The end of the beginning

March 05, 2023

Seeing elections on the horizon, Khan and his party have decided to shift gears and pursue a more traditional approach to politics

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ast week, the Supreme Court of Pakistan directed the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold election to the provincial assemblies of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Soon after the verdict was announced, former prime minister Imran Khan, the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, declared an end to his Jail Bharo Tehreek. The tactic is traditionally associated with radical politics. With elections on the horizon, Khan and his party have decided to shift gears and pursue a more sedate approach.

The court-arrest movement was announced a few weeks ago to protest against alleged political victimisation and the delay in announcing a date for elections to the dissolved provincial assemblies. However, it was not a resounding success. Analysts pointed out poor execution, confusion and contradictions. For many, the half-hearted drive ended even before it developed any momentum.

On March 1, Khan, announced an end to the movement and urged party leaders and workers to instead start election campaigns for the polls to be held in about two months’ time.

A total of about two hundred workers, including some of the top PTI leaders, had presented themselves for arrest in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala and Peshawar.

The arrests were made under interesting circumstances. Some of the PTI leaders said they considered the movement a gesture. Apparently, they had believed that the police would ‘arrest’ them only to release them. They were visibly disappointed when the police made formal arrests and sent them to prisons. They were then ordered detained for a month under the Maintenance of Public Order law that empowers law enforcement and administration to hold anyone who disturbs public order for a month without an arrest warrant.

“I thought they were not going to arrest us. It thought we would be taken to the office of the city police chief. But they have formally arrested us and are taking us to some far-off place,” Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the PTI vice chairman, told a TV reporter from a prison van. When a quick release did not materialise, some of the arrested leaders and their families moved courts for relief. The reluctant activism drew harsh criticism from PTI’s opponents and the media. Most analysts said that the Jail Bharo had served only to expose differences and weaknesses in the party.

In Lahore, the police formally arrested some PTI leaders who were then ordered detained for a month.

Khan made repeated calls for party workers to court arrest but failed to elicit an enthusiastic response from the party workers, leave alone the general public. Instead, he faced criticism from both the public and from within the party. Many saw a contradiction in his urging his supporters to be volunteer to be arrested while he himself sought bail in various cases to avoid jail.

Former Lahore High Court judge, Nasira Javed Iqbal, the mother of PTI senator Waleed Iqbal, was among those who criticised the arrests drive. She said, “I am unable to understand what objective they want to achieve through this drive.” In a public video message, she also expressed her unhappiness about her son’s arrest.

She added, “The PTI chief aims apparently to fill the jails with party members. However, he is at the same time seeking bail before arrest.“ She said she considered the movement counterproductive and a waste of resources. “It is time now to prepare for the elections, not to fill the jails,” she counselled. She mentioned that she had advised her son not to be involved in the movement, but he had gone ahead and was arrested.

Caretaker Information Minister Amir Mir told the media, the arrested PTI leaders were blaming one another for what they had come realise was a poor strategy and for their predicament. The minister said there was serious disagreement within the PTI about how this drive should move forward.

Many said the PTI’s drive to fill the jails in a protest movement was a political gimmick that failed due a flawed strategy and poor execution. The PTI strategy with regard to quitting the National Assembly has already been shown to be counterproductive.

The PTI leaders, say analysts, needs serious introspection. They also need more consultation and collective decision making.

The writer is a member of staff. He can bereached at and waqargillani

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