Arshad Sharif: The blood of a martyr

Shaheed Arshad Sharif (Arshad bai) was my friend. And that’s the worst thing you can say about him. Because in essence, to those who knew him, Arshad Sharif was much more than a friend: he was the lone face of professionalism, in a world full of momentary jesters; the highest emblem of principles, in a field bereft of such inconveniences; and the bravest soul, in this sleepy and scared hollow.
My introduction to Arshad Sharif was as a fan. Much before I ever had the opportunity of appearing on electronic media, Arshad Sharif was a star. The last (if not the only) investigative journalist of gold standard, which Pakistan has produced in recent years. Much like the rest of Pakistan, I have spent countless evenings, sitting with family and watching Arshad Sharif on television. Like the times during Panama Papers, when he presented an incorrigible chain of documentary evidence concerning Sharif family’s (illegal) assets. By any standard of journalism, Arshad bhai’s investigation and presentation of facts was at par with the very best news organisations around the world.
This fan-boy moment reached fruition some five years ago, one evening, when I received a call from a number I didn’t recognise, and on the other side was Arshad Sharif. The Arshad Sharif. He was calling with regards to clarification on some (minor) legal point, and his humility, as well as mannerism, almost put me to shame. Arshad bhai had a way of complementing you in a manner that made you feel comfortable around him; even as you knew, in your heart, that there is no real parity between you and Arshad bhai. He was just better. Better mannered. Better in terms of mind, and much better in terms of the heart.
Over the course of the past five years, I had the privilege of interacting with Arshad bhai at many occasions. He was the kind of person that others would gather around, just to listen to, or look at. He would poise his speech with a gentle smile, which made you feel that he was one of us. But if you looked deeper, the intensity of his eyes would tell you that we were not the same. Arshad bhai was from amongst us, but he was not one of us. He was different. Just purer.
If anyone harbored any illusion about Arshad bhai not being special, it died with the man himself. As his friends thronged to Arshad’s house, to commiserate with his family, many of us were stunned by the humility and simplicity of his house and family. A man who was always the first choice of viewership in our country, and could shake the corridors of power with a five-minute monologue, lived in a humble abode, in a not-so-posh sector in Islamabad. The surviving members of Arshad bhai’s family—a family of martyrs—were kindred to the point of piercing your heart. A simple drawing-room, where Arshad bhai’s mother greeted the guests, had photos of Arshad and his (martyred) brother receiving various awards. On the other side, clung to a dimly lit wall, was an old-school ‘show case’ of medals that this family of Shuhada had won over the years. His children—still too young to fully comprehend the immensity of their Shaheed father’s absence—were distracted by the commotion all around. One of them, a virtual replica of his Shaheed father, was impossible to look at, without tears welling up to your eyes.
And all the while, listening to Arshad bhai’s family and friends narrate anecdotes about his life, I could not help but come to one inescapable conclusion: Arshad bhai was always going to be a Shaheed. He was never one of us. He was always different. He was built special. Perhaps he was born special. He was not tainted by mortal concerns. His sight, and station, were just higher.
People like Arshad bhai don’t come along too often. And an offence against such people, is not so much an offence against an individual, but against the Divine touch that made them special. Put another way, the people of Pakistan—us lowly lot—could neither protect Arshad Sharif, nor do we have the station to avenge him. Thankfully, the weight of his martyrdom, and the responsibility to avenge it, is too large for any of us to carry. Instead, only eternity can look after it’s Shaheed. And, as a sadqa of his shahadat, to look after those who stood with him, those who grieve for him, and those who were orphaned.
We frequently forget that, in a dimension slightly higher than ours, there is a larger ‘nizam’ that governs our reality. One that does not judge by our laws, nor prosecutes through our systems, nor sentences through our courts. A ‘nizam-e-qudrat’, that has the silent power to sweep away civilisations. And that nizam—the system of eternal justice—is shaken by the blood of a martyr. Arshad Sharif may have been silenced in this world; but the case is now fixed before the eternal court of justice. One that does not need any judicial commission to establish facts, assign responsibility, or pass a sentence.
Our religion, in the Quran, stresses that a Shaheed is alive. And that he receives ‘rizq’ (livelihood) from the Divine. And that, when asked, a Shaheed has the power to intercede in the matters of this world and the next.
In this spirit, while we can add nothing to Arshad Sharif Shaheed’s station with our prayers, we must ask him, as a Shaheed, to intercede on our behalf. To articulate, in the hereafter, the pains of our struggle. To invite Divine mercy on our lives and time. And to, for the sake of the blood of the martyr, bless us with the courage to speak truth to power. As Arshad Sharif Shaheed himself did.
Ameen.
Till we meet again, Arshad bhai.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be contacted at saad@post.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter