Losing Arshad Sharif, my beloved husband

The truth of Arshad’s murder must come out. An independent, impartial investigation is the only way to ensure it does not remain buried with him in his grave.
Published April 21, 2023

This piece was originally published on April 21, 2023.

The call came late in the night. In Kenya, it was still October 23. In Pakistan, October 24 — the worst day of my life — had just begun. Arshad’s producer told me to brace myself: “Your husband has been in a car accident, and it does not look good. We’re coming over right now.”

It made no sense. I had spoken to Arshad that very day. I had asked him if I should continue working on a corruption story. He had, as always, been encouraging. “It’s a good story,” he had replied. I had sent him an emoji — the sweating smiley face — and told him to call me when he was free. That he hadn’t was unusual, but I did not think much of it.

He was built of stronger stuff than a car crash, I comforted myself. He would be okay.

The murder

And then the news of his brutal killing broke. Arshad Sharif, one of Pakistan’s most prominent journalists, a beloved husband, a devoted father, a doting son and a loyal friend, had been shot dead in Kenya. Horrifying images of a bloodstained car went viral online. A violent end for the gentlest man I knew.

What was he even doing in Kenya? Arshad should have been at home with us, with his family, with his German Shepherds, Rottweiler and cat. He should have been doing his photography, which he loved so much. He should have been on the airwaves, informing public discourse, conducting his investigations, being the journalist who made us so proud.

Except that he had no choice but to leave. Leave his home, his colleagues and the job that he loved so much behind. He told us about the threats he was facing, the intimidation tactics, the harassment and how he feared for his life. And like so many other journalists, human rights defenders, and lawyers, he was forced to find safety abroad. He first went to the UAE, and when it became clear that he was in danger of being deported, he tried his luck in Kenya. We did not even know he had managed to get there. He hadn’t told anyone, worrying that he would be tracked down.

Unfortunately, the threats that were made to him in Pakistan were carried out in Kenya. He arrived there on October 20 and left as a corpse just a few days later.

The sound of his absence

The vocabulary to describe the impact of his untimely death on the family has not been created yet. Almost six months have passed since his murder, but the grief still sets us on fire every morning and drowns us in waves by the evening. It shows no signs of ebbing.

Our first Eid without him is around the corner, and the sound of his absence is deafening. He was so generous with his Eid gifts that we would always joke that his Eidi would eclipse everyone else’s efforts. It’s just one of the many occasions that we must now learn to live without him.

When someone dies, after the initial shock, you notice the little things that are no longer being done or no longer need to be done. I don’t need to keep a stock of giveaways in the house, which he insisted we keep to gift anyone who came over for dinner as a thank you for sharing a meal with him. I don’t need to keep making room in my house for the books that he endlessly devoured.

Nothing about his death has been easy — from Arshad’s repatriation to his burial in Pakistan, to registering a case to investigate his death, to the insensitive media that shared images of his body, to the police in Kenya that have changed their story multiple times, to the authorities in Pakistan who, in six months, have not been able to provide us with any answers.

Knocking on all doors

Arshad was a wildly popular journalist, whom people are still vociferously campaigning for on social media, half a year later. The Supreme Court has repeatedly called out the mistakes that are being made in the investigation in Pakistan, while Pakistani authorities highlight the lack of cooperation from their Kenyan counterparts before the same court. Everyone is watching, and yet, justice only seems to become more and more elusive. What does that say about the criminal justice system of not one, but three countries?

We are knocking on every door, hoping at least one will open. But so far, they all seem to be slamming shut in our faces. And as Arshad’s name slowly begins to slip from news tickers, and investigators continue to play the blame game, our fear is that they will be locked forever.

Authorities in both Kenya and Pakistan seem to be indifferent to our suffering, and it is baffling that no one has been arrested or charged yet. The truth of Arshad’s murder must come out. An independent, impartial, and immediate investigation is the only way to ensure it does not remain buried with him in his grave.

Arshad Sharif was killed in Kenya on 23 October 2022. In December 2022, a team of Pakistani investigators concluded that it had been a “planned assassination.” The investigation in Kenya is ongoing, but the family is yet to receive any answers.