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In Pakistan, a new generation of activists has emerged from the shadows of 9/11, subsequent wave of wars and atrocities, and the Lawyers’ Movement of 2007.

Progressive in beliefs, liberal in ideas, politically conscious, averse to religious fundamentalism; they are often mocked as ‘liberal fascists’, ‘mombatti mafia’, and ‘anti-state seculars’.

Outnumbered by their opponents, they have managed to keep the debates about modernity, place of religion in the public sphere, role of state in combating terrorism, and widespread misogyny in the society alive on social-media and have significantly influenced public discourse in the last few years.

La poésie est dans la rue – Poetry is in the streets – was a slogan raised by revolutionary students during the May 1968 revolt in Paris. The people of the Subcontinent have always spoken against power, corruption and injustices through poetry, and the gallant tradition of the poem has been passed down to our generation in the same undaunted spirit for which it is famous. Kafir Kafir is one such poem, and it was written by Salman Haider.

Salman Haider is missing since Friday night. He is an academic, a poet, and a human rights activist. Above all, he is a kind soul, restless and perturbed by the state of our society.

He could be heard and read at any occasion. From Shia killings to the APS massacre, from attacks on the Hazara community to the plight of missing persons in Balochistan, he was the voice of the voiceless, the armour of the defenceless. He was a rare voice of resistance marching through the barricades, tearing apart heaps of lies. He expressed the anger, concern, and all the other feelings that made us stand in solidarity with the oppressed.

There is something fundamentally wrong when open incitement to violence is permitted but sane voices are not tolerated. That we had to switch from hashtag #ArrestAbdulAziz to #RecoverSalmanHaider speaks volumes about the resolve of the state to root out terrorism.

That a proscribed group holds rallies in the heart of the capital while an enlightened activist disappears from the same city points to the shortcomings of the government. And this is exactly what Salman Haider was most critical of.

When violence is tolerated and dissent is crushed, rest assured that it’s not the pen but the gun that would write the future.

That a man speaking up for missing persons would himself go missing one day is not that surprising after all.

Truth comes with a heavy price. There might not be many who chose to ignore the dangers, but the ones who do are not only related to each other in heart and mind, but are also joined by their comrades in prisons and torture cells.

When Khurram Zaki shouldered Sabeen Mehmud's coffin, he was probably aware that his time wasn't far away either.

When Salman Haider spoke up for the missing persons, he may have known that that could be viewed as crossing some lines.

Thus he wrote yet another poem that I will not dare translate:

Abhi mere doston ke dost laa-pata ho rahay hein
Phir merey doston ki baari hai
Aur uske baad main
Woh file banun ga
Jisey mera baap adalat le ker jaye ga…

By the time you read these lines, the reasons behind his mysterious disappearance might still be unclear, similar to the countless souls gone missing in recent years. There might still be deliberate confusion as to the real motives of the people who took him away. And if poetry is going to be a crime here, the poem shall resist and fight until the safe return of Salman Haider and others like him.

Are you an activist? Do you have something to say about the disappearance of Salman Haider? Share it with us at

Author Image

Suleman Akhtar lives in Sweden. He is interested in society, politics and culture.

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

Comments (18) Closed

Javid Jan 10, 2017 12:04pm

Keep raising our voice louder and louder for the portals of power are deaf,dumb and blind. The days of liberals must be won'

Ali Vazir Jan 10, 2017 12:08pm

I wholeheartedly support any such association by saner elements of the society to resist bigotry, hate and intolerance to the extent of killing someone. Though am an overseas Pakistani, but visit 1 month every year. I have been asking for this move through my comments portion for over a couple of years.

Suresh Gokhale Jan 10, 2017 12:12pm

I pray the almighty for safe return of Shri. Salman Haider. I not only support him but also stand with him and with all those who are fighting against fundamentalism, violence & corruption. I salute all of them.

mustafa Jan 10, 2017 12:18pm

Pakistan is the most dangerous country for freedom of expression.

BNJ Jan 10, 2017 01:20pm

@Suresh Gokhale Sir, let us support these needy voices from India as well. These are important voices which will help in creating a better society,a tolerant society in the subcontinent. Long live Salman Haider !

xmaestro Jan 10, 2017 01:42pm

We need saner and level headed people on both sides. This clash of ideologies has the capability to consume the whole nation. It's dividing people based on stuff most of them barely know about. It's bigger than any of us and taking sides won't resolve our issues. Hating won't help either. Action will!

This person and any other missing persons should be recovered and national campaigns should be run to clear misunderstandings.

SAIF ZULFIQAR Jan 10, 2017 01:45pm

Your protests were silenced the day PML(N) took charge of the country.

zero tolerance Jan 10, 2017 01:53pm

There should be zero tolerance on forced disappearances, people responsible should be punished briskly.

Media activism Jan 10, 2017 01:53pm

Dawn should bring justice to the family of Salman haider by highlight this issue of force disappearance regularly on the dawn website,dawn news and pressurizing the government to bring the culprits to justice quickly. Media activism is required by DAWN on this issue.

justice Jan 10, 2017 02:02pm

The family, friends and fans of Salman Haider need justice for the forced disappearance of Salman Haider.

Razzy Jan 10, 2017 02:13pm

Apparently 'secular' is a despised word on both sides of the Radcliffe line. And on either side of the line, they are looked down in the most denigrating fashion.

Danish Jan 10, 2017 04:09pm

If only you liberals/civil society raise voices for the unheard masses instead of fueling fire of divide ignited by the west.

Kainat Jan 10, 2017 04:32pm

Thank you for writing this, Suleman.

Solomon2 Jan 10, 2017 09:17pm

"There is something fundamentally wrong when open incitement to violence is permitted but sane voices are not tolerated."

"... provided you can persuade the masses to believe that something they are asked to do is religiously right or enjoined by religion, you can set them to any course of action, regardless of all considerations of discipline, loyalty, decency, morality or civic sense. "

  • REPORT of THE COURT OF INQUIRY constituted under PUNJAB ACT II OF 1954 to enquire into the PUNJAB DISTURBANCES OF 1953

In Pakistan's current constitution the word "civic" is absent, "discipline" refers to keeping politicians in line, "decency" refers to restricting free speech, and the standards of "morality" required are "Islamic".

ejaz Jan 10, 2017 09:22pm


brr Jan 10, 2017 09:32pm

There are real consequences to a society where dissent in forcefully suppressed.

ahmad Jan 11, 2017 03:47pm

freedom of expression doesnot mean to cross the limit & work for other country intrest..hope civil socities will learn the lesson & not become facilitator of our enemies...

akram Jan 11, 2017 06:03pm

it is a sign of progress in civil society that such people have the courage to stand up against injustice against those in power. They should be encouraged. I fully support them and people should not be made to disappear just because they ask awkward questions of authority. After all Quaid-e-Azam founded this nation for the people not for a security state.