Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif
File picture of senior Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif. Image Credit: AP

Arshad Sharif was killed on October 23, 2022 in Kenya.

Arshad Sharif was one of Pakistan’s most popular and most loved talk show hosts, and one of Pakistan’s most prominent and esteemed investigative journalists.

Having worked with some of Pakistan’s leading media houses—The News International (Jang Media Group), Aaj News, Dunya News, and Dawn News, Arshad’s work spans over almost three decades. Since 2014, Pakistanis saw Arshad on their TV screens in his prime-time Power Play on ARY NEWS.

Saluting the audience, he opened his show with a heartfelt “Pakistan aur duniya bhar mein lakhon dekhne aur sunane walon ko Arshad Sharif ka salam (Arshad Sharif’s salam to millions of viewers and listeners in Pakistan and across the world).

The reaction to Arshad’s killing in Pakistan is collective shock and grief. He is not the first journalist to be killed, but he was the most famous one to die in a manner most foul.

Amidst the shock and grief are several questions. Like all Pakistanis, I wish for justice for Arshad Sharif, but I fear like most Pakistanis that the truth about his killing will remain hidden. Justice for Arshad will be as elusive as the sense of security in the last two months of his life.

Millions of Pakistanis within Pakistan and across the world cried for Arshad the day the news of his killing reached them. Millions of Pakistanis wept for him on October 27, the day of his funeral at the Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. Millions of Pakistanis—who had never seen him off-screen—joined his mother, wives, and children in their time of mourning, in their pain for a loss that is unquantifiable, indescribable.

I didn’t know Arshad Sharif personally. For a decade, we had been following one another on Twitter. Once in January 2014, I talked to him on phone when as the Lahore bureau chief of Dunya News, he reached out to me during one of the worst times of my life. His empathy stood out at the time when the insensitive and shrill media coverage of one national channel hounded me like a monster in a nightmare. On October 24, when a friend texted me at 3:08 am “Arshad Sharif just shot dead”, my immediate response was shock followed by deep sadness. It still doesn’t make sense. Arshad’s death.

I didn’t know Arshad, but his brutal killing, in a land far away from his homeland, hit me as if he was a very dear old friend. A few days later, I continue to feel a sense of loss that despite not being personal feels just that—personal.

In my writing, I avoid using first names of the men—politicians, celebrities, sportsmen, activists, regular folks, artists—I interview or write about. Using the lone Sharif for Arshad seems too impersonal.

My mind keeps wandering to Arshad’s family. His two wives, his five children, one daughter, four sons. The suddenness of his absence that is unending. What could be said that fully encapsulates their pain, their loss?

Arshad’s mother. I don’t have the words to even form a condolatory message. I can’t imagine her pain. What do you say to the mother of a slain forty-nine-year-old? How do you make sense of the loss of a mother’s only son? Her only surviving son. What are the appropriate words of condolence for an incredibly courageous woman who lost her husband and younger son on the same day in May 2011? Arshad buried his father, Naval Commander (Retd) Mohammad Sharif, and brother, Major Ashraf Sharif, on May 11, 2011 in Islamabad’s H-11 graveyard. The son was travelling to attend his father’s funeral who had died of a heart attack. He died in a road accident. Reportedly.

Eleven years later, on October 23, 2022, Arshad’s mother was informed that her fiercely patriotic son who was forced to go into exile had been killed in Kenya.

Arshad’s mother, superhumanly brave, waited for the body of her son to reach home. On October 26, she saw the body of her son who was killed in Kenya arriving in a coffin made in Kenya. She said goodbye to her son on October 27, the day he was buried in the H-11 graveyard. Her husband and her two sons, their coffins covered in Pakistan’s flag, her loved ones gone too, too, too soon.

Listening to the voice of Arshad’s mother’s I cried. I didn’t have the strength to watch her face as her televised message played on my laptop.

In her video message on October 26, Mrs Sharif spoke to the nation: “This is Arshad Sharif’s mother. Tomorrow, at 2pm, at Faisal Mosque, is his namaz-e-janaza [funeral prayer]. My request to all of you is come to my house first and then go to Faisal Mosque for namaz-e-janaza. Aur bahut aacha sa meray betay ka aap log janaza [karain]. Phoolon se bhara hua janaza karain [Ensure an excellent funeral for my son. A funeral covered in flowers]. A small request that my son’s last journey is very nice.”

Residents of Islamabad blanketed with red rose petals the road in front of her house. The ambulance transporting her son to the Faisal Mosque and to the graveyard was showered with rose petals. Her son’s coffin was covered in strings of roses threaded like a sheet.

Arshad Sharif’s funeral was that of a national hero, someone held in high esteem, someone who was loved for being just who he was. The last few months had turned Arshad into an icon of bravery, an upstanding journalist who spoke the truth without fearing the repercussions. In a country like Pakistan, where prime time talk show hosts are a regular nightly presence in people’s living rooms, there exists between the journalist and the audience an untitled bond that is strong, intimate—notwithstanding their agreement or disagreement with their views and stances. Arshad, in the few months before his death, became that rare media person whom his audience loved like a family member.

