-Photo by Eefa Khalid

ISLAMABAD: Telecom operators and even some security officials have expressed grave concern over the government’s plan to block pre-paid SIMs issued on bogus national identity cards.

Experts believe that the $10 billion telecom industry in Pakistan with the highest mobile phone penetration in South Asia will be in trouble if the plan is executed.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik had said on Tuesday that the government was considering a proposal to block all pre-paid SIMs in phases to prevent their use in terrorist activities. He also said that mobile phones had become the biggest weapon in the hands of terrorists who were using unauthorised SIMs.

An official of a mobile phone company told Dawn on Wednesday that it was unfair to blame telecom operators for the government’s failure to curb terrorist activities.

“It’s not our fault if someone managed to break a prison in Bannu by sneaking mobile phones inside the jail,” he said.

On ‘chaand raat’, the interior minister ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to direct mobile phone operators to shut down their services in different parts of the country for 15 hours and later claimed that the decision had averted a terrorist disaster.

“A number of our cellphone sites were down even on Eid day because the voice and data services were shut down in Karachi and we are in the process of estimating our losses,” said a risk management officer of a leading telecom operator.

“To bring the telecom tower sites (also called mobile boosters) back on track after the shutdown also involved a great deal of engineering efforts,” he said.

Sharing official figures with Dawn, a senior analyst at the IT & Telecom Ministry said that according to PTA website Mobilink had about 35.7 million subscribers, Telenor 29.3 million and Zong 15.6 million. He said there were 118 million mobile phone users in Pakistan.

Telecom companies are declining to share the break-up of figures of post- and pre-paid SIMs with Dawn.

A senior vice president of the marketing division of a telecom operator said: “Pre-paid customers constitute 97 per cent of the mobile phone industry.”

Since the number of post-paid customers is quite small, pre-paid customers were a major source of income of telecom operators, he said, adding that the economic condition in the country did not allow ordinary citizens to have a post-paid service.

Ahmed Umar, owner of a mobile phone franchise, said: “Managing a post-paid connection is difficult for a customer since he has to pay a monthly bill, deposit a reasonable amount with the mobile phone operator and he is not sure how much money he has spent on calls and messages.”

He said the post-paid customer pays a guarantee of about Rs10,000 for different packages of Ufone, Mobilink, Zong, Warid and Telenor.

“However, if you are a pre-paid customer you can easily manage your calls and texts as per your budget,” Mr Umar said.

He said that almost all telecom operators in Pakistan treated pre-paid users as their key customers and maintained their complete information and data with verification coming through CNICs.

“We have a security feature like asking the customer a secret question before issuing a pre-paid SIM and we have done several verifications of our mobile phone customers on the orders of PTA,” he added.

Government officials working on the expansion of IT and telecom sector are also critical of the plan to block SIMs.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s office were not prepared to say that the interior ministry’s initiative was a good move for the telecom industry.

One official at the PM’s office who looks after the affairs of the Ministry of IT & Telecom because Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf is also in-charge of the ministry said: “Mr Malik’s statement will create a negative impact on the foreign direct investment since telecom is the only competitive sector giving Rs118 billion in tax to the government.”

The foreign investors will be a bit reluctant because investments in the telecom sector will be a matter of concern for them since the sale of 3G licence was due to be announced by the government in coming months.

“We were expecting to generate around $1.5 billion from the auction of 3G licences but the interior minister’s statement will have a negative impact on it,” the official said.

A senior official of the IT & telecom ministry said the employment of about 1.5 million people depended on pre-paid phone business directly or indirectly.

Security: Counter-terrorism experts have also criticised the plan to stop pre-paid cellphone service.

According to a counter-insurgency official, mobile phones are a key source of information for the security establishment whose workload has doubled because of increasing insurgency and changing tactics of terrorists.

“These mobile phones are our ears since we have caught a number of terrorists and kidnappers and helped police and other investigations agencies to solve murder cases with the help of Call Detail Record (CDR),” he said.

The official claimed that security agencies and even key security departments, including police, in a number of instances caught terrorists with the help of mobile phone data.

He said curbing the technology would create problems for security agencies and counter-terrorism experts.

“Banning this technology will increase our workload and we will have to hire more sleuths and spend more money on finding moles and this will cause a big problem,” he insisted.

Some experts said that mobile handsets were used by terrorists mainly for communication and the security apparatus was yet to find instances of mobile phone terrorism.

