Who killed Arshad Sharif?

October 30, 2022

A well embedded journalist is shot dead under mysterious circumstances, fuelling an ongoing war of political narratives

Who killed  Arshad Sharif?


he killing of an Islamabad-based journalist, Arshad Sharif, under mysterious circumstances in Kenya has triggered a lot of speculation. Amid protest demonstrations and an outpouring of grief, some have even suggested that the country’s political and military elite may be involved.

According to Kenyan police authorities, Sharif was shot dead in a case of “mistaken identity” while he was travelling to Nairobi from the country’s remote and sparsely populated Magadi town last Sunday night. It has been reported that nine bullets hit his vehicle; a couple of these hit his brain and chest, causing instant death. The driver escaped unhurt.

A press statement by the Office of the Inspector-General National Police Service in Nairobi regretted that Sharif was “fatally wounded by a police officer while [he was] a passenger in a motor vehicle KDG 200M.” According to Kenyan authorities the incident took place after Pangani Police followed up on a stolen motor vehicle report. The officers trailing the motor vehicle towards Magadi alerted police in Magadi who erected a road barrier and the deceased’s motor vehicle came upon the police and drove through. It was then that they were shot at.”

49-year-old Sharif was an energetic reporter turned TV anchor having sources in the powerful military establishment. In a rare media appearance, the Inter-Services Intelligence director general denied any role in Sharif’s mysterious killing. He seemed to admit the slain journalist’s contacts in the ISI and the military establishment. Good connections had enabled Sharif over the years to command a reputation for enviable access to important documents.

According to some of his acquaintances who spoke publicly after his shocking death, Sharif’s loud criticism of the military establishment with regard to the ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan had driven a wedge in the relationship. Some weeks ago, following a programme aired on his television channel ARY News, in which a PTI leader criticised the army leadership, criminal cases were registered against the said PTI leader and the journalists that were part of the programme. Some of them then fled the country giving the impression that death threats had been made against them; cases were lodged and attempts made to harass them. Arshad had also moved the Islamabad High Court and had been in hiding since until the news of his killing under mysterious circumstances appeared on social media.

Following his death, former prime minister Imran Khan publicly described his death as “target killing” and seemed to point a finger towards the military establishment. This elicited a quick reaction from the military establishment and a statement by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) director general, who rejected the “baseless allegations” and urged the government to launch an independent inquiry. This was followed by a detailed presser by the ISPR and ISI directors general. They also raised questions about the role of ARY News CEO Salman Iqbal in arranging Sharif’s exist from Pakistan with the help of PTI’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government in August. They said the beneficiaries of this plot should be identified and people should not believe the propaganda blaming the military establishment for such actions.

For many, Sharif became another victim in the ongoing war of narratives to dominate the political landscape of Pakistan.

“There has to be a method to this madness. Blaming the military establishment, without facts and using hearsay, amounts to frustrating the investigation process,” said Malik Ahmad Khan, special advisor to the prime minister. He also alleged that those behind this campaign were on the payroll of the PTI opposition.

“A long, grim record of violence to silence journalists explains why the reported murder of journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya has sent shock waves through the journalist community. The government must pursue an immediate, transparent inquiry into the circumstances of his death,” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demanded. A US State Department spokesperson also encouraged a full investigation by the government of Kenya into his death. Journalistic organisations have also strongly protested the killing and urged a fair investigation.

Sharif had two million followers on Twitter and nearly half a million regular viewers of his YouTube channel. In his last vlog he had asked the chief of army staff about the gifts he received from various countries as a state guest and whether he took them home only after paying the indicated price.

Thousands attended Sharif’s funeral on Thursday. Some chanted slogans against his alleged ‘killers.’ “It is shocking that a bold and outspoken journalist had to leave the country in strange circumstances and was killed in a barbaric way in a barren area thousands of kilometres away from his homeland,” said Jahanzeb, a resident of Rawalpindi.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, in a video message from Saudi Arabia, where he was visiting at the time, had announced that the government will set up a judicial commission to investigate the circumstances of Sharif’s death. Meanwhile, the PTI has already questioned the credibility of an inquiry committee comprising two officials from the Federal Investigation Agency and the Intelligence Bureau. The name of an ISI official initially included in the committee was later removed from a revised notification.

For many, Sharif became another victim of the war of narratives for the dominance of the political landscape of Pakistan. The allegations of the military establishment pulling the strings behind the scene are particularly serious. However, the ISPR has clearly distanced the army from politics, describing the service as “apolitical.” Whether Sharif knew too much or said too much; whether he was targetted to scare everybody into silence was made a scapegoat, is a mystery for now. The truth about his death may or may not become public, but he will be remembered for a long time.

The writer is a staff reporter. He can be reached at vaqargillani@gmail.com

Who killed Arshad Sharif?