The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the special joint investigation team (JIT) formed to probe the killing of senior journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya to submit a progress report every two weeks.
The court issued the directives as a five-member bench, comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Jamal Mandokhel, Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar, resumed hearing of the case.
At the previous hearing, the top court had directed the government to constitute a special joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the journalist’s killing and to notify the members by today.
During today’s hearing, Additional Attorney General (AAG) Aamir Rehman presented to the court a notification for the formation of the special JIT.
According to the notification, the JIT comprises Islamabad police DIG Awais Ahmed, Muhammad Aslam (Inter-Services Intelligence), Murtaza Afzal (Military Intelligence), Federal Investigation Agency Cybercrime Director Waqaruddin Syed and Intelligence Bureau Deputy Director General Sajid Kiani.
The notification directed the Islamabad police to assist the JIT in collecting evidence. The foreign ministry was also directed to “facilitate coordination for provision of visas and assistance in foreign jurisdictions” for the JIT.
Rehman told the court that the JIT consisted of five members, and added that if necessary, authorities would contact Interpol to arrest the suspects in the case.
CJP Bandial remarked that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which had submitted its reply to the court prior to the hearing, had “shown the way” to the JIT. The ministry has given “good suggestions in its report,” he observed.
Justice Mazhar then wondered how long it would take the JIT to conclude its investigation. The AAG replied that the investigation would be dependent on the Kenyan officials, adding that the team would make all possible efforts to complete the probe at the earliest.
The court then directed the JIT to submit a progress report to the court every two weeks. In addition, the Islamabad SSP and his team were directed to cooperate with the investigating team.
The court noted that the foreign ministry had put forth suggestions in the report it had submitted, adding that it had also assured that it would assist the JIT in its probe. The court directed the JIT to submit the progress report in the judges’ chambers.
“We are giving the JIT two weeks’ time,” CJP Bandial said, directing the team to file a plea if it faced any obstacles.
The hearing was subsequently adjourned for the first week of January.
MoFA RESPONSE: Prior to today’s hearing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) submitted a reply to the court in line with the directives issued in the previous hearing.
The ministry as well as the Pakistan missions in Nairobi and Dubai were corresponding “frequently” with authorities for facilitating and furthering the process of investigation and gathering evidence in the case, the reply said.
The reply said MoFA had established contact with the relevant Kenyan authorities and “reached out [to them] at the highest political level”, pointing out that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had directly spoken to the Kenyan president and specifically requested assistance in this regard.
MoFA as well as the Pakistan mission in Nairobi “continues to pursue the investigative efforts with the host authorities. It is further submitted that the current bilateral approach is most likely to yield results,” the reply said.
It said that the Kenyan High Commissioner in Islamabad had informed Pakistani authorities that Kenya was in the process of gathering evidence and that the investigation was ongoing.
In the reply, the ministry also said it was concurrently evaluating avenues that could be explored with international organisations to advance the process of investigation.
At the same time, the ministry said it was committed to maintaining “friendly and cordial” relations with Kenya and the UAE and was, therefore, considering the following options: Sending a special envoy to Kenya to raise the matter with local authorities, arranging a phone call between the Kenyan and Pakistani foreign ministers, directing the Pakistani High Commissioner in Nairobi to maintain efforts with senior Kenyan officials to expedite the matter, regularly engaging the Kenyan High Commissioner in Islamabad.
The ministry further said that it was of the view that Pakistani authorities may also explore legal avenues for gathering evidence and completing the investigation process in Kenya and the UAE.
“It is further submitted that due to the efforts of the MoFA and Pakistan Mission in Dubai, UAE, the latter sent a request for legal assistance from the concerned authorities in Pakistan. In this regard, the said request has already been dispatched to the Ministry of Interior to prepare and send a request for legal assistance,” the reply said.
The ministry said it was committed to assisting the court and facilitating the special JIT constituted by the government in the case.
FACT-FINDING REPORT: Prior to yesterday’s hearing, the government submitted a report to the court by the fact-finding team constituted to probe the incident.
