PTA may restrict roaming facility for Afghan cell phones
ISLAMABAD: While majority of heinous crimes like kidnapping for ransom, extortion and other terrorist activities across the country are carried out using mostly Afghan SIMs for cell phones, operating on “roaming facility” inside Pakistan territory, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has confirmed that none of the state institutions has ever informed the authority of this fact.
PTA has stated in response to questions sent by The News that though the authority was never informed about use of Afghan SIMs on roaming in Pakistan, it is “cognizant of the issue” and is “reviewing the situation”.
PTA also provided names of Afghan cellular operators, which are allowed roaming facility in Pakistan by local cellular companies. If roaming facility of Afghan SIMs in Pakistan is withdrawn, Pakistani SIMs could also not be operated in Afghan territory.
Some experts in PTA argue that Afghan SIMs on roaming in Pakistan are just like Pakistani SIMs, and if any agency wants to trace these SIMs, it could be easily done.
These pro-roaming technical experts argue that when an Afghan SIM enters into Pakistan territory and gets connected with a local cellular network, it can be traced like any operational Pakistani SIM and if the roaming is disallowed the calls will come directly from Afghan number operating in Afghanistan or in tribal areas near Pak-Afghan border and in that case those numbers would be untraceable.
However, top Law Enforcing Agencies (LEAs) officials say that now there is huge number of kidnapping and extortion incidents, mostly not reported, and even in all reported cases it is not possible to trace the number.
The Afghan cell number has become a symbol of threat and it directly implies that some Taliban group is behind the kidnapping for ransom or demand of extortion money and any denial or cleverness would result in immediate death or beheading.
These top officials do not want to be quoted but argue that technical opinion by telecom experts is baseless and roaming must be disallowed at least till the time the region is completely rid of terrorists groups.
These officials say that in case of Pakistan and India, there is no mutual roaming agreement and under an understanding both countries don’t allow their telecom operators to erect telecom towers in areas near the borders.
LEAs officials insist that same arrangements must be made with Afghanistan as Afghan SIMs are operative in Pakistan’s tribal areas near Durand Line without roaming and these are also massively used in these criminal activities generating revenue worth billion of rupees every month.
According to a September 18, 2013 The News report, official documents of Police department show that some Rs650 million have been paid to the Taliban by the businessmen of Rawalpindi and Islamabad during the last 18 months alone. The billions paid in addition
have not been reported to the police and agencies, and the businessmen have dealt secretly with the Taliban to save their lives while at least four businessmen were killed by militant groups in “reported cases”.
A senior government official told this correspondent that a few months back a militant group from a KPK city kidnapped his brother and nephew. After long research they came to know that a criminal gang could give them information about whereabouts of the kidnappers. He said that this criminal gang gave them complete information of a militant “group” and their address. After they established contact with the group, they said they would behead both father and son and both were employees of the government and thus are infidels and ‘wajib-ul-qatal’. After months long negotiations, the militant group agreed to free both people after accepting a huge amount of money.
Some of the questions and their responses by PTA are reproduced below:
Q: How many cellular services of Afghanistan are allowed roaming facility in Pakistan? Please give names, dates of approval and names of local company which provides/facilitates the service.
A: It is clarified that international roaming agreements are bilateral in nature and independently take place between licenced mobile operators of two countries without any regulatory obligations.
International roaming agreements are carried out under the umbrella of GSMA. As per clause 6.6 of Mobile Cellular Policy 2004 issued by the government of Pakistan, all mobile operators are encouraged to negotiate international roaming agreements with foreign operators.
Moreover, as per Licence Condition 184.108.40.206 of Mobile Cellular Licence, operators are allowed to provide international roaming services through LDI operators.
All cellular mobile operators of Pakistan have entered into international roaming agreements with Afghan mobile operators namely: Telecom Development Company Afghanistan (TDCA), Etisalat, Afghan Wireless Communication Company, MTN Afghanistan.
Q: Has PTA ever considered disallowing roaming of these Afghanistan numbers in Pakistan because of repeated incidents of terrorism, kidnapping, extortion and killing?
A: PTA is cognizant of the issue and is in the process of reviewing the situation in consultation with mobile operators. It is pertinent to highlight that in case of blocking international roaming of Afghanistan, roaming services available to Pakistan’s subscribers will also be discontinued, as it is a bilateral arrangement.
Q: Some officials say that intelligence agency ISI supports allowing roaming of Afghanistan cellular numbers in Pakistan. Is it true according to PTA record?
A: Not in the knowledge of PTA.