AS the National Assembly rose on Wednesday to observe two minutes of silence in memory of the slain federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistanis were reminded once again about the ugliness that feeds into the murderous mindsets of some. Three gentlemen, members of a religious party, remained in their seats, refusing to honour the memory of a federal minister cut down by a hail of bullets and hate only hours earlier. That ugliness found echoes across the political landscape yesterday. The leadership of most political parties only awkwardly broached the topic of Mr Bhatti's murder, seemingly hesitant to openly condemn it. Mr Bhatti's own party, which has now lost a second leader in less than two months over the blasphemy laws 'controversy', was also relatively muted in its comments. Fear ruled the roost.Have the extremists won? They certainly have won the battle, such as it was, over the blasphemy laws. Man-made laws which no religious scholar with an iota of credibility can support in totality have now seemingly become sacrosanct, at one with sacred texts. But there is a larger battle, too, one for defining what Pakistan stands for and who has the right to live in peace here. And that battle is being won by the right wing. One by one, topics are being removed from the national discourse. There is no need for a concerted plan. Fearing for one's life can have a dramatic chilling effect on what citizens and their leaders think is appropriate to say in public. Today, blasphemy laws can't even be discussed. Tomorrow, what is permissible on television or radio may be challenged anew. The day after, what women are allowed to wear and do with their lives will be questioned further. Meanwhile, the politics of blaming others will spread. Mr Bhatti is killed, so it must be the doing of Blackwater. Militants kill and maim in a bid to expand their influence — it can only be an external plot to 'destabilise' Pakistan. Caught in the pincers of closing off national discourse and blaming violence on 'outside' entities, Pakistan may become unrecognisable to its citizens sooner than many may think is possible.
But where is the federal government in all of this? Platitudes from the prime minister about a 'new strategy' to fight an enemy that has stalked this nation for years are of no good. Give the people who need security the security they deserve, instead of waffling about strategies and plans. And when it comes to strategies and plans, tell the nation about concrete actions being taken. The government was elected to lead. Show the people it can lead.