The Arshad Sharif I knew

November 13, 2022

A journalist remembers a friend and a senior colleague

The Arshad Sharif I knew


e died young; he died violently; he died in dubious circumstances. He was a media celebrity who had touched the heights of popularity, particularly since he had been supporting Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). He had been critical of the establishment with whom he had in the past enjoyed very good relations. He was always smiling. He was a supportive colleague; a friend to his friends and a worthy enemy to those who would consider him one. Arshad Sharif has left us lots of memories.

Arshad first caught my attention during a journalists’ visit to Swat arranged by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in mid-2009. The military had recently taken back control of Swat valley. Journalists were taken to a place somewhere in Swat where they were shown some of the things recovered from the militants. Like most of my colleagues, I was taking an interest in various kinds of guns and ammunitions recovered from the militants. Suddenly, I heard Arshad, who was speaking in front of a camera while holding some passports that he had taken up from a table placed there.

Showing the passports issued by some Central Asian individuals that had been recovered from the militants’ dens he commented, “this shows that some foreigners too have joined the Taliban militants.” I was amazed by the way his mind worked. While all other journalists were curious about the guns recovered from the militants and ignoring the papers placed on the table, one of us had focused on the documents. Following Arshad’s example, I too recorded a piece with a similar conclusion. At that time, I was working with an Urdu TV channel; Arshad was the bureau chief of an English television channel Dawn News.

Shortly after this incident, Arshad called on behalf of the editor, Mubasher Zaidi, and offered me a job at Dawn News. I happily accepted and joined him there. The environment was quite dynamic. He was close to the establishment, but his deputy Matiullah Jan and I were critics of the establishment. Matti and I would often bring stories critical of the establishment role in politics. Arshad Sharif would then ensure that those got adequate airtime and proper coverage.

He was an amazing boss. He always listened to ideas that ran contrary to his own understanding and sometimes challenged it. He kept an open mind and was willing to concede an argument to his juniors. As a television reporter and anchor he was exceptionally fond of television footage. He would not only examine all important footage but would also maintain his own record of it.

In September 2009 and later in January 2010, my home was attacked by ‘unidentified’ assailants. On both occasions Arshad and Matti were the first visitors to my home to show their support.

Arshad Sharif did not seem destined for this kind of end. Sadly, whoever changed his destiny will never own it. Will they?

At around this time, for the first time in Pakistani TV history, a programme on the role of the establishment in national politics, was started. I hosted this show. Without Arshad Sharif’s support the idea may not have materialised. The show went on for 13 episodes. Due to the sensitivity of the content, a lot of pressure was brought to bear on the channel. Arshad always stood behind the project and would not hear of discontinuing it. Another programme that could not have been possible without Arshad Sharif’s support was Matiullahjan’s Apna Apna Gareban. It dealt with corruption and professional malpractice among journalists. Exposing unprofessional practices in one’s own fraternity was always going to be challenging. The show went on until it hurt one of Arshad’s close friends (a prominent journalist), whom Matti interviewed live, questioning his methods. This episode led to an exchange of hot words among them (between Arshad and Matti) and resulted in a bitter end to a friendship.

I was one of the witnesses and something of a participant in the episode. I also got to see now the other side of Arshad. I learnt that if you were not on good terms with him you had to deal with an entirely different person.

Around 2011, we learnt about the death of his father. Being colleagues, we went to his place to offer condolences. While we were there, we received the news of the death of his brother, a military officer on his way from KP to attend the funeral of his father. It was a devastating moment. Matti had to give him the bad news. He looked torn apart and cried like a child before getting a grip of himself and extending support to other family members.

About a year later, following some differences, we parted ways on a bitter note. Arshad left first, Matti and myself a little later. But every time Matti and I came across Arshad, we would greet one another.

On October 23rd, when I read the news of his death on my social media feed in the morning, I did not believe it initially, thinking it must be fake, but then I started reading the tweets of some credible individuals. I was shocked. Questions came flooding into my mind. Among those: why was Arshad in Kenya? Who shot him? Who could be behind his killing? How genuine are the Kenyan police’s claims?

While he has been buried and the news about his murder is fading out, the questions remain unanswered. According to a civil society organisation, 53 journalists have been killed in the last ten years with impunity.

Being familiar with investigations of many Pakistani journalists’ murders does not encourage me to hope that we will find out the names of the killers behind this gruesome murder of a young, talented and energetic journalist. Arshad Sharif never looked destined to meet such an end. Sadly, whoever changed his destiny will never surface. Will they?

The writer, an investigative journalist for The News and Geo TV, is the author of The Secrets of Pakistan’s War on Al Qaeda. Twitter:

The Arshad Sharif I knew