By South Asia Press Team
There is increasing evidence that the brutal killing of Pakistani investigative journalist, Arshad Sharif, in Kenya was carried out by an international cabal controlled by Pakistani intelligence agencies. He was close to the Pakistan Army officials but when he turned against the army after the Imran Khan government fell, orders went out to eliminate him. There is already evidence of assassin squads run by the ISI tasked with taking out journalists, bloggers and social media activists critical of the army.
Sharif first went to UAE and was living in Dubai when he was forced to leave the emirate under pressure from the army. He then went to Kenya where he was cornered and shot in October.
A 592-page investigative report presented recently to the Supreme Court of Pakistan categorically stated that Sharif’s killing was premeditated and was carried out by a group of persons who had planned and executed the killing. The assassins had been chasing Sharif for some time. The murder, the report said, was triggered by Sharif’s work as a journalist. The report was prepared by a team of senior police officers set up by the apex court.
Arshad Sharif’s killing closely resembles the killing of another famous journalist, Saleem Shahzad in 2011. Shahzad was known to be close to the army but when he began unravelling the connection between ISI officers, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and al Qaeda, he became the army’s target. He was abducted from outside his house in Islamabad, tortured and killed and his body dumped outside his house. Shahzad, considered a pro-Army journalist, found the mysterious killing of retired chief of the Special Services Group, Major General Ameer Faisal Alvi in October 2008 fishy and discovered that the senior army officer had threatened to expose two Generals who were striking deals with TTP chief, Baitullah Mehsud. He had warned of the nexus between ISI officials, Sipah-e-Sahaba and TTP.
Arshad Sharif, according to his lawyers, was close to Brigadier Muhammad Shafiq in ISPR. The lawyer said ISPR was like a second home to Sharif. But when Sharif turned against the army after the no-confidence motion, Shafiq tried to persuade him to stop in vain. Several cases of treason were filed by Shafiq against Sharif. Shafiq refused to answer seven questions sent in writing by the investigation team set up by the Supreme Court.
Arshad Sharif’s mother, Riffat Ara Alvi, reinforces the fact-finding commission’s report by accusing not only Brigadier Shafiq but also the former army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, ISI chief Lt. General Nadeem Anjum, Major General Faisal Naseer, Brigadier Faheem Raza, Colonel Rizwan, Colonel Nouman Waqar Khurram.
In a letter sent to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, she said her son turned against the army in April 2022, for its “involvement in politics and political engineering”. For the past 15 years, Ms Alvi wrote, “Sharif was close to the army, covering many of their operations against militants. He became critical of certain individuals in the army for their involvement in politics and forced disappearances.This is when he started receiving threats, first from Brigadier Muhammad Shafiq Malik of ISPR…and then from Brigadier Fahim Raza of ISI who called him to ISI Sector HQ Islamabad to convey message of Major General Faisal Naseer, DG -C, ISI.” When Sharif declined to heed these threats, other officers began issuing similar threats. In fact, one of them, Colonel Nouman came to his home one day and warned him of dire consequences if he did not stop from reporting on the army.
Thereafter, cases of sedition and treason were filed against him in various cities. In all, 16 FIRs were filed and only two complainants appeared before the fact finding committee. The committee found that one of the FIRs was filed by SHO Mamon Gath on the directions of SSP Malir Irfan Bahadur. The complaint was written in front of three ISI officers at ISI Karachi office. The committee got copies of only six FIRs despite several reminders, all that adds to the suspicion of involvement of state agencies.
Arshad fled Pakistan on August 10 and went to UAE where he could not stay longer due to pressure from the authorities. He then went to Nairobi to stay with two acquaintances, Khurram and Waqar Ahmad. The fact-finding team found Ahmad to be working for Kenyan intelligence agency and other international agencies. Arshad Sharif’s mother, in her letter, alleged that Waqar Ahmed worked for the ISI. He was reportedly in touch with ISI sector commander, Brigadier Faheem Raza.
In the early hours of October 24, Sharif was shot in Nairobi which the Kenyan police said was caused by `mistaken identity`. The fact-finding committee thought otherwise and reported that the murder was pre-meditated. The committee officers found that Arshad was killed at close range from a stationary vehicle, an assertion which counters the Kenyan theory. The Kenyan assertion that Sharif was shot twice only fell through when Sharif’s postmortem was conducted in Pakistan. The doctors found that the journalist was shot 12 times. What raised the investigating team’s suspicion that Sharif was shot in the back from relatively close range but there was no corresponding penetration mark of a bullet in the seat on which he was sitting, a “ballistic impossibility”. The only possibility is that he was shot either before he got into the car or shot from a very close range, from inside the vehicle.
Although the Supreme Court has shown interest in pursuing the case, most likely the killing of Arshad Sharif, like Saleem Shahzad, would remain inconclusive as key actors in this sordid drama are `untouchables` in Pakistan.