PTA ordered to curtail use of Afghan SIMs
ISLAMABAD: The government has directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to curtail the operations of Afghan cellular phones in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because of security issues.
Informed sources told Dawn that more than 40,000 SIMs (subscriber identification module) of Afghan mobile telephone companies were operating inside Pakistani territory and using international roaming services to make and receive calls. Apart from this, the SIMs also work on their local Afghan networks in certain Fata regions which are close to the Afghan border.
“PTA has been directed to curtail these operations,” said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in the Senate in April. He confirmed that Afghan cellular SIMs were being used inside Pakistani territory and were suspected of being used in serious crimes such as extortion threats, illegal VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) activity and by terrorist networks for communication.
“During December 2013, around 17,000 Afghan SIMs were recovered by FIA after a raid on an illegal VoIP set-up in Peshawar,” said Mr Khan.
The confiscated SIMs belonged to MTG (Multinational Telecommunication Group) and Roshan cellular networks, which have roaming facility agreements with Ufone and Zong, explained the minister.
Dawn has learnt that the Afghan SIMs have been used in many kidnapping for ransom cases in Pakistan.
In one such case, a minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was reported to have received threatening calls, which were traced to an Afghan SIM.
The provincial government is also reported to have asked the federal government to suspend roaming services for Afghan SIMs in the beginning of the year. Some law-enforcement agencies have supported the move.
Interestingly, the PTA had declined in January this year a NAB request for information about roaming service of Afghan cellular mobile operators in Pakistan. “Cellular mobile operators do not need to submit international roaming agreements to PTA for approval as this roaming is a value added service and not mandatory,” said PTA.
NAB had sought information about mobile operators and their international roaming services because of a case at the Peshawar High Court.
PTA refused to provide information to NAB saying that “as a quasi judicial forum, we are not obliged to respond to all demands by an investigation agency; in this case NAB,” a PTA official said.
As mentioned earlier, NAB had also been informed that international roaming services were not regulated.
The Peshawar High Court case was initiated on a petition of the Peshawar High Court Bar Association in October last year.
The petition claimed that millions of SIMs of Afghan cellular companies were used in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and many had been used to carry out bomb blasts.
The PHC had directed the PTA to block Afghan SIMs within 15 days and carry out investigations to ensure that they were not being used for illegal activities.
In the same order, the PHC had issued bailable warrants against chief executive officers of all mobile operators for their inability to appear before the court. The mobile operators challenged the PHC orders in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which set aside the orders.
The SC order also poured cold water over the NAB requests made to PTA because these had been made under the PHC order.
A NAB official said that under powers conferred upon it under section 19 of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, NAB had the powers to seek any information during the course of an inquiry or investigation.