The government has decided to suspend cellphone services in at least four major cities in the wake of intelligence reports that terrorists may attempt to target key installations in sensitive areas.
The decision was taken in response to a request by provincial governments on the eve of Eidul Fitr, according to a press statement released by Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Sunday.
“On the request of provincial governments, it was decided that mobile phone services will be suspended in some cities/areas of the respective provinces as per available intelligence,” the statement read.
Cellular company sources confirmed that they were asked by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block services in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Quetta. Services were to remain blocked from 8pm on Sunday till 11am today (Monday).
PTA could send an additional list of cities where services are to remain blocked during this time, the sources added.
A letter sent from PTA to cellular companies, available with The Express Tribune, stated: “In order to help law enforcement agencies to improve the security situation and to avoid any untoward incident in different parts of the country, including provincial capitals, mobile services will be required to be closed from evening 19th August, 2012 to morning 20th August, 2012. Therefore, all mobile operators are requested to be ready as the area names will be communicated at a very short notice...”
The move to block cellular services is an attempt to ensure security in sensitive areas of Balochistan, as well as to detect acts of terrorism in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, officials
Earlier, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf appreciated the efforts made by Interior Minister Rehman Malik to bolster security in the country and achieve headway in investigations into the recent incidents in Gilgit and Kamra airbase. He was talking to the interior minister who called on him at the PM House to update him on the security situation.
He also briefed the PM on measures taken recently by the interior ministry for the improvement of the situation.
The premier, who had earlier met a delegation of overseas Pakistanis from Britain, was told that the fee for new passports was being increased. In response, he told Malik to drop the fee hike plans.
Subsequently the interior minister assured the Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf that overseas Pakistanis would be charged the same as before and no fee hike would be considered.
The prime minister also took up the matter of absence of provision of machine-readable passports and national identity cards for overseas Pakistanis (Nicorp) for those living in Bradford, which was creating hardships for them.
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM APP)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2012.