Western concepts of the division of powers and the non-political role ascribed to the institutions of the state, but is in keeping with both Muslim tradition and national history. Making them part of a consensus would not constitute an invitation to martial law, even if it is not necessarily practicable, because the military in particular would require government permission to attend. That it would not like to give for fear of making the military seem separate.