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Graft Allegations Fragment Pakistan’s Anti-Corruption Party

Supporters of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaaf (PTI) during a rally in Islamabad on July 30.
Supporters of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaaf (PTI) during a rally in Islamabad on July 30.

A Pakistani political party that once promised to cleanse the upper echelons of government from corruption is now falling apart over graft allegations among the members of its provincial administration.

Four years ago, the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaaf (PTI), or the movement for justice, swept the polls in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province promising to end big corruption and create a model for good governance in a country struggling with predatory politicians and crooked civil and military bureaucrats.

The party’s firebrand leader and cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan, promised to eventually create a “new Pakistan” in the image of a “new Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”

Today, however, the party’s provincial administration is a mess. Its lawmakers and cabinet members accuse each other of graft. Such accusations imperil PTI’s provincial administration and cast a dark shadow over its fortunes in the parliamentary election scheduled for next year.

As the chief minister or most senior elected official in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pervez Khattak is a target of mounting criticism. Former cabinet colleagues and PTI lawmakers are blaming the former contractor of making big bucks and enriching his relatives during his stint in power.

Ziaullah Afridi, a former minister for mines and minerals in Khattak’s cabinet, accused him of awarding a multimillion-dollar mining contract to a relative in violation of government rules. He also accused the chief minister of orchestrating a major financial scandal in a commercial bank operated by the provincial government.

“Khattak is unable to hide his corruption,” Afridi said. “The Khyber Bank ran into losses after he appointed its managing director [in violation of the established rules and regulations]. So he (Khattak), along with the managing director, is responsible for its losses and whatever else is wrong with it.”

Afridi wields a strong personal grudge against Khattak, who ordered his removal from office and arrest on graft charges in July 2015. Afridi spent several months in a prison and still faces several court cases.

However, Afridi says he was sent to prison after confronting Khan with alleged evidence of Khattak’s corruption.

“I told Khan several times that Khattak and his cronies are involved in large-scale corruption and that they are earning a bad name for the party and for him,” he told RFE/RL’s Gandhara website. “But I was always discouraged.”

PTI is now embroiled in a major scandal after one of its female lawmakers, Ayesha Gulalai, accused Khan of sending her lewd text messages and doing little to stop Khattak’s corruption in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Gulalai also accused Khattak of acting like a mafia boss.

FILE: Pervez Khattak
FILE: Pervez Khattak

“Khattak has nepotism in place, with his relatives benefiting from his stint in power,” she told journalists. “When I went to Imran and provided him with evidence of Khattak’s corruption, he cast it all aside.”

PTI insiders paint a grim picture of their party’s cohesion. They speak of increasing dissent against Khattak’s leadership. While lawmakers Javid Nasim, Qurban Ali Khan, and Ikramullah Khan Gandapur had expressed grievances against his leadership, Pakistani daily Dawn recently reported that key cabinet members Atif Khan and Shahram Khan Tarakai turned against him. The two also met Khan to convey their grievances.

Afridi claimed dissent within the PTI ranks is now so great that he could be voted out of power. Khattak’s administration now enjoys a 70-member majority in the 124-seat provincial legislature, but Afridi says at least 12 PTI MPs are willing to cast their votes against the chief minister if the opposition parties unite in forcing a confidence vote on his administration.

Khattak, however, is a political survivor. He is known to frequently change political parties by often joining ruling parties. He rejects corruption allegations against himself and is confident he will survive the revolt among his party’s ranks.

“Nobody can bring down my administration,” Pakistan’s Geo News TV quoted him as saying on August 7. “I was the one responsible for propping up and toppling governments [in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa].”

PTI spokesman Fawad Chaudhry told RFE/RL’s Gandhara that Afridi presented no evidence in support of his allegations.

“Anyone leveling charges of corruption in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government must have solid evidence,” he said. “We are ready to launch investigations.”

The party, however, faces a bumpy road ahead in the run-up to parliamentary elections next year. Voters are likely to judge its anti-corruption rhetoric in the light of its performance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.