Pakistan: Government Suspends Mobile Services in Major Cities on Eid

On Eid-ul-Fitr, the occasion that marks the end of the month of fasting for Muslims and is celebrated as a holiday, the government of Pakistan slapped a blanket cell phone service suspension on four major cities in the country – Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Quetta.

Services are to remain blocked from 8pm on Sunday 19 August, 2012, till 11am Monday 20 August. According to the government, the measure has been taken to prevent terrorist attacks.

While terrorism is a very real threat in Pakistan, many have reacted critically. The chief contention is that while this may indeed serve as an effective measure to thwart possible incidents of terrorism on the occasion of Eid, this is no way to resolve the problem. A blanket ban on cell phone services essentially infringes on the very rights of citizens, some have argued.

"Well, the iPhone is no good WITHOUT SERVICE." Image uploaded by Flicker User dbrulz123 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Well, the iPhone is no good WITHOUT SERVICE.” Image uploaded by Flicker User dbrulz123 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Kashif Aziz tweeted:

 @kashaziz: So whats the guarantee terrorists won't strike tomorrow or the day after? Why not close cell phone services, like forever?#Karachi

In the past, the Pakistani government has imposed similar bans on the pretext of security. Referring to this rather unusual and undesirable measure which is now becoming a norm, Awais Athar commented:

@awaisathar: And so it starts… … Are we moving towards curfews on holidays?”

Such a ban will surely affect mobile companies, on one of their highest  revenue earning days. There are over 118 million mobile users in Pakistan, that's 68.2% of the country's total population. Pakistan also has the highest mobile penetration rate in South Asia.

But it will also make emergency communications virtually impossible. Yousaf Malik very aptly put it to the Interior Minister, who issued the orders to put the ban in place:

@YousafMalik41: #SenRehmanMalik Sir how is one supposed to make a call to police or rescue services in case of emergency from his cell phone?

Some have raised a brow to the competence of the intelligence agencies over their inability to contain the threat without taking such dire measures. Bytes For All, a Pakistani human rights organization, tweeted while addressing the Interior Minister:

@bytesforall: Sir, we shud really consider blocking all means of transport as well. No? Terrorist use them too #netfreedom @netfreedom @Liberationtech

Later, it was announced that the service will be suspended until 11 a.m. This hinted that the decision was taken to avoid any incidents during Eid prayers which are usually offered between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. in the morning. Ali Ibrahim chipped in with a witty remark:

@aliqizalbash: Dear world, I'm sorry you can not reach out to #Pakistan right now due to security reasons. Please try after 11am tom@SenRehmanMalik #PTA

However, there were those who agreed with the government's decision of imposing such a ban. They argued that if indeed such a measure would possibly thwart any possible incidents of terrorism, there's no reason to protest. Journalist Ayesha Tammy Haq tweeted from her profile:

@tammyhaq: @faridalvie :-) Eid tomorrow. Serious enough security threat 4 mobile cos 2 agree 2 suspend services & lose serious revenue & we're moaning”

And then there were those who saw a silver lining. Samra Muslim wrote:

@samramuslim: #Pakistan: mobile communications jam means no annoying mass ‘Eid Mubarak’ SMSes from random anonymous numbers?!#SilverLining #JustSaying

Sarah Naqvi also wrote in a similar vein:

@sarahnaq: i really don't understand whats a big deal if we can not use our cell phones for a while spend time with family n friends :) #dependents #PTA

Bolo Bhi, a policy advocacy group based in Pakistan released a press statement on a similar ban that had been enforced in the Balochistan province earlier this week on 14 August, Pakistan's Independence Day:

The State has the responsibility to maintain law and order but that shouldn’t come at the cost of citizens’ rights. To cut off communication services citing miscreants as an excuse not only violates the rights of citizens’, but is an unjust and discriminatory practice.

There's no denying that terrorism is a bitter reality in Pakistan and recently, there has been a surge in terrorist attacks by Pakistani Taliban. However, national security must not dictate the extent to which basic rights are granted to the citizens. The breakdown of such rights, for an hour, for a day, or for any other length of time, essentially spells a drastic failure.



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