It is most probably a hangover from four bouts of military rule that Parliament needed an in-camera session, followed by a briefing by officers of general officer rank, with an opportunity of asking questions, before the parliamentarians would agree that there is a crisis on their hands. The rare in-camera procedure was used to make an obeisance, without taking too seriously, the military penchant for secrecy. There were two cultures working together, and it turned out to be a clash. On the one hand was the parliamentary culture, which is open, expressive, and bad at keeping secrets, so bad that it makes a virtue of necessity and simply does not believe in them; on the other was the military, which is hierarchical, secretive, and depends on the control not just of information, but of force. The result was only to be expected: the briefings did not satisfy the opposition, to satisfy which the government had called the session. In a parliamentary democracy, officials are not brought into Parliament, except where they are a ministry's accounting officers and are appearing before the concerned public accounts committee. What would have been appropriate in this case was for the army's civilian masters, the Defence Ministry, to have made a statement on the floor of the House, and if questions were to be allowed, for the statement to have been in reply to a call-attention notice, or a question. Or if the intention was to ask really a lot of questions, a committee of the House should have been convened, and ministry officials been asked to depose before it, and answer member's questions. This might be more American procedure rather than British, but it should be noted that Pakistan's National Assembly is still proportionally smaller than the USA's primary House, the Senate, and the committee system is comparatively less well developed. In the USA, the generals themselves would probably have deposed before the committee, but one or more of their civilian masters from the Pentagon would also have deposed, and his or her questioning would have been noted. His or her statements, including replies, would constitute official policy, not just that of the generals. Interestingly, and perhaps because this was a PPP government, the defence minister, who is presently unassisted in the portfolio by any minister of state or even parliamentary secretary, made no statement, and a statement was left to the information minister. The statement was supposed to be at a secret session, but almost inevitably, and naturally, was the main news in the press. In it, the minister did not really say anything new, but did refer to the meeting of the ulema in Lahore which issued a fatwa (religious edict) against suicide bombings. This meeting was of more significance than that of Parliament, at least in the sense of result. While at best the Parliament will come up with a policy statement by all parties, the Lahore meeting came up with an edict against suicide bombings by all schools of thought. While those who propound suicide bombings will go on propounding the edicts of the ulema they favour, an important gap has been filled. The Musharraf regime was unable to obtain from the ulema any edict condemning, or declaring un-Islamic, suicide bombings. In that respect, the PPP government has been successful. Apart from the judges' issue, which it has resolved, or believes it does. This is another issue which Musharraf could not solve, which the PPP has done. The solution is apparently in favour of the USA, which has always challenged suicide bombings as against Islam, and has resented the host of religious edicts by ulema that these bombings are forms of martyrdom operations. Apart from the parties outside Parliament, which stayed away from the briefing even though invited, the briefing was designed to win over the PML-N, a right-of-centre party with aspirations to power, which has actually held it, but with an ambivalent attitude to the War On Terror. On one hand, it is with any American interlocutors it comes cross, but it is also with the electorate. In a way, even the information minister's statement did not answer the main question the briefing set out to answer: how to explain the War On Terror to the disturbed electorate. The PML-N wanted to know why the electorate should support a war that the Americans had started, against Muslims, to further its own ends. The government said basically that the war had started long before 9/11, being preceded by the attack on the then PM, their own leader, Nawaz Sharif; and that it was basically our own war. This may be correct in the sense that the violence was aimed at the overthrow of the present system, but it is significant that the ulema issuing the Lahore edict have said that only the state can declare jihad. This leaves a loophole, for those intent on practising suicide bombing might argue that the present state, which tolerates barber-shops, video centres and girls' schools, is not Islamic. Indeed, that is how they argue, that a state which seeks American friendship as assiduously as Pakistan, cannot be Islamic, and it is incumbent on true Muslims to follow 'correct edicts'. The PML-N votebank may not accept that view in its entirety, but it does accept its suspicion of the state. Therefore, it is the PML-N votebank that needs convincing. However, even though Parliament came up with its highest forum, a joint sitting in-camera, the armed forces did not answer the questions that were really being asked. The real point of interest was what was the Pervez Musharraf deal with the USA. The failure to answer could have any one of several motives: the desire to save Musharraf from embarrassment, the continuation of the deal or deals to the present and under the present government. If there had been no deal, this would not merely have been stated, but trumpeted, in the joint sitting. There is now no need, as opposed to sentimentality, to save Musharraf any embarrassment, so the deals itself must be protected. Only the sentimental desire to protect the outgoing chief would make it possible to tell an untruth before Parliament, but it was not needed. It must be remembered that the briefing was probably vetted, and the PPP government had more motives to malign the ex-president. But since it was merely carrying forward his policies, it saw no opportunity to malign him. The agreed rules of engagement were not stated, and the government restricted itself to the statement that this was "our war", as clear an admission as it permitted itself that Pakistan was busy prosecuting another's war. Our own war would be prosecuted in our own way, for our own objectives. In this war, we have not even been told the objectives, and so our government does not appear confident before the people's representatives. E-mail: