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The talkative dead


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My relationship with the people I come across on any given day is decided by their numbers. When they are individuals or small groups I feel responsible for them and try to protect them. When they are a mob, I feel responsible for my family and try to protect myself from them.

I am a policeman. Not one of your obese, maskeen police wallahs but a university graduate, police academy trained, one star assistant sub inspector. I like working from the office and with individuals and the local community; and crowd control is all I’ve been assigned in the past couple of years. Islamabad is not a big and crowded metro. Public gatherings here are few and far between, and tend to be of more manageable size and temperament than anywhere else in Pakistan. But the violent ones can get very messy. During and since Lal Masjid, the Islamabad Capital Territory Police has been attacked and overrun by seminary students, lawyers, goons of a local MNA, Namoos-e-Risalat mobs … and on a frequent basis, terrorist groups.

My mother and wife agree on only one thing, that I should not take my job too seriously to risk my life. That no medal is worth dying for and no insult is too hurtful if it saves your life. In my brief career, I have never been seriously under threat – as a law enforcer, as an individual citizen, as a Sunni Muslim, or as a Potohari – though, I have had colleagues and work buddies blown into bits that had to be gathered from the ground and plucked from trees and car shells. I have had colleagues kidnapped, tortured, and executed. I don’t really see them as heroes; quite the opposite. For the most part, they were unfortunate to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and in some cases, for the wrong reason. They make up one statistic that I do not wish to become part of.

For an average-sized demonstration – one in which all the participants and their placards fit into the camera frame – I get to lead a team of six to 10 constables. The protesters are always well to do professionals – lawyers, doctors, journalists, but mostly the civil society which is what the NGO types call themselves. They all feel aggrieved, blame each other, the government and police, and sometimes resort to violence to protest against violence. I don’t judge anyone. I don’t support an ideology and I don’t oppose an ideology. I am not even interested enough to have an opinion of the issue that gets people out in the protest. My job is to ensure that the assembly stays out of trouble and ends peacefully, and that my team finishes its shift without hurting and getting hurt.

This assignment seemed fairly routine which is why I was caught unawares at the end of it. A couple of hundred people were gathered outside a Super Market last Sunday evening to protest against the killing of Hazaras in Quetta. They’d been there all through the previous afternoon and night. There were the usual faces – the so-called civil society (does that imply the rest of the society is uncivil?) that included a number of non-Muslims – but many were strangers to the city’s protest culture. They were Hazaras. I have never seen them becoming part of any demonstration. I could, however, understand why they’d come out – men, women and children – this time. Their dead were urging them to.

Hazaras are being killed like birds in a cage. They cannot run, they cannot hide, they cannot defend themselves. I saw a poster of one of the victims of the Quetta tragedy and remembered this young man Irfan Khudi as a regular participant of civil society demonstrations. I looked at a Hazara child and wondered if he will live to be a man and die a natural death in old age. Or will he become another talkative dead body like the 86 who were speaking non-stop for the past three days, from their coffins placed on Alamdar Road in Quetta? Why are they talking and why won’t they let their families bury them? Why was I thinking? I am only required to watch, anticipate, and act, I reminded myself.

But there was nothing to do. Except for a brief encounter with students from a nearby madrassah yesterday, who took offence at anti Lashker-e-Jhangvi slogans, the marathon event had been largely uneventful and sober. Protesters were sitting on neatly laid rows of darris, listening to speeches from anyone who wished to say something. Occasionally, a speaker from Quetta or an overseas gathering would be heard through phone line. Apparently, similar protests were being held everywhere Pakistanis live. There weren’t many Hazaras among the speakers though. They sat motionless, or served the protesters food and tea with a hospitable smile, and spoke shyly and politely; too politely for a people being hounded relentlessly and murdered systematically. It must be the reticence and compulsive politeness of the whole community that was infuriating the dead. Their decomposing bodies were yelling for the living Hazaras to speak up for their right to live. The effort pushed the remaining blood in their bodies to spill out of their pores, and the family mourners had to change their white cotton shrouds every few hours.

I thought of my village in Potohar and tried to imagine the reaction of people there if a 100 of them were murdered in one day. There will be mayhem. At least 200 of our enemies will have to pay a price with their blood. If we can’t punish them ourselves we’ll push the police, army, courts, and governments to do that. If that fails men will sell their fields and women their jewellery to buy weapons or hire a terrorist gang, but we will be avenged. And here, are these Hazaras who’ve lost close to a thousand people in a year and are being so apologetic for having to block a road, for protesters spending a freezing cold night under the sky, for not providing children and women with warm and comfortable bedding … ‘Oh poor Hazaras, poor poor Hazaras’ cried the dead and choked on their own words.

No one cares for the Hazara, someone said in a small group of protesters standing close to me, having a smoking break. Others joined in:

“The chief minister is still abroad.”

As if he could be of any help if he was here. The last time Hazaras were killed he said that all he can do is send them a truckload of tissue rolls to wipe their tears.

The prime minister says he’ll meet with Hazara community leaders in a week’s time and will listen to their demands.

Forget the governments, even the media does not care. Tomorrow’s long march is more important for them.

The BBC Urdu Service says the most popular story on its website is about adult filmmakers in Hollywood challenging the legislation that requires actors to use condoms.

Suddenly, the Alamdar dead’s voice rose as one and addressed me directly. I could hear it clearly. It said what started with the Ahmadis is not going to end with the Shias. When all Shias are killed or forced out of Pakistan, or tamed into submission, then what? Who is next? It could be you, or your sons and daughters. If you want to live, you’ll have to speak up for the right of others to live. Sit down with these protesters or run away from this country as fast as you can.

And that was when it happened. I never mix work with emotions. I always control crowds and never become part of one. And I never, ever listen to the dead … I took off my service beret, wrapped a chador around my uniform and name plate, and sat down on the darri among my own.


Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (54) Closed

Abbas Changezi Jan 18, 2013 05:41am
A Hazara from Alamdar Road (currently in the Diaspora) ... a very powerful and moving article. While we (the Hazaras) do not have any expectation from those in the power corridors in Pakistan, believe me that our entire nation of 9-million (scattered around the world) has been moved by the love and support we have received from citizens of Pakistan and humanity everywhere. Btw, we are not just Shia. Hazaras are mainly Shia, but also have a sizable Sunni and Ismaili populations as well (especially in Afghanistan). But religious, national, boundaries are all meaningless. Humanity is at a higher tier and must supersede everything else.
Ali Jan 18, 2013 09:06pm
Leftist Jan 17, 2013 10:09am
Powerful !
Saqib Ghumman Jan 19, 2013 10:25am
No body raised voice for poor ahmedis when they butchered in Lahore couple of years back and the only Governer who had soft corner was killed. Now Hazara's I can understand why the chief Minister was not interested as he has to Live. The only answer seems to be is to give the masses of basic education of religion and also how to live as a social animal.
Usman Jan 19, 2013 10:08am
I appreciate the clear mind and heart of this writer. I am sure many would agree with him in this jungle of humans.
Najeeb Jan 19, 2013 05:35am
Agree: a policeman need not die just for the sake of a medal but he must not hesitate to sacrifice for his country, if the need arises, regardless of whether it leads to a medal. Overall, very well written article.
Shakeel Jan 17, 2013 02:51pm
Whatever that means or implies...?
Ali Jan 17, 2013 12:28pm
Masud Bhai !! Thank you for this brilliant piece. As a ShiaI have started to feel left out, hated and not cared of in todays Pakistani Society. It pains me when I think our Dear Quaid was Shia too and what would have these terrorists had done to him if he was still alive. Your artilce has so far been the most sincerely sympathetic in comparison with all I have read in our media. Regardless of which sect you belong to, Masud bhai your a true Pakistani, and a top of that a genuine human being. God Bless you brother.
H Khan Jan 19, 2013 03:33am
Bravo, beautifuly written. What a shame, all these satanic acts of murder, intolerance, hatered and ethnic cleansing are being perpetrated on the pretense of being religious. What a shame.
wisdom Jan 18, 2013 04:40am
wow! what an article. (why can't my country's writers match this level)?
SK Jan 18, 2013 04:45am
Very nice article except the comment, "no medal is worth dying for and no insult is too hurtful if it saves your life" I believe that as Pakistanis we have lost the pride that comes as part of being a free nation. Even after our so called freedom, we are still ruled by others and thus a poiceman is now saying that no medal is worth dying for even if it means the country is thankful to you for doing your job and dying in the process.
Asmat Fatima Jan 17, 2013 04:16pm
Very powerful and well oriented article, salute to the Hazaras and all supporters for a historical protest!!!!
SJ Jan 18, 2013 02:29pm
Great Article. Akram, you are right but please tell me WHEN is that going to happen in this deeply divided society? I can't see a change in a 100 years unless a BLOODY revolution happens. All CORRUPTS [Waderas, Jageerdars, Chawdaries, Khans, ...] will have to perish and their corrput followers too. As long as the remanants of those live whose forefathers have taken LANDS, MEDALS and TITLES from their British masters for being loyal and being a traitor for the independence movement, NO CHANGE WILL OCCUR for Pakistan.
Ahmed Jan 18, 2013 04:24am
nayyer e Hurr Jan 17, 2013 12:44pm
Yes I believe that this massacre will not going to stop after Shias it would be Sufis and Barelvi Sunnis everyone is vulnerable against these fanatic self proclaimed purist salafist brand of Islamists imported by dictator Zia and iposed and enthrusted upon us
shirin Jan 18, 2013 03:35am
Two hadiths of the prophet: (1) Muslims will be divided into 73 sects of which only one will be on the correct path. NOTE: He did not label the other 72 not on right path as kafirs but as Muslims. (2) a MUSLIM is one from whose hands and tongue, ALL Muslims feel safe, and NO Muslim fears harm. Think about it my brothers and sisters. While only a minority amongst us are (sunni) extremists killing, and blowing Muslims to bits and pieces, a clear majority of us are guilty of harming the ummat with our tongues. We have become like the Fox News anchors. We take things out of context from their scholar's texts, twist it and then use that to prove our point about the other being a kafir.... blissfully ignorant of the kufr inside us.
Parvez Jan 18, 2013 06:56pm
Excellent article. What has to be controlled is the hate being spread under the guise of religion through the madrassa system. This fact is recognised but every government including the military ones have avoided doing anything about it because of ineptitude or complicity...........the result is staring us in the face.
Tamil Arasan Jan 17, 2013 12:40pm
I would call
Imran Jan 17, 2013 10:34am
Made me emotional
rich Jan 18, 2013 06:22pm
i guess soon that time will come
satya sharma Jan 18, 2013 12:41am
excellent article, it is the narrow vision of the majority in the country which is continuing the killer approach. at the start of the independence the hindus were the targets then came the turn of Ahmedia community then kadianis and some more and now shias .once the vision gets narrow it goes on becomming narrower and narrower. it has to stop for the country to acheive the Founder's vision.
SSA Jan 17, 2013 02:14pm
How inferior is life of Shia in the eyes of these militants, they forgot that Islam is the religion of peace. Many mothers lost their children and many children lost their father just because they were shia. Please raise voice against secatarian terorrisum or we all will be killed by these so called jihadees.
Ali Jan 18, 2013 09:10pm
By the way are you really in police force, your writing skills are too good ??
Bong Jan 18, 2013 06:12pm
You mean you want to know the life & history of the people involved, is it ? Thats a callous statement reeking of denial.
Deb Jan 18, 2013 01:21am
Your writing is certainly not what I would expect from someone working in the police force. Very well written. As long as people in the 21st century revolve their complete life around religion, this is what is going to happen. >Name one good thing that can be done in the name of religion and cannot be done by a non-religious person. (I would say none) >Name one bad thing that can be done in the name of religion that would not otherwise be done. I hope you get the point.
Shaheen Jan 18, 2013 12:40pm
A really excellent piece. However, from the outset you mentioned you are a "Sunni Muslim" and I guess out of fear or appeasing the so and so, proclaiming this identity has become vital for writers and TV anchors. I wonder what has brought us to this level of identity recognition and fear? I can imagine soon enough people would be seen walking around wearing Tee-shirts and hats in Pakistan proclaiming "I am a Sunni Muslim" to be socially accepted and avoid being persecuted or murdered in the name of religion.
Omi Jan 17, 2013 10:01am
Excellent job!! very well done and completely agreed!!
mfaz4 Jan 17, 2013 11:57am
Mr.Alam till we know whois fighting this proxy war by killing inocent people we should not jump to conclusions. i donot agree with your comment it started with............................there is no truth in your saying. what do say of what is going on in Karachi and for that matter recent killings in Bara.
suneel Jan 18, 2013 02:14pm
good article....but it did not started with Ahmadis. It started with Hindus and Sikhs way back in 1946..remember?
Salman Jan 17, 2013 01:23pm
Great piece, I would say this our problem we don't speak up until it comes to our door step, Iran and Saudi Arabia are settling their scores in Pakistan and our callous establishment is a mere spectator. I think they are now trying to bring Sufi inspired Islam back in mainstream but its too little too late. The society in Pakistan has now been radicalised and ideological changes take place very slowly . This is the result of the polices towed by Gen Zia and company and actively backed by USA administration of that time to fuel so called Afghan jehad. what goes around comes around. Civil society must stand up against such excesses against innocent people, I agree if that had happened any where in Sindh or Punjab with any particular group the entire villages or castes would have taken up arms would have killed atleast twice the number of their opponents , state is weak it cannot protect anyone, protect yourself is the message, God save Pakistan
Jaffry Jan 18, 2013 08:11pm
- To all those who think this is some kind of 'war' (proxy war b/w Iran and Saudi): it its NOT a war. It is a one-sided thrashing where the victims occassionally bite back (and in case of hazara's they NEVER have!). A minority *cannot* wage a war against a majority, so please stop calling it a war! - ..And to those who think it started with Ahmadis: think again, it was in 1932 that SAUDIS took over Hijaz. One of the first things they destroyed were the relics of the Prophet(saw) and his family, esp. of the Shia Imams (of not one but FOUR Shia Imams!). So the fate of Shias in the region was already sealed in the '30s. What's happening today in Pakistan was bound to happen sooner or later, given the clout that the petro-dollar have garnered over the decades (coupled with the rise of wahabism!)
Vikas Sharma Jan 17, 2013 10:06pm
God Bless you for exhibiting a living soul
Mansoor Jan 18, 2013 06:54am
Ali,please do not feel alone in this difficult time, We the moderate Sunnis can feel your pain and a sense of betrayal from your fellow countryman. Let us struggle together against these forces of darkness. Mansoor Khan
Tahir M Jan 17, 2013 10:51am
"That no medal is worth dying for and no insult is too hurtful if it saves your life". I am sorry to say this is the difference between Pakistan and any progressing nation in the West. For example, for the British policeman on the beat, this will be the last worry on his mind. His responsibility is that of his job for the motherland first at any cost. "It said what started with the Ahmadis is not going to end with the Shias." This is very true and the key answers to bring back the nation to its senses would be by removing the nasty 1974 amendment in the constitution and the ugly blasphemy ordinances for a starter. Remove all the hatred elements from the school curicullums and text books. Be a progressive nationalistic in your behaviour and attitudes without recourse to other hate inciting pursuits.
Aamir Jan 17, 2013 07:23pm
People who are killed for their religion, what do we hope from them, abandon their religion. No, it will never happen. If they are oppressed for their religion, their belief will further harden.
hitesh Jan 17, 2013 10:34am
Exceptional ! Truly heart rendering ! Its not only duty of all Pakistanis or all Muslims but of all Humanity to guard life of fellow human being.
Qamar Jan 17, 2013 07:57pm
Thanks for being just and balanced in your views. We all should encourage writer like you.
Aamir Jan 17, 2013 07:19pm
Marvelous article, depicts the situation very crisply. And true, if we do not get together as a nation today, it may be too late tomorrow.
pathanoo Jan 17, 2013 07:39pm
A country where a sizable minority is classified as second class citizens can NEVER SURVIVE. Pakistan has two choices. 1) Change and provide equal justice and protection of the law to ALL it's citizen. OR 2) Not change and perish as a nation. There is NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE.
Aamir Jan 17, 2013 07:22pm
Yeah, the typical slogan, "THere seems like a foreign conspiracy.... India is behind all this.....US is trying to create unrest.........." and then forget about those PAkistanis who actually commit bloodshed.............Come out of this state of denial and accept what is wrong with us.
viti99 Jan 17, 2013 06:36pm
A very good article. One of the best that Ihave read in my life.
smj Jan 17, 2013 01:45pm
"And here, are these Hazaras who
viti99 Jan 17, 2013 06:32pm
I must say that this is one of the best article that I have ever read in my life. It very aptly reflects the feeling of a policeman with a heart.
Pardesi Jan 17, 2013 06:49pm
Well there you are. One-up crusades in religious rivalries never ends, does it? In the meantime, the country remains in tatters, who cares.
Abalfazl Abbas Jan 17, 2013 06:49pm
A Beautiful piece! I felt your emotions while you were at Alamdar Road as I read each and every sentence.
Akram Jan 17, 2013 06:52pm
The day when our nation will stand by principle instead of own caste,creed, religion and intrest that will be the day when our nation will start rising and I think Quetta incident has started this
F.Usman Jan 17, 2013 10:43am
Bravo!!!! Let this sleeping community wake up!!!! Pakistan is being swept from under our feet while we are in a state of slumber!!! LIVE N LET OTHERS LIVE!!!!
Baig Jan 17, 2013 11:29am
Proves the point again. Religion still remains an obsession and an agonizing one. Please give way to other nation building goals instead.
Razia batool changezi Jan 18, 2013 03:04pm
My name is razia batool, a student and by birth a HAZARA. I really feel so good when I see people related to other communities support and raise voice for us. I'm really glad to the writer individually and and to as well because I have been reading similar articles in this website, which is I think the only website which is not administered by any HAZARA guy but still we can find this kind of material. I myself, being in contact with other citizens of this country while being in college and university have respect for their beliefs , language, culture and religion. Rather we appreciate and love unity in diversity. So why can't we have the same right to be among others and be loved by others? During the past years we are being killed and due to the same reason others see us with an eye full of hatred or sometimes mercy, because in one way or another the current scenarios are effecting the people's psychic. Because If it is me or you, we might also think that of course there must be something wrong with these people that are being killed constantly. As By now people might have known about us that we are truly peace loving people, love education and development and still love this country, though we are hurt so much here. We want to have our contribution in the development of this country and serve the motherland only if we are not forced to vacant the country as there are some groups who want to clean up this country from our existence . We love and respect every sect and people related to them, because we are still Muslim, all of us. It is only Allah who has the right to give or take life, so why others are trying to have it? PEACE
Tirmizi Jan 17, 2013 04:35pm
From one Muslim to another, Thank you for feeling my pain
Meher Raza Zaidi Jan 17, 2013 10:41am
The politeness is not a weakness, that is the strength that all Shias learn from Kerbala. and there is not comparison between Ahmadis and Shias - people over 1400 years have tried to finish us but they can not because Imam Hussain a.s gave everything he has for Allah. Now Imam Hussain will live until Allah exists and that is eternity. We give our everything for Imam Hussain a.s (Labaik Ya Hussain a.s) and hence we will live till Imam Hussain a.s. Lives
Misbahjon Jan 18, 2013 07:12am
What is the point of just writing and not following good deeds
Samina Akbar Jan 17, 2013 03:25pm
Very well written. It made me cry and wish I could be there to sit down with these beautiful people.
Jammy Jan 17, 2013 03:12pm
Bravo! beautifully written and sadly very true. I see from the comments some people are in acute denial but the truth cannot be hidden forever and the people cannot be oppressed and killed forever. There will be a time for reckoning.........