The SIM scene | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

The SIM scene

Pakistan Press Foundation

In fighting the multi-faceted war against militancy, we not only have to defeat the TTP and its allies but ensure they can never rise again. One of the many things that need to be done is to destroy their communications network. According to the government, there are over 100 million unregistered SIMs. It has now given the telecom companies three months to verify these SIMs or face government action.

Obviously, the overwhelming majority of the SIMs are not used by militants but the security threat posed by these rogue SIMs is incalculable. Not only do militants use them to communicate with each other, they are also used in phones to remotely detonate bombs. After the three-month deadline is over, the government should force the cellular companies to shut down unverified SIMs or face criminal action. Taking this step is long overdue and should not have required the National Action Plan to force it to happen. There have been many registration drives before and threats of shutting down these SIMs but the telecoms and the government never followed through. Now, with the new urgency discovered after the Peshawar school attack, action should be taken without any haste.

So lax has the government been in stopping all avenues of communication between militants that there is still no law making it an offence to issue or possess an unverified SIM. Parliament will have to rectify that as soon as possible so that the government can actually have the force of law behind it before taking action. The sheer number of unregistered SIMs makes it all but impossible to verify each and every one but that does not mean we should not even start the process. And telecom companies need to know that if they continue issuing unregistered SIMs – which apart from the security risk also cost the government tax revenue – they will be held criminally culpable. Of course, cracking down on illegal SIMs alone will not suffice in stymieing militants. Many groups, especially those operating in the north, use SIMs from Afghanistan and so better cooperation will be needed with the Afghan government to track down militants. On top of that, we have seen on the many occasions the government shut down mobile networks that cell phones are only one of many ways militant groups have to communicate and coordinate. Tracking down unregistered SIMs, important though it may be, will not be enough.

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