KARACHI: Pakistan’s government will continue its suspension of cell phone services in several parts of the country Saturday morning after it restores services Friday midnight, the interior minister said.
Rehman Malik told reporters in Islamabad that the suspension will resume at 6 am on Saturday and will run through the next day, the 10th day of Ashura, to “ensure security during and after the Muharram processions”.
Militants in Pakistan often detonate bombs using cell phones and the government has implemented similar service suspensions in the past, but not on such a wide scale.
Malik said 90 per cent of the bombs set off by militants in Pakistan have been detonated using cell phones.
Cellular services were suspended Friday in Karachi, Quetta, and several parts of the capital Islamabad from 1pm on interior minister’s directives.
“We have shut our service in Karachi and Quetta on the instructions of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority from 1:00 pm to midnight,” said an official at Mobilink, the country’s largest mobile phone service provider.
Malik said cellular services were suspended in Sector G-9 of the federal capital Islamabad between 3pm to 6 pm on Friday.
The federal interior minister further said that the suspension included the blockage of wireless phone services and that instructions were issued for the removal of all garbage collection sites from Karachi.
An official at PTCL, which runs the only landline and wireless phone services in Pakistan, said wireless phones had also been turned off at the government’s instructions.
It is the second time Pakistan has shut down mobile networks during this month of Muharram due to security concerns.
On Thursday, a suicide bomber killed 23 people and wounded 62 others at a Shia procession in Rawalpindi, the deadliest bombing in Pakistan for five months.
Southern province Sindh also declared Friday a public holiday due to security reasons. Most businesses and shops were closed in Kareachi and roads were deserted.
Meanwhile, a senior police official while speaking to media representatives announced that motorcycles would be banned in Hyderabad from 8th to 10th of Muharram.
The Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had earlier announced the suspension of mobile phone services in six districts of the province during the last two days of the Muharram Ashura.
The six districts facing the suspension of cellular service are Peshawar, Dera Ismali Khan, Tank, Haripur, Mansehra and Kohat. The provincial government of KP had requested for the closure of services during three days, 8th to 10th of Muharram whereas the federal government approved the closure for 9th and 10th only.
The Balochistan government also announced the closure of mobile phone services across the province during the Ashura holidays, whereas motorcycles would also be banned near sensitive locations in and around the provincial capital Quetta.
Ashura falls this year on Sunday and has been a magnet for sectarian attacks with rights groups heavily criticising the government for failing to stop extremist violence.
In December 2009, a suicide bomber killed 43 people in Karachi at a Shia procession to mark Ashura.