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Pakistan: The mobile as militant tool

STEM CELL?: Proposed changes to mobile phone services are aimed at helping to halt terrorism

Pakistan’s government is facing a predicament as planned mobile phone reforms aimed at prevention of terrorism will be near impossible to impose, and will have a considerable impact on a key source of the country’s revenue.

The Pakistan Tele-communication Authority has ordered mobile phone service providers to temporarily block services in several Pakistani cities, including Lahore, Quetta, Karachi, and Multan. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said authorities enacted the ban to disrupt a plot by Pakistani militants to stage attacks on that date, during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. Mobile services were intermittently suspended between 8 pm on August 19 and 11 am on August 20. After the suspension, Malik said the Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card verification system would be strengthened. Fraudulent SIM cards would be banned, he said, and pre-paid mobile services should be banned altogether.

Malik’s proposals have been backed by Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, who said that the results of suspending mobile phone services in Karachi during Eid were ‘encouraging’.

Militants in Pakistan have often used fraudulently registered SIM cards to communicate under false identities in order to avoid electronic surveillance by the government. They have even used mobile phones to remotely detonate improvised explosive devices. Malik’s call for a strengthened SIM registration system and a ban on pre-paid phones is intended to remove this tool for militants. However, given the extremely widespread use of pre-paid mobile phones and the government’s inability to effectively control their use, militants will be able to acquire fraudulent SIM cards even if reforms proceed.

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