The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) kicked off its “Jail Bharo Tehreek” on Wednesday from Lahore, claiming that “more than 200 supporters” would court arrest on the first day, with an equal number following them daily until an election date had been announced for Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Ahead of the drive, the PTI’s social media wing sought to build momentum with video statements from party workers and leaders motivating supporters to join the “revolution.” The party also staged rallies in multiple cities, including Faisalabad, Kasur, and Sheikhupura, on different pretexts.
This isn’t the first a political party in Pakistan has launched a “Jail Bharo” movement. In 1981, the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) tried to restore democracy and denounce Ziaul Haq’s martial law through a similar movement that attracted thousands of participants, including lawyers, political workers, and the general public. The MRD repeated the exercise in 1986, led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), but again failed to achieve its objective. There were similar movements in 2004—by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal—and in 2007—against the house arrest of Benazir Bhutto—with limited success.
According to multiple speeches, PTI chief Imran Khan hopes to use his party’s “Jail Bharo” movement to push the government into proceeding to polls in Punjab and KP—and eventually the rest of the country as well. Ignoring the limited success of past movements, he has indicated that he will pull a “surprise” on the shaky ruling alliance. It is undeniable that Khan enjoys popular support, especially compared to the government that is bearing the brunt of public ire over rampant inflation. However, this has yet to trigger any agitation large enough to pressure any government into stepping down. Another factor against Khan is a lack of support from the establishment, which had earlier facilitated his rise to power, but is now wary of the isolationism that resulted from his engagements with the Gulf and China.
For now, it appears Khan’s “Jail Bharo” will go the way of its predecessors, as Punjab Police arrested only 81 of the threatened 200 at its launch. But even if it fizzles out in days to come, the instability it seeks to foment is not conducive to the kind of governance required to tackle the prevailing economic crunch.