Thousands of people attended Arshad’s funeral. His family, friends and colleagues were there. And his compatriots, who had never met him but felt a closeness to him for his views, his absolute devotion to Pakistan, his unwavering courage to speak the truth. Some media reports state that the number of people who attended his funeral was in hundreds of thousands. Faisal Mosque, with space for three hundred thousand devotees, was said to be packed. Faisal Avenue and Margalla Road became the ad-hoc prayer spots.

Funeral prayers in absentia were held all over Pakistan and in many countries where overseas Pakistanis gathered to mourn Arshad’s death.

From April to August, Arshad’s life changed. Support of Imran Khan, ARY taken off air, ARY firing Arshad, multiple cases against him, his departure from Pakistan, much happened.

In October, Arshad’s life ended. While travelling on the Nairobi-Magadi highway, his SUV was fired upon by the Kenyan police. The Kenyan police reported the shooting as a case of “mistaken identity.” Arshad died due to bullets to his head and chest. Who killed Arshad Sharif? Only a comprehensive, transparent investigation and time will unfold the truth of what really happened that terribly terribly tragic night of October 2022.

What I saw on Twitter after the news of Arshad’s killing was the massive outpouring of shock and grief from the people who knew him, worked with him, were friends with him. “Brother” was the word I kept seeing in tweet after tweet of Pakistan’s top journalists. The mourning was not merely for a colleague, a friend. It was for a family member. Rarely is the heartbreaking loss of a public figure mourned in such dil se words that appeared on my timeline as unvarnished expressions of disbelief, agony, and a deep sense of loss after Arshad’s death.

Meher Bokhari, one of Pakistan’s leading talk show hosts, tweeted: “Arshad Sharif, not just a colleague, a brother, is no more. From Islamabad to Moscow, from Dunya News to ARY, I’ve not known a finer gentleman. Shot dead. Too young. Too brutally. Still cannot wrap my head around it.”

Kashif Abbasi, one of Pakistan’s leading talk show hosts and Arshad’s former colleague at ARY News, tweeted: “My brother, my friend my colleague arshad shareef was shot dead in Kenya. I still can’t believe it. It’s beyond heart breaking. This is just wrong. This is painful. I love u brother.”

When I texted Salman Iqbal, Owner and CEO ARY News, to say a few words for Arshad, he responded: “I am heartbroken, Arshad was my brother. I am at a loss for words. We have lost someone truly special. A beloved son, husband, and father, and above all, a wonderful human being and patriotic Pakistani. May Allah grant him the highest place in Jannah. Ameen.”

Responding to my text, Maria Memon, one of Pakistan’s leading talk show hosts and a former colleague of Arshad at ARY News, said: “Arshad was a lovely human being. He was an introvert who wouldn’t speak for hours and hours and hours! But as soon as the camera was on, he became a different person altogether. It was as if a new spirit was infused in him.

Arshad was the kindest and the most popular person in our office. Be it the janitorial or the administrative staff, he helped everyone. Drivers, editors, NLE’s, coordinators, every team member, they were all very fond of him. He helped some of them financially, without letting anyone know. The way people in our office wailed for Arshad, I feel as if we were gone, no one would cry for us the way they cried for Arshad. He was genuinely loved by everyone. doston ka dost [friend of friends], but people he didn’t get along with, he showed it to them very clearly. That is why he faced the wrath of many people for his professional stances.

“That is Arshad for you—kindest, gentlest soul one could ever meet in this media industry or anywhere else. I haven’t met anyone as kind, as gentle as him.”

In his voice note to me, Nadeem Afzal Chan, PPP leader and Arshad’s close friend, sounded devastated: “My association with Arshad Sharif is twelve-thirteen years old; we met when he was working at Dawn News. He was sociable, generous, a fabulous host. He was a great investigative journalist, always working hard for his country, for its betterment. He never worked to blackmail, to seek benefits or to exploit someone. He always tried to do stories that would bring about positive changes in the system.

“In his journalism Arshad was fearless. He didn’t spare anyone, he didn’t blackmail anyone, he didn’t exploit anyone. We [Arshad and his close friends] used to meet once or twice a week. We had long gup-shup sessions, and discussions on Pakistan’s politics and books. I used to take his guidance in literature. Arshad was doston ka dost; he truly cared for his friends. He was also genuinely empathetic to people in general.

“All expressions of pain are insufficient. The aspects of his life as a friend, and the way he cared for and looked after his brother, mother and children are truly exemplary. May Allah grant him jaanat. May Allah give his children sabr. His murder must be investigated for the mystery to be solved. Who is behind this very unfortunate event?”

In his death, Arshad Sharif is a symbol of so much that is glorious. An unchanging stance for his convictions, speaking up without fear, choosing the difficult path to ensure that his beliefs remained untarnished. That journalism is not a crime. That freedom of speech—excluding incitement to violence, bigotry and hatred towards any faith or community—is a fundamental right. In his death, Arshad Sharif is the living manifestation of dignity, honour, integrity, loyalty. To himself, to his profession, to the memory of his late father and brother, to the love of his mother and children, to his country. His forever love, Pakistan.

May you rest in eternal light and love, Arshad.

“Like a comet

Blazing 'cross the evening sky

Gone too soon

Like a rainbow

Fading in the twinkling of an eye

Gone too soon”