40,000 Afghan SIMs active in country
PESHAWAR: Over 40,000 cellphone SIM cards of Afghan telecom companies are operational in Pakistan and most of them are used in acts of terrorism, kidnapping for ransom and extortion.
The information was placed before a Peshawar High Court bench by National Accountability Bureau, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Wednesday during the hearing into a case about unregistered SIM cards.
Before Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan and Justice Asadullah Khan Chamkani, NAB Deputy Prosecutor General Jamil Khan produced the initial report of the inquiry done on the court’s orders into unregistered SIM cards of Afghan cellphone companies.
Jamil Khan said currently, there were two mechanisms through which the Afghan SIM cards had been operating: in some cases, they were activated in Afghanistan and functioned in Pakistan’s tribal areas through the signals emanating from Afghanistan and the second category of SIM cards functioned due to the roaming facility given to the relevant Afghan company by a Pakistani mobile phone operator.
He said the Etisalat telecom company operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan provided roaming facilities in both countries.
The NAB official said Pakistani cellular telecom companies had pulled out of several tribal areas and therefore, the people had been using Afghan SIM cards.
He said SIM cards of Afghan companies were generally used for hiding identity of callers.
Mr Jamil said according to the NAB data, there were 19.7 million subscribers of Ufone, 36 million of Mobilink, 30 million of Telenor, 17.9 million of Zong and 20 million of Warid in the country.
During one of the last hearings last month, the bench had ruled that if an unregistered or illegally registered cellphone SIM card was used in any act of terrorism, including bomb blasts, then the relevant cellphone company should pay compensation to the legal heirs of the deceased and the injured under Qisas and Diyat laws.
Later on Oct 2, the bench had issued another order for Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to end roaming facilities to Afghan cellphone companies within 15 days, observing that in growing number of cases of terrorism and kidnapping for ransom, SIM cards of Afghan companies had been used.
Warrants for the arrest of the chief executives of the cellular telecom companies were also issued over their failure to turn up.
However, the bench on Wednesday could not proceed further in the case in line with the Supreme Court orders and adjourned the hearing until the Supreme Court gave a verdict on the matter.
Some cellular telecom companies challenged certain interim PHC orders before the Supreme Court, which on Monday (Oct 21) restrained the high court from proceeding in the case.
The chief justice had taken suo motu notice of the matter on the application of PHC Bar Association President Ishtiaq Ibrahim.
During the last hearings, the court had also taken note of the use of SIM cards of Afghan companies in terrorist activities.
Atif Ali Khan, lawyer for Mobilink cellphone company, informed the bench on Wednesday that the Supreme Court had stopped the court from proceeding in the case and that the next date of hearing was Nov 8.
The bench after going through the Supreme Court order observed that the petitioners had concealed certain facts from the apex court and had not informed it that despite court notice written reply was not submitted by the companies.
The chief justice observed that the petitioners had not informed the Supreme Court that in most terrorist activities, either Afghan SIM cards or unregistered and illegally registered SIM cards of Pakistani telecom companies were used.
The bench observed that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa advocate general should properly guide the apex court regarding the background behind this case.
It suggested that AIG of Bomb Disposal Unit Shafqat Malik would be a suitable person to appear on behalf of police for being well versed with how cellphones were used for activating an explosive device and in how many cases, such phones were used.
Ishtiaq Ibrahim of PHCBA said Afghan SIM cards and unregistered SIM cards had turned into a menace for use in terrorism.
He said they had become tired of picking up dead bodies of those killed in acts of terrorism and the government should play its role in checking the misuse.
NAB, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Director General Colonel (r) Shahzad Anwar Bhatti and deputy attorney general Mohammad Iqbal Mohmand also appeared before the bench.
Head of the legal department of Zong Waqar Ahmad said the roaming agreements existed between Pakistani and Afghan companies with prior approval of PTA and if the court ordered they would stop that facility forthwith. He said the company had been following SOPs given by PTA.
He said a meeting of the companies would be held with the Interior Ministry on Wednesday wherein it would be decided how to further make the SIM card registration mechanism foolproof.
He added that to improve the mechanism, the companies had been planning to introduce a biometric system under which a SIM card would be activated only after thumb verification of the subscriber.