Saturday, January 23, 2016

No mechanism to block Afghan telecom signals for curbing terrorism

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad and Kabul have yet to devise a mechanism to block out signals of Afghan telecom operators from spilling over into the border regions to curb terror attacks.

In the wake of the latest attack in Charsadda coordinated from Afghanistan, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has broken its silence on the failure of relevant authorities on both sides to block mobile signals.

Though Afghan SIMs rarely work in Pakistan, they can still be used along the Pak-Afghan border to call phones in Pakistan.

Following the Peshawar school massacre of December 2014, the PTA had approached the Afghan Embassy in Pakistan to address the issue of signals of Afghan telecom companies available at Pak-Afghan border.

In March 2015, the PTA also requested the foreign ministry to coordinate a meeting with Afghanistan’s telecom authorities in order to work out ways to discourage the use of Afghan SIMs in border areas.

The authority has revealed that the foreign missions of both countries could not ensure the adaptation of the proposal to block the spill-over signals.

The PTA lamented on Friday the proposed MoU to be signed between the two governments has attracted no response despite several reminders.

A senior official told The Express Tribune that PTA had blocked out Afghan SIMs in much of Pakistan upon the discovery that they were being used in several cases of kidnapping for ransom and other illegal activities. “But these SIMs can still be used in areas close to the border with Afghanistan due to the spill-over of signals from the war-torn country,” he added.

“Through a meeting, we expect to convince [telecom] operators in Afghanistan to control the spillover of signals so that militants are unable to exploit this situation,” the official said. “We have no option but to request the new administration in Afghanistan through diplomatic channels to get the situation under control.”

The Afghan SIMs issue was highlighted when the Islamabad High Court sought a detailed response from the PTA chairman on a petition to ban their use in Pakistan. The petitioner had pointed out that more than 50,000 Afghan SIMs were operational in Pakistan with many of them being used in terrorism and other criminal activities.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd,  2016.



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