THERE are times when the determination to make money through any means possible finds ingenious methods. Consider, for example, the matter of grey traffic that has become a problem in recent years. This refers to international telephone calls made to Pakistan that are hijacked by illegal gateway exchanges off the legal routes and sent on to the receiver, to whom it appears that the call is being made from a domestic phone. In 2012, the country’s 14 long distance international operators set up the International Clearing House so that all incoming telephone traffic is terminated by foreign carriers through PTCL, the state-owned telephony organisation, which earns from the traffic. But grey traffic bypasses this system, and given the disparity between tariffs for domestic and international calls, the money that can be made is immense. Instead of the state, however, these millions are going to those who operate the illegal gateway exchanges — amongst them, allegedly, some who have been in government. The issue has attained such proportions that, as reported yesterday, some 95pc of calls to Pakistan originating in Saudi Arabia are being routed either through grey traffickers or a third country, with hijackers making the most of a disagreement between the two countries’ operators over rates. Reportedly, even the family members of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have complained of receiving calls from Saudi Arabia that appear as domestic numbers, causing him to direct the authorities to look into the matter.
Efforts to address the problem have been made, with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority having launched an awareness campaign asking people to report any grey numbers received on their phones, information that has led to raids being carried out and some illegal exchanges being shut down. The government has also asked mobile phone operators to set up grey traffic monitoring divisions and to block doubtful SIMs. More urgent efforts are needed, however. Improving technology will only facilitate such illegalities, and the country has to learn to keep up.