Presidential Pride of Performance award-winning journalist Arshad Sharif asked “Woh Kon tha?” (Who was he?). He had to flee Pakistan in the wake of this question.
Now we ask “Who was he? The one who killed Arshad Sharif. The answer is important as this question, if left unanswered, can tear the national fabric apart and set Pakistan on the road to internal unrest and disaster.
And yes, I don’t buy the “mistaken identity” narrative of the notoriously corrupt Kenyan police. Too many murders have forever remained hidden behind such smokescreens created by criminals. To imply that Arshad Sharif’s death was an accident is an insult to his memory, and it is an insult to our intelligence. He was killed in a cold-blooded target killing. All that remains to be ascertained is the identity of the murderer. Not the hitman who pulled the trigger for some bucks, but the one who paid and placed the hitman in place.
Who Kon tha?
In any unsolved murder, two key questions must be investigated. First, Who benefits? Second, Who has the means to conduct the deed?
Who benefitted from Arshad Sharif’s murder? On social media, in drawing rooms, and in the streets, many people are pointing the finger at the Sharif family and the “establishment”. Arshad Sharif had always been very vocal about the alleged corruption of the Sharif family. He has also starred in the upcoming documentary “Behind Closed Doors” which is touted by some as a bombshell exposé about the Sharif family’s misdeeds. Then, Arshad Sharif was also very critical of the current COAS.
It has been widely believed that after the regime change in Pakistan, a crackdown on journalists like Imran Riaz Khan, Arshad Sharif, Sabir Shakir, etc started on the order of the establishment. Multiple FIRs were registered against them, some were arrested and mistreated in custody, and it was to escape such harassment that Arshad Sharif left the country about two months ago. It has been alleged by many that either the Sharif family or the establishment or both would benefit from the death of this popular investigative journalist who had become a thorn in their side.
But let’s not pronounce the verdict just yet. Hasty conclusions can be very misleading and damaging sometimes. Arshad Sharif was critical of some other entities as well. He attained fame as a journalist specializing in the news and analysis relating to internal security, defense affairs, and foreign policy. He can easily be termed an influential opinion-builder in Pakistan regarding these matters. It is also common knowledge that Arshad Sharif was a leading advocate of close Pak-China relations.
On the other hand, he can be described as very anti-US and even accused the US of being the moving hand behind the killings of Liaqat Ali Khan and Z.A. Bhutto. Recently, he had been one of the most prominent voices declaring that the USA was the prime mover behind the regime change operation against Imran Khan.
Arshad Sharif knew, and many others know as well, that Pakistani and US strategic interests are now almost completely opposite to each other. Pakistan wants a stable Afghanistan, freedom for Kashmir from Indian tyranny, and a vibrant CPEC heralding an era of connectivity in the region of Russia, China, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. The USA wants an unstable Afghanistan, a failed CPEC, a militarily muscular India, and an emasculated Pakistan which is unable to “distract” India from harassing China on the behest of the USA. Arshad Sharif was also very vocal about his belief that Imran Khan was ousted with US connivance because his foreign policy tilt towards China and Russia didn’t suit the US at all.
The USA wants a confused, fragmented, and impoverished Pakistan for which political instability is essential. That is why the current situation in Pakistan where a hugely unpopular kleptocratic government sits in Islamabad, while the most popular political party and the pivotal national security institutions are locked in a mutually damaging confrontation, is music to US ears. It is in the US interests that such a confused and confrontational situation is indefinitely prolonged in Pakistan.
Arshad Sharif’s murder not only silenced a very influential voice warning Pakistanis against US machinations, but it also has the potential to further exacerbate the current turmoil in Pakistan. It also sends a very ominous warning to Pakistani journalists and politicians against taking on the global hegemon. History tells us that the US is very fond of sending such loud warnings. After all, it invaded Iraq and caused more death and destruction than Halaku Khan for the “demonstration effect”.
Now, let’s consider the second question
Who has the capability to commit cold-blooded murders with impunity overseas? Do the Sharifs possess this capability? Can the establishment do it? If murdering political opponents overseas were a piece of cake, the Saudis wouldn’t be in hot water following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Resources, experience, and a stone-cold will are required to commit such audacious murders. Had the Pakistani security agencies possessed these attributes, the dozens of “journalists and analysts” like Husain Haqqani, Taha Siddiqui, Asad Toor, etc wouldn’t be alive today.
They did infinitely more mud-slinging at the army than Arshad Sharif who remained a patriot till his last breath. Arshad might have criticized a single person repeatedly and vehemently, but never did he target the institution itself. Like Imran Khan, Arshad Sharif was also well cognizant of the fact that the Pakistan Army, despite its imperfections, is a vital and perhaps the last line of defense of Pakistan. The same goes for the Sharifs who can’t even do much to overseas Pakistanis abusing them to their face in broad daylight. Journalists have been killed in Pakistan allegedly at the behest of political parties but they just don’t have the muscle to commit such acts abroad against such a high-profile journalist.
But what about the USA? There are no doubts in anyone’s mind that US agencies like the CIA have the resources, experience, and will to bump off a troublesome journalist like Arshad Sharif. The CIA, Mossad, and the Russian FSB are notorious all over the world for conducting assassinations in other countries. They know that it can never be conclusively traced back to them. It is very easy for them to locate a person like Arshad Sharif in real-time and send a hired gun to dispatch him to the hereafter. After all, they have a rich history of committing such murders.
Arshad Sharif’s murder is a national loss for us. An honest and patriotic journalist who never hesitated to report from the front lines during Pak army operations in erstwhile FATA to inform the nation about the sacrifices being made and the factual situation over there. He could have just sat at his desk and spewed unwarranted hatred against our state like many well-known “journalists” but he chose to go forth, seek the truth and then report it. In the past few months, he again showed that he had the courage to speak the truth even when no one would defend him. He was forced to leave his beloved country but he still kept speaking the truth. He kept on fighting for Pakistan even when those who were supposed to defend him abandoned him.
His channel, his army, and his state left him defenseless in strange faraway lands where the waiting wolves devoured him. Those who speak the truth and defend Pakistan are left alone and unprotected by us. Those who spew lies and parrot the agenda of foreigners are protected and hailed by them. Once eulogized by the West, even traitors are sacrosanct. Once marked by the West, even patriots are left in the lurch. What a pity!
The writer is a doctor and an avid reader of history. His columns have been published in the Urdu daily “Nawa-e-Waqt” and “Global Village Space”. He also runs a social media channel “Tarikh aur Tajziya” which is dedicated to the study of history and current affairs. Currently, he heads the India Desk at South Asia Times, Islamabad.
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.