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by The News

Govt, police seem helpless to stop cross-border calls, provide security to public 

PESHAWAR: Over 160 Afghan cellular phone numbers and almost a dozen local phones are being used for making extortion calls to traders, industrialists and other well-off people in the provincial capital and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a source told The News.

Extortion has become a serious issue over the last several years for the people of the province, especially the affluent Peshawarites. A decrease in the cases was reported in 2015 but the calls have suddenly increased in recent weeks. Those receiving such calls feel helpless and hopeless. They are either targeted by assassins or their houses are bombed in case of refusing to pay money.

Even those associated with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, which rules the province, are protesting against the government, police and other security forces for their failure in providing security to the public and stopping the extortion calls from across the border. The protests intensified after the murder of traders’ leader Haji Haleem Jan, whose family is actively supporting the PTI.

“A total of around 180 different cellular and wireless phone numbers are being used for extortion calls to people in Peshawar and other districts. Some of these cells are used for a single call while a few are being used to convey messages to many,” the source disclosed. The source added that 98 percent of the calls for extortion are originating from Afghanistan.

The security personnel too seem helpless as they have no access into Afghanistan to stop these calls or lay hands on the callers hiding across the border.The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa authorities had sent a letter to the Interior Minister in February to take up the issue with the Afghan authorities. Along with the letter, the authorities had sent a complete list of cellular numbers being used by the extortionists from across the border.

“It is requested to take up the matter with the government of Afghanistan through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for dismantling their bases and apprehending the miscreants involved in the menace of extortion,” stated the official letter by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police chief Nasir Khan Durrani to the Secretary Ministry of Interior Arif Ahmad Khan.

The letter added that owing to Operation Zarb-e-Azb and efforts of the police and Counter-Terrorism Department, a significant 50 percent decrease has been recorded in extortion calls in 2015 compared to 2014. It added that currently 98 percent calls being received originated from Afghanistan.

“The problem will persist till the issue of spill-over signals and cross border frequency interference is dealt with. There is a lot of discomfort and insecurity in the business community on account of cross-border extortion calls,” the letter stated. 

The traders, industrialists and a number of well-off people in Peshawar and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been receiving calls for extortion. The houses of a few of those who refused to pay extortion money were attacked with bombs. After their refusal, a couple of individuals became victims of target killing too.

The traders are angry over the murder of their senior leader Haji Haleem Jan at his shop in Qissa Khwani bazaar on January 9. They have been holding protests with some demanding removal of the provincial police chief. A few have also asked for deployment of the Rangers in Peshawar where the Frontier Constabulary, Frontier Corps and army troops assist the police in search operations and snap checking.

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