On the afternoon of August 26, 2008, Maham Amjad, then 15, was still in bed, nursing her fractured right thumb – a basketball injury at school.
She still remembers the day vividly. The landline phone rang, and Maham – the youngest among three siblings – rushed to receive it before anyone else.
“Amjad sahab has been shot,” someone said from the other end, referring to her father Muhammad Ahmed Amjad, 43, a senior official at the State Life Insurance Corporation, the largest insurer in Pakistan.
“I don’t remember much of what happened afterwards. My father’s colleagues and family friends started to show up at our home,” Maham tells TRT World over the phone, recalling the chain of events that would change her life. “Our whole world revolved around dad. My mother and elder sister rushed to the hospital.”
When she was finally taken to the hospital – after a lot of tears and pleas – she refused to believe that the man lying on the hospital bed was her father, who was shot ten times and was in a coma.
“One of his eyes was blue and purple. His body had bloated. I screamed this cannot be my daddy. I prayed for my dad, who had gone to the office in the morning to come back.”
Amjad died four days later.
The suspected assailant, Muhammad Taqi Shah, was said to be a disgruntled employee in the same company, an insurance salesman. He allegedly walked out of the building with the murder weapon in hand without anyone having confronted him, though hundreds of people are present in State Life’s office on any given day.
Police filed a murder case against Shah, who had gone into hiding. A year later, a court declared him an absconder. But Shah vanished, leaving behind no trail – or so he thought.
Killing a regional director of a multi-billion dollar insurance behemoth was no small matter. Yet, Maham recalls, everyone around her father seemed to be rushing to bury him and move on.
“When my father was alive, we didn’t face any financial difficulty. He was the one who did grocery shopping, paid for it and took care of all our needs. But after him, it was like everything spun out of control,” says Maham, now a 28-year-old marketing consultant with a penchant for the arts.
Within a few years, the company-provided home and car were gone. Maham’s elder brother was studying in London. Their mother, a homemaker, was scared for his life and forced him to fly out soon after the funeral.
“I didn’t have any uncles. My brother was the only man left in our family. We couldn’t afford to lose him,” she says.
Education, status and social circle didn’t matter as Maham, her mother, and sister endured intimidation, threats, sneers and unwanted approaches over the years.
A few months after Amjad’s murder, someone sent Maham an email with attached pictures of his father’s bloodied body.
Police registered a case against the accused, but that was about it.
Maham’s family moved 1,200 kilometres to another city, Lahore. “It was a complete cultural shock. I never really fit in. All my friends were in Karachi. It was a miserable life.”
But life did go on and she managed to deal with her situation along with a longing for her father and a desire to see his murderer brought to justice – something that grew with each passing day.
There’s a famous TV jingle that any Pakistani of a certain age can easily relate to. “Aye Khuda, meray abbu salamat rahein… (Oh God, keep my father under your protection),” it goes. The punchline comes then, “He has bought life insurance so we can live with peace and prosperity.”
Launched over 50 years ago, it is one of the longest-running ad campaigns that has helped State Life become a household name and mobilise hundreds of billions of rupees in insurance premia.
But the ad became a nightmare for Maham. “I cried watching it. It tormented me. I used to sing that to my father. I can’t believe how a company which promises such protection would not do anything for the family of its own murdered employee.”
As Maham grew older, the questions that had lingered at the back of her mind became a driving force to find out what had actually happened and seek justice. She also spent hours on the internet, Googling in search of Shah, the accused in her father’s murder.
“Even if I did find him on some website, I didn’t know how to link him to my father and the crime.”
Five years ago, she moved to Dubai to focus on her marketing career and also ventured into a real estate business. “I never gave up searching for him, though.”
To cope with her loss and overcome childhood trauma, Maham had a picture painted of herself alongside her father – dressed as a bride being hugged by her father, as the family patriarch does before walking the daughter down the aisle.
Then one day in 2020, during the height of the pandemic, while doing one of her routine internet searches, Maham came across a LinkedIn profile of a man named Taqi Shah. Of all the places in the world, he was living in Dubai.
“When you need a job, you make a LinkedIn profile. What got my attention was that he had mentioned State Life in his work experience, and the years he worked there matched the events related to my father.”
She took a screenshot and shared the picture with one of her father’s old colleagues. Yes, it was him, he told her.
Maham wasn’t excited or super relieved. “I had mixed feelings. I knew the system and knew I had to be patient. It was a cold case from 14 years ago.”
Over the next few months, she went about systematically gathering evidence, reaching out to former employees who knew her father and collecting documents her family had never seen before. She hired a lawyer in Pakistan and got hold of the police report as she built her case.
She knew UAE authorities wouldn’t arrest someone for a crime committed in another country so long ago.
For two years, Maham tracked Shah’s online activity. She discovered that many of her father’s former colleagues – some who had even attended his funeral – were friends with Shah on his Facebook account.
Slowly, Maham uncovered evidence that led her to believe that State Life deliberately tried to undermine the murder investigation.
For instance, Amjad’s family was told that the company was overseeing criminal proceedings against Shah, even ensuring that his name was on no-fly list. That never happened.
A month before he was murdered, Amjad had filed an official complaint to the senior management about how on one occasion Shah had tried to ram his car into Amjad’s vehicle. Maham is pressing State Life to divulge if any internal investigation on Shah’s conduct took place.
She also found that Shah’s wife and son were hired by State Life even when he was on the run.
In a response to questions from TRT World, a State Life spokesperson confirmed that Shah’s wife and son had worked for the company as “commissioned based agents” since 2004 and “subsequently their contract stands terminated.”
He also said that the then-management knew about the Shah’s threats and the car-ramming incident. An inquiry was still ongoing when Amjad was shot dead.
“State Life is fully supportive and continues to cooperate with concerned authorities to ensure the accused is brought to justice.”
Maham had come to the conclusion that Amjad was cracking down on corruption within the state-run company and, in the process, had annoyed a few people who benefited from kickbacks and illegal commissions.
In October 2022, she began sharing her story via Twitter. She went after everyone she believed was complicit in the murder and the cover-up – Shah, his former boss, State Life and its board members. Her lawyers approached the court with evidence about his whereabouts and succeeded in getting an order for his arrest.
But Shah was still living in Dubai as a free man. Chances were high that he would try and flee once again.
“I took a very calculated step and let him think I am just a weak girl who can’t do anything.” Maham began sharing Shah’s picture under a ‘wanted’ title.
Instead of defending himself with an alibi or any evidence, Shah resorted to character assassination, accusing Maham of being a “bad woman” out to tarnish his reputation.
In a video ostensibly filmed inside a mosque, making sure to show the background, he accused Amjad of being a “tyrant”. And then he threatened to kill her in another video. The threat finally gave Maham a reason to approach Dubai police.
She filed a criminal report against Shah, who was arrested by Dubai police in February and remains in custody. “They asked me to come in for identification but I didn’t want to see his face.”
At the same time, with pressure piling on officials – Maham’s video about her ordeal has been retweeted more than 5,000 times and counting – authorities in Pakistan approached Interpol to issue a red corner notice – sort of an international arrest warrant – now that Shah’s location was known.
“After my father’s death, my mother went into depression and never came out of it. She remained a widower, and her kids had to take care of her like she was our child. None of it was easy. Now I want Shah to be brought back and I want justice,” says Maham.