President Asif Zardaris attempt to take on the judiciary is probably not over, but the latest episode has ended in a debacle, with the executive capitulating to the judiciary in its latest confrontation. With a withdrawal of impugned notices which made changes in the Lahore High Court. Being withdrawn and replaced by the recommendations of the chief justice, there has ended yet another round in the struggle of the judiciary to name itself. This is a struggle against which no one seems to have had any objection, except the PPP, which has tried before, especially during the late Benazir Bhuttos second prime ministership, when Mr Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was appointed Chief Justice of Pakistan by overlooking Mr Justice Rafiq Tarar, who later became president. It is because of that out-of-turn appointment that the PPP seemed to have assumed that it had more or less made the judiciary its own, and this was the event that brought Asif Zardari to the fore. It is noteworthy that the judicial appointments in the Supreme Court have been carried out, but not in the Lahore or Sindh High Courts, where there are disputes, and because of the provinces numerical preponderance, will form the bulk of the Supreme Court. President Asif Zardari may be assumed to be acting on the PPP assumption that the judiciary is prejudiced against it, and will be part of any attempt to dislodge it. This neglects the fact that the anti-PPP judicial appointments were made during the Zia era, which have now been over for 20 years. This assumption, if true for the era when the PPP came back to power, also neglected the fact that the PPP was not exactly a model of good governance, and provided grounds for dismissal by the presidents of the time. In the final analysis, a judiciary, even if prejudiced, depends on legal arguments presented in court to deliver its verdict. Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah thereupon became part of the majority that found against the government in the Al-Jihad Trust case, which is known as the judges case, and which the president claims to have been applying to the Lahore High Court. That decision also removed judges appointed by the PPP government to fill vacancies in the high courts. Many of the appointees were PPP loyalists, but did not fulfil the appointment criteria. However, the case did establish the seniority principle, but did not apply it to Mr Justice Shah. That was subsequently done by the Supreme Court, even though Mr Justice Shah had taken extraordinary measures, like the dispersal of the judges to the provincial capitals. The removal of Mr Justice Shah also brought down the President of Pakistan of the time, President Farooq Leghari. That episode illustrated some important principles which the present government would ignore only at its peril. First, especially under civilian political leadership, the judiciary does not allow interference of any kind in judicial appointments. Second, the judiciary decides its own cases, so you cant win an argument with it. Third, the judges usually, but not always, follow the lead of the chief justice, and this has been greatly heightened in the case of the present Chief Justice of Pakistan by the lawyers movement. Fourth, the courts may sacrifice their own chief justices if they feel there is a principle at stake. Fifth, they can. Sixth, the conduct of the executive is not untrammelled, but subject to judicial review. These were the principles which guided the Supreme Court in passing an interim order. The government should keep that in mind when it approaches the main case, which started on Thursday. For that, it must also transcend the feeling it has developed through its previous periods in office that the judiciary is somehow subordinate. Nevertheless, the problem lies with the Presidency and Prime Ministership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Apart from (as PM), being the first person to be Pakistans elected prime minister, he was also the first (and only) member of President Daub Khans Cabinet to succeed him. Ayub may not have been contemptuous of the judiciary, though he did have a Chief Justice of the East Pakistan High Court resign on him because of an appointment over which he was not consulted, but as the head of a military dictatorship, he certainly presided over a state in which the executive was over-mighty. While Zia and Musharraf used the military to provide them personnel to rule, Ayub used the bureaucracy, the instrument which the Raj had used exclusively till it began its experiment with democracy which ended with independence and partition. The PPP had thus been used to a strongly individualistic, and quasi-dictatorial, style of governance. This led to an attitude towards the judiciary which does not allow for the kind of judicial activism presently being carried out as a matter of course. It was perhaps inevitable that Benazir would carry her fathers attitude, but for her widower to have the same attitude was an indication that the entire party had this attitude, which neither coincides with the requirements of the people, nor the intentions of the judiciary. There has been some speculation that the government intends to change the procedure for appointing the judiciary through the 18th Amendment, which will abolish the 17th Amendment, especially the powers of the president. However, this neglects the fact that the power of governing at the centre and three provinces may have been given to the PPP, but it can only amend the constitution by joining hands with the PML-N. Now the PML-N has shown, by its award of presidential tickets, that it has an awareness of the needs of the judiciary, and it can be expected not to commit to voting for any amendment which places the judiciary at the disposal of the PPP. However, the PPP has never been deterred from bringing a constitutional amendment just because it lacked the votes to pass it, as shown by the 13th Amendment Bill, which provided for the gutting of the judiciary, whereby a mere accusation would automatically entail suspension. For obvious reasons, that Bill was not passed. However, it did serve a number of purposes, among them showing the PPPs attitude towards the judiciary, which is not solely influenced by Bhuttos experience under Ayub, but also by the partys socialist experiment, which does not see the party as one competitor among several for the control of the executive and the legislature, but as a vanguard party which must control all elements making up the state. That is the reason why the PPP never accepts electoral defeat, and at once cries out against rigging, because a socialist party always has a monopoly of power once it attains office. However, this approach, while it may pass muster in electoral politics, does not go down well with the judiciary, which finds the PPP, not politicians in general, as its sole competitor for the power of making judicial appointments. Then again, the PPP can still recoup. After making sure that the 18th Amendment includes nothing affecting the judiciary, it must ensure total obedience to the judiciary, including the Supreme Courts NRO verdict. It must not be forgotten that the NRO verdict, which affected the president, in what has started the present round of an ongoing confrontation spread over nearly two decades. The PPP has a responsibility to letting the judiciary be independent if it wants the constitution operationalised and a chance at executive and legislative power periodically. The permanent guarantee was thrown out with the socialism so distasteful to the USA, the PPPs present patron.