Pakistan is planning to start local manufacturing of SIMs and smart cards, amid a brewing cyber war, in a bid to shield the country from serious threat of cyber attacks.
Earlier, the government had introduced a smartphone manufacturing policy. Pakistan had faced security threat due to Indian-manufactured smartphones using other countries’ Type Allocation Code in the initial eight digits of the 15-digit International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) used to uniquely identify wireless devices.
In September last year, researchers at a security firm named AdaptiveMobile Security had issued a report (via TNW) about a new vulnerability nicknamed Simjacker that uses a phone’s SIM card to spy. Since all makes and models of mobile phones can be used with Simjacker, over one billion handsets may be affected globally.
Indian hackers had also attacked accounts of Pakistani officials. However, Pakistan countered the attacks successfully. After introducing the mobile manufacturing policy, the government is looking to begin manufacturing of SIMs and smart cards. Under a plan, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom would invite investors to manufacture these cards.
The IT ministry is now seeking approval of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) to move forward on the proposed plan. In a summary sent to the economic decision making body, the Ministry of Information Technology said that digital transformation and creation of an enabling ecosystem was one of the key objectives of the government of Pakistan and in the era of digital services, SIMs and smart cards were of pivotal importance.
The ministry said that it was considered that local manufacturing of these chips and cards needed to be promoted for various reasons. The government has formed a committee for the manufacturing of SIMs and smart cards. In order to move forward, a cross-stakeholders’ committee was constituted on the order of the prime minister for making recommendations.
The committee held a series of meetings with the stakeholders concerned including the Engineering Development Board (EDB), cellular mobile operators (CMOs), law enforcement agencies, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). A detailed report was submitted by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom to the Prime Minister’s Office.
In addition, a summary was also moved to the Prime Minister’s Office which included recommendations for a strategic way forward. Prime Minister Imran Khan directed that these recommendations may be presented to the ECC. Accordingly, the draft summary was circulated for comments of stakeholders.
In response, comments were received from the Ministry of Commerce, Finance, Interior, Industries and Production, and telecom regulator. The FBR and SBP also sent their comments to back the policy. In their comments, the stakeholders supported the step taken by the Ministry of Information Technology to manufacture SIMs and smart cards in Pakistan.
IT Ministry Secretary Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui told The Express Tribune that the committee had prepared recommendations for the local manufacturing of SIMs and smart cards. He said that the committee had recommended reducing taxes on material to be used in the manufacturing of SIMs in Pakistan. He said that several investors were ready to start manufacturing SIMs in Pakistan, adding that it would ensure the country’s security along with creating job opportunities.
He also maintained that the step would result in savings of foreign exchange. As per industry experts, the local manufacturing of SIMs will benefit the economy as currently millions of SIMs are imported. “If we are confident that Pakistani manufacturers can ensure quality at reasonable prices, the framework for local manufacturing and its execution should be expedited. This will reduce reliance on foreign companies and also save foreign currency reserves besides supporting the government’s Digital Pakistan vision,” said an official.
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