Pakistan’s Khashoggi moment? Why was Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif killed in Nairobi on 23 October


Mossad, the renowned Israeli Secret Service organisation, is well known for eliminating enemies of the Jewish State and its people in audacious and imaginative covert operations abroad. Usually, the targets for retribution are blood-soaked individuals, responsible for the murder of a large number of Jews themselves. It’s not always bullets. Poisoned toothpaste, honey-traps, robot-operated machine guns which are remote-controlled, old-fashioned infiltration, have all been used. What is always evident is deep research, intelligence gathering, flawless execution, with rare exceptions to the contrary.

However, Mossad has never been known to assassinate a Jew abroad, whatever be the provocation.

Mossad quite often claims responsibility after the fact, even though such action violates sovereignty laws in other countries, but not always, particularly when ongoing strategic security interests are involved. The repeated elimination of Iranian nuclear scientists and mysterious explosions that retard Iran’s nuclear weapons programme are cases in point. When it does own up, working in concert with other secret agencies of the Government of Israel, it is to issue a warning to others engaged in action against Jewish interests, and that of the Jewish State.

In Pakistan, going against the military establishment is considered anathema. Any civilian government or institution that takes a critical position against the military is censured at a minimum. Usually personnel have to resign, and if the provocation is serious enough, the government in power will generally fall, as in the case of Imran Khan’s PTI government most recently. For journalists to do anything of the sort is asking for brutal retaliation.

In this case, apart from supporting the Imran Khan government and suggesting the army had caused its dismissal, journalist Arshad Sharif was in the midst of creating an expose on corruption in the former Nawaz Sharif government, the corruption of army chief General Qamar Bajwa and others, called ‘Behind the doors’, when he was killed with a shot to the back of the head on a dark dirt road near Nairobi at 10 at night. General Bajwa is about to retire and be replaced by a new Army chief sometime in November 2022. Rumours include a possible relocation by him to the United States.

That Arshad’s body was taken to Chiromo mortuary, 78 km away from the alleged site of the killing, is just one of many strange facts and circumstances concerning this shooting.

The alleged shooting of the Pakistani TV journalist in Nairobi by the Kenyan police is officially trotted out as a case of ‘mistaken identity’. But did the Kenyan police actually do it? Does it have the hand of Pakistan’s ISI behind it, as is widely alleged?

There is a wealth of confusing and contradictory reportage on the killing. One report says the Toyota Land Cruiser Arshad was travelling in was being shadowed by a car full of Pakistani operatives, a ‘killer squad’ for several days prior, according to former governor of Nairobi, Mike Sonko. This gang of assassins were out to kill the journalist because he was preparing yet another Kenya-based expose on people in the present Pakistani government and its deep state, involving a money-laundering syndicate that also owns car showrooms in Nairobi and Mombasa. The Pakistan military and ISI are reported to have intensive connections with Islamic jihadi groups and warlords in Africa, including Kenya.

Allegations of the Kenya Police acting frequently as death squads for hire have also been rife. Al Jazeera has produced a documentary on the subject called ‘Inside Kenya’s Death Squads’, describing its cold-blooded murders on government orders, or for money.

Another report says gunshots were fired at the police at a police checkpoint from inside the car Sharif was travelling in, presumably by his host Ahmed, injuring a policeman on the hand, prompting it to return fire.

It is ironic to note that only Arshad was killed with a clean shot to the back of the head, while all others in his car were unharmed. This despite nine shots being fired, four towards the back left of the car, and five towards the back right of the car including one that punctured the right rear tyre. The Land Cruiser was allegedly trying to flee, but from whom? Was it the Kenyan police check post/hit squad for hire, or the Pakistani assassins stalking it?

The ostensible reason for the police asking Arshad’s car to stop was a reported carjacking, involving also the abduction of a child. But the reported missing car was a Mercedes, and not a Toyota.

Yet another report suggests the fatal gunshot was fired from within Arshad’s car. Hmm.

