Aug 25

Counter-terrorism measures: PM balks at Malik’s proposal to block prepaid SIMs

Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has opposed a proposal from Interior Minister Rehman Malik to block pre-paid cellular phones across the country as a counter-terrorism initiative.PM balks at Malik’s proposal to block prepaid SIMs

The interior minister had floated the idea after the suspension of cellular services on the first day of Eidul Fitr as part of a security measure to pre-empt terrorist attacks.

“Cell phones have become a part of everyday life for millions of people. We should discourage misuse of this technology, but we can’t use it as a pretext to cause inconvenience to the general public,” sources quoted Premier Ashraf as telling Malik during a meeting on Friday.

According to the premier’s media office, Ashraf directed the interior minister to ensure every possible measure was taken to stop the misuse of the existing mobile service without causing inconvenience to the public.

Malik briefed the prime minister about the steps taken by his ministry on the eve of Eidul Fitr to preempt any untoward incident. He told the premier that the decision to block mobile facilities in certain areas played ‘a critical role in maintaining peace during Eid.

According to reports, Malik’s announcement to consider blocking prepaid connections was taken without any prior consultation.

Officials from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), meanwhile, told The Express Tribune that about 80 per cent of all mobile phone SIMs were issued on prepaid accounts. They added that over two million out of 120 million SIMs were issued on fake documents.

The issue of unregistered SIMs emerged for the first time in 2005 when the total subscriber base was around 30 million. Back then, cellular companies sold SIMs without seeking copies of national identity cards or registration forms, as sales managers made their commissions by selling SIMs.

The PTA did not stop cellular companies from selling large-scale unregistered SIMs. Later, the authority blocked millions of fake SIMs in various phases following pressure from the interior ministry. But in this exercise, the PTA had to depend on cellular companies, who were reluctant to reduce their subscribers’ base.