The Peshawar High Court on Tuesday directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block all illegal and unregistered SIMs (subscriber identity module) of Afghan and Pakistani cellular phone companies within 15 days as these had been mostly used in acts of terrorism, kidnapping for ransom and extortion.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan and Justice Nisar Hussain also ordered the PTA to conduct a survey to determine how many SIMs had so far been activated by the cellular phone companies during last five years and the income received through them; how many of the SIMs were operational in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; and why the Afghan companies were permitted to operate here without understanding the repercussions as well as studying the international laws in this regard.
The bench put on notice the PTA, provincial police officer (PPO), provincial home secretary and additional chief secretary Fata and directed them to file comments in the case. Next date of hearing would be fixed later.
The bench also directed the PPO to provide details about how many persons were kidnapped this year and how many of these persons were set free after they paid ransom to the kidnappers so that the said Court directs PTA to block illegal SIMs amount could be recovered from the provincial government and paid to them.
The bench was hearing a writ petition filed by a local businessman, Atif Haleem, who has challenged the functioning of unregistered and illegal phone SIMs in the province. He stated that despite earlier directives issued by the court the PTA and phone companies had not been taking interest in the issue.
The petitioner stated that in most of the crimes especially extortion, kidnapping for ransom and acts of terrorism these unregistered SIMs had been used and when the police officials tried to trace the phone numbers the same could not be done as these were either unregistered or registered on different names. He stated that thousands of SIMs of Afghan companies were also operational in the country, especially Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The petitioner stated that recently the Supreme Court of Pakistan and Sindh High Court had issued directives to the government for checking the illegal business of phone companies. He stated that recently the PTA chairman had claimed that the authority had blocked around 22 million SIMs, but he did not say anything about what action was taken against the persons possessing such SIMs.
A few weeks ago National Accountability Bureau’s deputy prosecutor general Jamil Khan had informed the court that over 40,000 SIMs of Afghan telecom companies had been operational in Pakistan and most of these were used in acts of terrorism. Referring to an inquiry conducted earlier on the orders of the high court, he stated that the SIMs of Afghan companies were generally used for hiding the callers’ identity.
The NAB official had stated that presently there were two mechanisms through which these SIMs had been operating: in some cases SIMs were activated in Afghanistan and used in tribal areas through the signals emanating from Afghanistan; and second, SIMs function because of roaming facility to the concerned Afghan company given by a Pakistani company.-Dawn