“It was only in October 2002 when the Bali bomb blast was triggered with the help of a mobile phone in Indonesia,” said the official.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (36)

August 24, 2012 5:55 pm
There are various ways that phone operators could still generate good profits by offering good monthly cellular plans etc. Monthly paid plans are very common in north america and you rarely find people using prepaid cellular plans. I think we may have been exaggerating this a little bit more. it shouldnt be a big deal if that does happen certainly will make the use of cellular phone much better and useful.
August 25, 2012 9:14 am
lol this is ur proper industry ... what a shame........ iam here in UAE from last 9 months.and last night i check some 6 unknown UFONE numbers are registered against my CNIC.. how it can be posisible...SHAMEEEEEE ON UFONE and all other companies that they are doing now like this to prevent their SIMS frm being blocking.....
August 25, 2012 9:13 am
what a shame........ iam here in UAE from last 9 months.and last night i check some 6 unknown UFONE numbers are registered against my CNIC.. how it can be posisible...SHAMEEEEEE ON UFONE and all other companies that they are doing now like this to prevent their SIMS frm being blocking.....
August 25, 2012 9:20 am
our roots already corrupted, look at the TV from adult to child what they are doing ? look at the talk shows, morning shows streets crimes, have you notice they are burning cars and tyre on the road they are children's all teens are in crime now, what you think grassroots are ? Untill unless law is enforce to rich and poor without any hesitation and delays then we might see some changes...
August 25, 2012 9:24 am
Also those who are selling the sims must have authority letter form their local police stations, then it's total police responsibility for all security checks...
August 26, 2012 10:00 am
my take on this issue; 1 - Telecom operators feel their business will go down for blocking pre-paid SIMS issued on bogus ID's. Does that mean a significant part of this 97% is being used by those bearing fake ID's???? 2 - Security officials fee their workload will double if these SIMS are blocked. Don't you think Mr. Security official Pakistani lives are more imporant and that's you are meant for??? Use of unauthorized SIMS is simply ILLEGAL and must be stopped.
August 25, 2012 10:33 am
thats great news pre paid sims are going blocked/finished. it will be help ful for our security as well as to stop ill mannered activities of our young peoples. God bless you Mr. Rehman Malik as well as Govt of Pakistan you all will get more swab.
August 26, 2012 10:05 am
one more thing: Pre-paid SIMS issued on fake ID's are being used in mass propeganda initiatives that have far more serious consequences. STOP THEM
August 26, 2012 7:00 am
Banning Mobile Phone is not the solution. (((((((( Please do not stop Prepaid and instead improve your techniques )))))))
August 26, 2012 6:58 am
Agree with U.
August 26, 2012 6:20 am
Roti is free in Pak, keep the prepaid connection to inform your friends about the location.
August 26, 2012 6:17 am
Block Reham Malik, this is the only solution. I can buy SIM card without showing my ID in Holland, they don't do anything wrong with the SIMs so why in Pak. Rehman Sab you are up to no good.
wasim awan
August 26, 2012 4:22 am
well i dont think this is a great move.coz the gov gets alot of money from this sector.they should come up with a better plan.And try not to ruin the economy.First our railway,PIA,and now telecom:(
August 26, 2012 3:42 am
So True
August 26, 2012 3:40 am
so what about poor people who can not afford billing sims ?
New African
August 26, 2012 2:51 am
Kindly dont insult Africa.
August 25, 2012 8:07 am
I think they should be put some extra charges on mobile phone, its a shame that we buy roti (bread) of 10 Rs and we call from mobile phone on less then 1 Rs. Put more taxes on mobile phone make it 10 Rs per call and for any sim buying 5000 / 2500 Rs, deposit and authority letter from local police station (Yes police will give some trouble but its worth saving innocent lives).
Muhammad Salim
August 25, 2012 2:27 am
I strongly favor the idea of devising some full proof method to confirm the identity of person buying the sim, before activating it. its true that all type of criminals, are using mobile phone for their criminal activities. crime act will definitely come down if strict verification measures are taken.
August 24, 2012 11:42 pm
man only thing that prosper in pakistan was telecom industry , now government wanna rack this too.
August 24, 2012 10:54 pm
you block the phones, they will use satellite phones, has anyone noticed the weapon they carry? they are always one step ahead and when they are ready to die, block whatever, they will keep on coming. Gul Raiz sb. no offense but if Allah was happy with us and wanted to help us, He would have not given us this Govt. if my meomey serves me right, Surah Al-e-Imran has a reference to the above.
August 24, 2012 10:45 pm
block the phones, block the internet, block the media, never mind blocking the fanatics, if rehman malik was serving this way in US, he would either be bush jr. or henry paulson. better yet, why not block everything that the country need to move forward and join africa !!!
August 24, 2012 10:37 pm
and some one was monitoring them all the way but could not stop. So get rid of those corrupt offficial who were not able to prevent that inciden ninstead of cell phonet
Jawed Niazi
August 24, 2012 10:27 am
Rehman Malik is one of the greatest Pakistani brains ever. Long live his tribe! :-)
August 24, 2012 7:52 am
An instance of mobile terrorism was about 18 months back on the motorway. Terrorists hired a person for carrying a car full of explosives from Peshawar to Punjab. They were in regular contact with him while he was on the Motor Way. As soon as he told them that he had been stopped for checking, they blew the car from there.
August 24, 2012 1:06 pm
Blocking pre-paid phones wont help. Block the corruption from grass-root level and terrorism will automatically vanished.
August 24, 2012 3:58 pm
Em hm! They have already ruin the P.I.A :P
August 24, 2012 3:55 pm
It's not our fault that the government is not strong enough to protect the terrorism and placing the barriers against them. The decision of Rehman Malik was (as usual) not in the favor of the citizens. Blocking the SIMs is not a relevant decision. People are dying here to talk their relatives and our politicians, due to their lack of mentality, are boasting like they have done the best work in the world. I'm strictly against it, no matter what the terrorist are doing, we should be protected, not abused!
Wajid Qureshi
August 24, 2012 5:10 pm
i think the best option is to recognise a new authorizing process for issuing pre paid connections. and use to update few necessary details from customer on regular interval basis. So that they might sure that the exact owner of the referred connection is using the connection personally or his/her family. Poor citizens of Pakistan can't afford post paid sim cards. They have to pay a due bill of nearly 200 Rs per month even if they don't make calls. That,s really unfair. PTA need a better control system , not a restrict the connection.
August 24, 2012 10:47 am
hahaha.. true that.. the way he controls internal peace problems, he should be nominated for nobel peace prize as well as next UN Chief..
August 24, 2012 11:52 am
it free us from many other cases not only in only security
August 24, 2012 11:52 am
Nothing ayesha our govt is a failed govt now it is causing more unemployement instead of creating opportunities of employment...Alaaas.....ALLAH help us....
August 24, 2012 4:25 pm
these connections should not have been issued in the first place. Pakistan is a safe haven for many things not excluding one of the easiest ways to get a cell connection. it sure is good but only when your checks and balances are in place. with the highest level of corruption and the way our institutions operate its impossible to achieve results... blocking phones now may be a little too late; the whole process needs to be streamlined and not forgetting the very highly active sales pitch of the mobile operators who's objective is only to munt money and not follow any rules and guidelines while selling their connections to only be concerned for their revenue with no ethics... these people need to be taken to task too for their non compliances... corporations and individuals need to get straight on their paths and not leave everything to the government.
Pro Truth
August 24, 2012 3:19 pm
Security should be first priority, any SIM with dodgy or no NIC should be blocked and only activated once that person NIC is verified. There are other methods used around the world for SIM activation, any ID, Bank Card top top will attach a valid person bank Id with SIM automatically, address verification can also be used but first we will have to digitized all addresses across Pakistan. Link these up with voter lists, NIC, you will have good verification system. Rolling out SIM with no ID, is just a very great risk for any country and not many countries allow such system. Telecom companies should also put some efforts to verify and also try creating more demand for post pay by offering free handsets, more monthly minutes to lure people to post pay! instead of giving them scary packages.
August 24, 2012 11:30 am
If the terrorists have upgraded themselves to cell phones, that doesnt mean you bring the country back to the stone age ! Upgrade you Counter Terrorists ! CT's should be able to trace, tap, monitor and find the location of the call being to both of the users. Hahaha if they terrorists start using aeroplanes you will ban The PAF ?
Ayoub Hassnain
August 24, 2012 1:30 pm
Hahahahahaha u are rite ayesha.
August 26, 2012 2:21 pm
We are forgetting that Post-paid option is always there even if pre-paid is blocked. All it takes is to go to a franchise and convert your SIM to post-paid. One can easily pay the bill through easy load etc. Cheap packages, with low line rents, are available. I think we will see dramatic decrease in crime rate if all these fake SIMs are blocked. For the first time, Mr. Rehman Malik is talking sense. Let us support him this time.
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