ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary committee has declared that the suspension of internet services in parts of Balochistan and tribal districts is a denial of basic rights of citizens.

The sub-committee was constituted to take up with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) the matter of suspension of telecom services in three districts of Balochistan — Kalat, Awaran and Kech. Services have been suspended for one and a half years due to security concerns.

In the last meeting of the main committee, the matter was taken up as an issue of public importance raised by Senator Mir Kabeer Ahmed Mohammad Shahi of the National Party over the closure of telecom services.

Services were suspended in February 2017 in seven districts of Balochistan after the ISI cited security reasons for the closure. While services were restored in four districts of the province, there is still no connectivity in the remaining three districts of the province.

The committee under chairperson Senator Rubina Khalid of the Pakistan Peoples Party reminded the security agencies that telecom services in these areas are still suspended.

During the meeting on Friday, officials of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Universal Services Fund (USF) informed the members of the sub-committee that getting approvals, authorisations and no-objection certificates from the 11 Corps to roll out telecom services in these areas was an arduous exercise.

In most areas deploying equipment to set up telecom services is not possible without a military escort, which slows down the process.

“In parts of Balochistan internet services are suspended. Nine and 11 Divisions are on the move or are about to conduct operations. In both cases, the directives to suspend services come unannounced obviously,” said USF chief technical officer Syed Asif Kamal.

In Bajour and Mohmand agencies, work to roll out networks had been delayed for over nine months, said Mr Kamal.

The officials from the PTA and USF urged the committee to take up the matter with the offices concerned of the military, such as the 11 Corps, for assistance to deploy telecom infrastructure and restore internet services.

Chairperson of the sub-committee Senator Mian Muhammad Ateeq Shaikh of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement said that the matter would be taken up with the security departments concerned. The deteriorating law and order situation in these areas demanded cooperation with security agencies, he added.

“However, it’s important that security agencies also review and revisit the security situation every three or six months and if and where possible, allow internet services to be restored in areas it considered safe. This is important to protect the rights of the people,” Mr Shaikh said.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2018

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