ISLAMABAD: The interior ministry told the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday that the government was willing to restore 3G / 4G broadband service in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) but sought time to reconnect the tribal districts with the internet.
M. Riaz, a section officer of the interior ministry, appeared before the court on behalf of the federation, during the hearing of a petition filed by a student belonging to a tribal district and enrolled in an Islamabad-based educational institution. The petitioner has requested the court to direct the authorities to restore internet service in tribal districts to enable him to attend online classes being held due to coronavirus-induced lockdown in the country.
Mr Riaz sought time to file comments in response to the petition.
The petitioner’s counsel, Abdul Rahim Wazir, told the court that because of non-availability of internet services in the tribal districts, students from these areas could not secure marks in the current semester.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, while hearing the stance of the government, remarked that the tribal areas were part of Pakistan and their inhabitants enjoyed all constitutionally guaranteed rights.
“This is not occupied Kashmir, therefore people of these areas are free to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights,” he said.
A student has moved IHC for revival of internet service in erstwhile Fata
The court observed: “It appears that there is no refusal on part of the Federal Government to extend the internet facilities to the inhabitants of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas which now stand merged [with KP] pursuant to the 31st Amendment of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973.
However, it appears that due to the exceptional conditions that had prevailed in the past, the respective Governments and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority may require time to develop the infrastructure in some affected areas.”
The court noted that the merger of Fata with the province of KP and abolition of the notorious Frontier Crimes Regulations were pivotal developments which had given the inhabitants of these areas protection of rights guaranteed under the constitution.
It recalled that the people of the tribal areas had suffered for decades and remained deprived of rights particularly due to lawlessness, insurgencies and mis-governance, but now peace had been restored in these areas. The restoration of peace and establishing writ of the State has been achieved because of enormous sacrifices rendered by the people of the tribal areas, armed forces and civilian authorities.
Justice Minallah said that since now peace had been restored in the tribal districts, it was the duty of the State to ensure that the people of the areas were no more denied rights guaranteed under the Constitution and the authorities were expected to take necessary steps in this regard.
He said that access to internet was undoubtedly a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution as it had become so vital that it inevitably affected the quality of life and thus its inaccessibility violated the right to life guaranteed under Article 9 of the Constitution.
The court, therefore, expected that measures would be taken to restore internet service in the tribal areas at the earliest to enable the inhabitants to enjoy their fundamental rights, Justice Minallah said.
The ministry of information technology during the previous hearing had informed the court that due to security reasons, the interior ministry had disconnected certain areas from the cyber space in 2016.
According to the petitioner’s counsel, access to internet is a constitutionally guaranteed right and an integral part of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution. He argued that students and people of the tribal districts could not be denied access to the internet, particularly when on account of the lockdown students were required to attend online classes.
Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2020