Terror attacks hard to stop when SIMs sell like bun kebabs
By: Qadeer Tanoli
Despite the concerns about the use of mobile phones in terrorist activities, a recent example being the suspension of cellular services for several hours in some parts of the country on Eidul Azha, the availability of subscriber identity module (SIM) cards is as easy as it can get – just fetch one or more from a roadside vendor.
The government usually opts for blocking cellular services to prevent terrorist attacks on sensitive occasions. It had also taken this course of action on Eidul Fitr and Yaum-e-Ishq-e-Rasool (PBUH).
Interior Minister Rehman Malik had told the media that the services were being suspended on Eid to prevent terrorist attacks. He had also pointed out that terrorists usually used mobile phones to detonate explosive devices. However, some experts, requesting anonymity, questioned the government’s tactic keeping in view that it paid no attention to the sale of SIMs at roadside stalls instead of the cell phone companies’ franchises, where the verification of the buyer’s computerised national identity card was guaranteed.
They suggested that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority should make it compulsory for the cellular service providers to issue SIMs at their franchises instead of selling them through retailers on the roadsides.
The experts also pointed out that instead of suspending cellular services, there were other measures that could be adopted to prevent the use of mobile phones in terrorist activities. They argued that depriving the masses of an easy mode of communication made no sense when the government was equipped with every tool to identify the misuse of a SIM.
“A person using a SIM can be located in seconds. Every tower of a cellular service company has its own system that can help locate a user,” they noted.
The blocking of cellular services also appears to be an illogical move considering that their providers have to suffer major losses when their operations are suspended even for a few hours. The experts said four years ago, one of the operators of a cellular company had fallen asleep at 3:30am, resulting in a free-of-charge time.
Even though the incident had not occurred during peak hours and most customers were using free talk-time packages, the company still went on to suffer a loss of Rs75 million in just an hour.
“The suspension of services inflicts losses on the cellular firms. The government should try to control the law and order situation instead,” the experts said. They observed that the move also created panic and confusion among the citizens.
Criticising the government’s plan to block all pre-paid SIMs in phases to prevent their use in terrorist activities, the experts noted that this mode of payment allowed a user to continue using his cellular services for as little as Rs30 after an “easy-load”.
The bill for a post-paid SIM costs at least Rs250 a month even if it is not used at all. “Blocking all pre-paid SIMs will put extra burden on the consumers,” the experts remarked. Despite several attempts, The News was unable to contact PTA spokesperson Khurram Mehran for his comments.