The PTI has practised much of its politics on the premise that other political parties are corrupt and that it provides a ‘cleaner’ alternative to such parties. The word ‘corruption’ is, perhaps, one of the most frequently used terms by the party’s leadership to discredit its opponents. Given this, the arrest of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Minister for Mines and Minerals, Ziaullah Afridi, on corruption charges, along with 10 others for embezzlement in mining projects, is a disappointing development.
The minister was arrested by K-P’s Ehtesab Commission for misappropriation of funds, which, according to the commission, caused “losses worth billions of rupees” to the provincial exchequer. The arrest of a serving minister indicates that as per the PTI’s promise, the Ehtesab Commission is working independently and it is hoped that this is indeed the case. However, there are also indications that this development could be a result of a personal tiff between the minister and other senior PTI leaders in K-P, with Mr Afridi claiming that his arrest is the price of opposing the chief minister on some fronts. Regardless of the reasons behind the arrest, corruption allegations against Mr Afridi’s ministry have been surfacing for long. Last year, Chinese investors threatened to move their mining projects from K-P because of alleged corruption within the ministry. The investors had said that leases given to the Chinese company, which had been working in the province for over 17 years, had been cancelled without any reasons given for this action. This raises other questions, including why the chief minister was so oblivious to the alleged fraud going on in an important ministry.
The PTI chief, Imran Khan, has now stated that the minister will have to resign his position until the inquiry into the case is completed. This statement is indeed welcome, but the Ehtesab Commission will have to prove its independence by carrying out an impartial inquiry that favours no individual.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2015.