The arrest of KP Mineral Development Minister, Ziaullah Afridi, was a test for the Pakistan Tehrik-e- Insaaf, to which he belonged, not just because it showed the kind of ‘Naya Pakistan’ the party was busy constructing, but also how it reacted to members who were accused of abusing authority after reaching positions of power.

Ziaullah Afridi was also noteworthy for having been one of party chief Imran Khan’s provincial running mates. He was elected for PK-1 Peshawar 1, a seat below Imran in NA-1 Peshawar-1, one of the constituencies he was elected from. He gave up the seat, and it was won in the by-election by the general election loser, Ghulam Ahmad Bilaur of the ANP,however Afridi retained the seat. This was not the seat won by KP Senior Minister Bashir Bilour, who sat for PK-3, before his assassination in December 2012, another seat won by the PTI with Imran as the national ‘wingman’.

The question that should engage the PTI is why someone with this level of closeness to Imran Khan should turn out to have feet of clay. The reasons why Afridi was thought suitable for the portfolio have not been disclosed, but it should be clear that this was a portfolio requiring someone who was not just honest, but able to resist temptation. Instead, Afridi is accused of having done something that would be expected of more traditional politicians: given a mining lease to a brother at a throwaway rate, and pocketing the proceeds. He is also accused of acquiring assets beyond his means.

His arrest raises the question of why someone who knows the depth of the PTI commitment to honesty, should fall victim to the temptation of corruption. One reason might be the need for money, which is the hallmark of democratic politics. Another is that elections (costing money) throw up access to the considerable resources of the state. Elections give access to money to those who need it, which is a potentially explosive combination. And apparently, in Afridi’s case, it exploded.

Afridi might well have a grievance, because he has not been convicted of any crime. His party has called for him to resign, but the most recent resignation, that of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah over the Modeltown massacre last year, ended with his exoneration by the JIT appointed for the task, and his return to the Punjab Cabinet. Afridi is not charged with bad governance, as was Rana Sanaullah, but corruption, the very thing the PTI wants to uproot, and which is the basis of its appeal.

It is also noteworthy that the present PML-N government has avoided any scandal. There have been fingers raised at the Metro projects, saying that they are meant to give opportunities to the Sharif brothers, but there has not been any evidence produced. On the other hand, the KPK government has experienced a series of corruption scandals. The first was associated with the exit of the Qaumi Watan Party from the provincial coalition. The QWP was led by Aftab Sherpao, who had left the PPP after having been Chief Minister twice, and contained a strong ‘business-as-usual’ component.

Neither the PML-N nor the PPP can claim honesty. None of the parties give any practical help in elections. In short, none give any money. The PTI has followed that precedent. Becoming ministers gives politicians access to departments that allow them to make money. That money is initially meant to finance the next election, but it then is used to finance a luxurious lifestyle. Though military rulers come to power to end this abuse of authority, they ultimately fall prey to the temptation of living the life of Riley. It has now become institutionalized enough for it to be understood that when the military takes over, it merely serves as one class of politicians (military men and those otherwise not likely to achieve office through elections) replaces another (those who achieve office by elections), and then proceeds to enjoy the fruits of office.

The PTI, even though seen as closely allied to the military, must be shown as containing the corrupt. It must be noted that the both the PPP and the PML-N were founded by protégés of the military rulers preceding them. However, they both fulfill one of the main characteristics of politicians that are used to justify a takeover: corruption. The PTI is an exception in being linked so closely to the military before any takeover, and if it contains within its ranks corrupt politicians, it clearly means that the only honest group will be military rulers.

However, corruption might be an issue of the military and career government servants envious of temporary political masters able to exploit government resources. It does not seem to bother voters. No politician has ever lost an election for being corrupt. It might seem that parties lose for corruption, but it should be noted that election losses occur because parties are unable to solve the problems that people face, like inflation, joblessness and rising utility bills. It is also part of the popular consensus that corruption has caused those problems, and eliminating corruption will also solve those problems. Unfortunately, those problems have not been solved. Thus either corruption is not an issue, or else claims of ending corruption are false.

The arrest was made after an investigation by a new-fangled body, the provincial Ehtesab Commission, which is patterned after the federal National Accountability Bureau. NAB itself was also active in KP after Afridi’s arrest, arresting a former Managing Director of PESCO, Pervez Akhtar Shah, for possession of property beyond his means. It was a reminder of the KP government’s claim if it was allowed to distribute electricity, it would not allow loadshedding in KP. There is also the Planning Commission report, which states there should not be any distribution and supply company privatization after the K-Electric experience, which led to over 1000 heatwave deaths. The PTI sees Karachi as an expansion area.

Afridi’s case is a demonstration that the PTI is not, as its supporters portray, a guarantee against corruption. At best, it will show that the PTI is better at house-cleaning than other parties. However, other parties have seen ministers sacked and jailed for corruption without anything further coming of it. However, the PTI has made official corruption one of its main issues, and its own honesty one of its main selling points. It has also been important to stress this among its military backers. If indeed the case against Afridi is proved, it cannot afford to let him go unpunished. Even then, the questions that arise about the internal atmosphere of the party, which allowed Afridi to hold a portfolio, which allowed for such corruption, remain unanswered.