Sharif was being hosted by a family of Pakistani nationals at a farmhouse near Nairobi, at a place called Westlands. He had come to Kenya from the UAE where he had gone in August with an in-between possible visit to Britain.

This farm at Westlands is allegedly owned by a three-star ISI general from Pakistan. Arshad and Kurram Ahmed, from the host family, had spent that final Sunday afternoon at Ammodump@Kwenia, an entertainment complex with a shooting range, popular with Pakistani gun enthusiasts. It is located on a feeder road in Kamukuru, 85 km south of Nairobi. The duo left the entertainment complex for Nairobi at about 8 pm local time, presumably for Westlands, where they were staying.

On Twitter, Kenyan investigative journalist Brian Obuya said the fatal shot that killed Sharif was ‘fired with precision through the rear mirror of the car’.

Whatever be the truth of Arshad’s actual killing, let us look at the back-story. First, his recent anti-establishment stance. Arshad was known to be close to Imran Khan and his ousted Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf Party (PTI), which is trying hard to make a come-back to power via mass movements and marches. Arshad also gave himself the proverbial ‘kiss of death’ by being critical of the Pakistan military at the same time. Fearing an attack on his life, Arshad fled abroad to Dubai and then to Kenya recently, presumably after losing his job in August, only to meet his fate there on Sunday, 23 October 2022.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of Pakistan, who was attending a conference in Saudi Arabia, expressed grief, shock, and horror in a tweet on 24 October requested Kenyan president William Ruto over the telephone to expedite the repatriation of the body to Pakistan, and a thorough investigation into the killing. The funeral took place on Thursday the 27th and attracted huge crowds in Pakistan.

Imran Khan, who said he had advised Arshad to leave the country after he was accused of sedition in May, called the shooting a ‘targeted killing’ for his criticism of the power establishment. Khan also called him a ‘martyr’, but perhaps as some critics have said, as an investigative journalist, Arshad should not have drawn so close to a particular political party, out-of-power and in vigorous Opposition.

Arshad, who was 49, was an anchor on Pakistan’s ARY TV network. Though he was earlier close to the Pakistan military, he had been vocally critical of late. So much so, that ARY was forced off-air for a spell because it had allowed him to use its platform to spread anti-military sentiment.

Arshad had been briefly arrested by the Pakistan Police for sedition after an interview with an Imran Khan aide from PTI called Dr Shahbaz Gill. He was eventually fired by ARY in August 2022, after serving as host and anchor for eight years at the channel. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), meanwhile, had termed some of the comments in the Shahbaz Gill interview as incitement for the ‘armed forces to revolt’.

The Dawn newspaper of Pakistan reported that Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum joined Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) DG Lt Gen Babar Iftikhar making a rare public appearance at a press conference in Rawalpindi, said the Pakistani military has requested the civilian government to conduct a ‘high level investigation ‘ into the ‘accidental’ killing of Arshad.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has since announced a thorough judicial investigation and review into the matter.

There is a strenuous effort towards plausible deniability amongst all the authorities in Pakistan. They are keen that America does not see the Arshad murder or mishap as another Jamal Khashoggi moment.

However, this kind of thing is not new in Pakistan. In recent times, Saleem Shehzad was killed on 30 May 2011. Hamid Mir was shot six times and wounded by gunmen on 19 April 2014. Matiullah Jan was kidnapped from a busy street in Islamabad on 20 April 2021. Asad Toor, his ribs broken, was brutally tortured by unidentified persons on 25 May 2021. Absar Alam was shot but not killed. Judicial commissions investigating these attacks on journalists have nor handed in any report known to the public.

Both the US and the UN want this death thoroughly investigated, though neither are generating any heat over it. It is, as if, coming from Pakistan, run by its all-powerful military, and known internationally as terrorist central, no one is truly surprised.

The writer is a political, economic and strategic affairs writer. Views expressed are personal.

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Pakistan’s Khashoggi moment? Why was Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif killed in Nairobi on 23 October
Pakistan’s Khashoggi moment? Why was Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif killed in Nairobi on 23 October
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