A two-member fact-finding team consisting of officers from the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) concluded that Sharif’s killing was a “planned targeted assassination” which purportedly involved “transnational characters”.
In a 592-page report submitted to the five-member SC bench, the investigators contested the version put forth by the Kenyan police, who termed Sharif’s killing “a case of mistaken identity”.
The report observed that the “transnational roles of characters in Kenya, Dubai, and Pakistan” in this assassination cannot be ruled out.
The report noted a number of discrepancies in the events connected to Sharif’s death and also highlighted contradictions in the statements of the ARY owner, Salman Iqbal, in connection with the case.
According to the report, the officials of the Kenyan General Services Unit (GSU) fired nine bullets at Sharif’s vehicle from an AK-47 and a local Gilboa rifle. It, however, added that there was “only one fire (sic) whose trajectory doesn’t fit with the firing pattern”.
It disclosed that “there is no penetration mark of a bullet on the seat of Arshad Sharif but he was hit from the back and the bullet exited from the right side of the chest”. That does not match with his sitting position, and the position of gunners as well as the line of fire, it said and termed it a “closed range fire”.
The investigators were astonished to note that the “driver’s side door and window are undamaged, and the driver’s seat does not even have any splatters of blood, which is curious since one of the injuries to Sharif was a head wound that caused his skull to shatter and spread hair, blood and bone particles over the passenger seat, the passenger side roof the car, and even on the rear passenger seat.”
It also pointed out the reasons that forced Sharif to leave Pakistan, including the registration of about a dozen FIRs. It expressed that there was a possibility that the journalist was compelled to leave Dubai.
The report also shed light on the relations between Sharif and the senior management of ARY, especially its owner Salman Iqbal.
“During his interview with the team, Salman Iqbal directly contradicted Waqar’s version and claimed he did not know Waqar…[and] had no other direct contact with him. He only knew that ‘Vicky’ was a good friend of Tariq Wasi”.
The investigators mentioned that Iqbal failed to satisfy the team regarding his relations with Waqar and referred questions about the latter to Tariq Wasi.
“He [Tariq Wasi] responded in writing to the FFT questionnaire but his answers were not very illuminating or forthcoming. Many of his responses are contradicted by both Salman Iqbal and Waqar,” the report added.
According to the report, Tariq Wasi, directly linked with Waqar and who arranged for Sharif to be hosted by Waqar in Kenya, “would also become a key lynchpin for anybody wanting to murder Arshad Sharif” if the case had a transnational angle.
It said Salman Iqbal freely admitted that Waqar was approached to issue a letter of invitation to Arshad Sharif, nevertheless, in the initial days following Arshad Sharif’s death, some news reports, including those of ARY, continued to propagate that Arshad Sharif had gone to Kenya because Kenya had a visa on arrival policy.
The report also mentioned “discrepancies in the timelines” given by Iqbal to the fact-finding team.
“Waqar claims that he called Tariq Wasi to inform him of Arshad Sharif’s death while he was driving from Ammodump camp to Oletepesi farm, essentially within the first thirty minutes of the incident. And it was during the same drive that Salman Iqbal called Waqar to get confirmation of Arshad Sharif’s death”.
However, Salman Iqbal claimed that he did not speak to Waqar till three to four hours after the incident, the report said, adding that Iqbal had “contacted the senior army leadership to inform them of the fact that Arshad Sharif had been killed within an hour of the incident”.
It is not immediately clear why Salman Iqbal created this discrepancy over timelines, it added.
The report recommended the registration of the case with the Counter Terrorism Wing of the FIA under sections of the Pakistan Penal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Act.
THE KILLING: Sharif left Pakistan in August after a number of cases were registered against him. It was reported that he was staying in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after which he went to Kenya, where he was shot dead.
Initially, Kenyan media had quoted the local police as saying Sharif was shot dead by police in a case of “mistaken identity”.
But later reports from the Kenyan media reconstructed the events surrounding the killing, stating that an occupant in Sharif’s car at the time of his killing was believed to have shot at paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU) officers.
The Pakistan government subsequently formed a team that travelled to Kenya to investigate the killing.