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Journalist Arshad Sharif’s death has got Pakistan talking but it’s still blame game that’s on

Pakistan Army General requests govt to conduct ‘high-level’ investigation into Sharif’s death to put to rest speculation regarding any institution's involvement.

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The death of Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif, who was shot by police in Kenya on 23 October,  has caused a political storm in Pakistan. Politicians and journalists have demanded a probe into the suspicious circumstances of his death. Many have claimed that he was assassinated for standing up to the Pakistan Army, the ISI and the current government. 

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Shireen Mazari went so far as to imply that the army was responsible for his death. 

“Arshad himself told me he had to flee Pakistan because they had put head money on him… And then he had to leave Dubai, as he told me, because they had tracked him down there. And you know who ‘they’ are. And they are very good at killing their own citizens unlike winning wars,” said Mazari, who was Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Human Rights, during Imran Khan’s tenure.

Lieutenant General Asif Ghafoor, who is currently serving as Commander Corps in Quetta, changed his Twitter to black, perhaps indicating rebellion in the top rungs of Pakistan Army. Sharif was once known to be close to the Pakistani establishment, but shifted allegiance this year, after the fall of the Imran Khan government.  

The journalist who became a fierce critic of the ruling government, had fled Pakistan in August this year after allegedly receiving death threats and harassment by “state institutions”.

Imran Khan described his death as “deliberate targeting of anyone who dares to question those in power” and said Sharif had “paid the ultimate price for telling the truth”.

In Karachi, journalists demonstrated against his death, and as calls for answers grew louder, Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced the formation of a judicial commission to “determine the facts of the tragic incident in a transparent and conclusive manner”. 

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Mysterious circumstances

What’s fuelling conspiracy theories and allegations of assassinations are the rather mysterious circumstances of his death. 

The Kenyan police have alleged it was “a case of mistaken identity.” saying that they had been on the look-out for a similar vehicle which was linked with a child kidnapping cape. However, an officer privy to the investigation  stated that “the truth might be in what has not been documented”.

Arshad Sharif was reportedly one of the people who was interviewed for a documentary that claims to expose the alleged corruption of former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif and his family.

Sharif, who was at one point close to the military establishment as well as the army’s former yes-man Imran Khan, became vocal in expressing sentiments against the military this year, said a report by The Guardian.

And many are convinced he paid the price for it with his life.

Sharif’s wife Javeria Siddique told Pakistan media that “he did not even disclose the name of the country in Africa where he had moved to because of security threats”. 

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Perils of military critique

Only three days earlier, Sharif had tweeted against Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa, asking how many ‘gifts’ he had received in the previous year, saying that “if Prime Ministers are being held accountable, so should government officers – there should be “not two, but one Pakistan”, said the tweet.

The post came months after he relocated to avoid arrest after being charged with multiple cases, including sedition, following an interview with Shahbaz Gill, a close aide of Imran Khan.

Gill made comments that were allegedly inflammatory, and was accused of “inciting mutiny against the military”. The government came down heavily on ARY News for airing the interview, and the channel announced that it had “parted ways” with Sharif, who at the time was one of their top anchors. The channel was also briefly taken off air, and Gill was arrested.

Calls for transparency 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has called for an immediate inquiry into Sharif’s death, citing the country’s history of journalistic repression.

“A long, grim record of violent tactics 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 organisation said in a statement.

The Kenyan police have come under scrutiny in the past for executing extra-judicial killings, said journalist Asad Ali Toor. The Foreign Press Association Africa (FPA) said it was “deeply disturbed” by Sharif’s death, also urging authorities to investigate thoroughly.

Inter-Services Public Relations Director General, Major General Babar Iftikhar, on Tuesday stressed that it was important to find answers to questions regarding who forced Sharif to leave Pakistan, where did he live all this time, and what were the circumstances leading to this incident.

“In all these stages unfortunately, at the end of the day, allegations are leveled and institutions are accused. So this speculation has to be put to rest and it has to come to an end,” he added.

Social media is rife with condolence messages from important Pakistani figures. Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif, tweeted his condolences and stated he had spoken to Kenyan President William Ruto, and “requested him to ensure fair and transparent investigation into the shocking incident”. Ruto has promised “all-out help”, according to the Prime Minister.

President Arif Alvi called his death “a great loss to journalism and Pakistan,” and Bilawal Bhutto “strongly condemned it.”

(Edited by Tarannum Khan)

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