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December 6, 2018

CTD to tackle negligence in issuance of SIM cards


December 6, 2018

Sindh’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) has decided to register FIRs against mobile network operators (MNOs) due to negligence in the issuance of SIM cards and not possessing records of the agents hired by the different franchises.

Investigations into recent terrorism cases have found that terrorists use fake SIM cards. The CTD’s Raja Umer Khattab told The News that SIM cards have become a headache for investigators due to the sales targets set for franchises by MNOs.

“During recent investigations, it was learnt that a fake SIM card used by a terrorist was registered in the name of a person living in a Goth and who had no information about it.” Khattab, who heads the CTD’s Transnational Terrorists Intelligence Group, said MNOs set targets for franchises to activate a certain number of SIM cards and then these franchises distribute them to their agents.

He said that to meet the targets, the agents go to far-flung areas where people are unaware of the biometric system and to government hospitals that people from low-income backgrounds visit.

“The agents usually target the uneducated and the elderly to offer them free SIM cards. They note down their CNIC information and make repeated attempts to record their thumbprints, then turn them away saying that the machine does not recognise their prints.”

He said the agents later activate the cards and sell them to other agents associated with criminal or terrorist groups. Another MO employed by these agents is the Benazir Income Support Programme, he added.

Khattab said MNOs, their franchises and the agents they hire just to meet their sales targets play havoc with the lives of innocent citizens. “Every month these agents approach their respective franchises and inform them that they have activated the SIM cards they were provided and achieved their targets.”

He said these SIM cards are later sold to criminals and terrorists, adding that according to their investigations, such activated SIM cards have been sold in bulk quantities in Afghanistan and they were later purchased by terrorists to use in terrorism in Pakistan.

He added that such SIM cards are also used by extortionists, criminal groups and terrorists in IEDs. “We have now decided to crack down on the agents and franchise owners involved in such practices, as well as against MNOs.”

The CTD officer said MNOs used to follow SOPs issued to them by the government, but they have not been following them for some time now and that has resulted in the prevalent situation.

He held MNOs responsible for the mess because they set targets of selling thousands of SIM cards within a month, due to which franchise owners hire agents for achieving the targets. Another senior official said that illegal SIM cards of various MNOs operating across the country have become a headache for different investigating departments and agencies.

He said that in most cases of terrorist threats, bomb hoax calls and kidnappings for ransom, criminals use SIM cards that can easily be purchased from the market at cheap prices. MNOs, just to promote their businesses and gain excessive publicity due to competition between them, sell SIM cards at cheap prices, between Rs100 and Rs150, he added.

“Only a few years ago several MNOs were introduced in Pakistan and since then a fierce competition has existed between them, causing them to routinely reduce the prices of SIM cards.” He said that before the current competition, only two major companies used to operate in the country, and the cost price of a SIM card was between Rs3,000 and Rs5,000.

At that time, MNOs provided customers with application forms, verified their addresses and asked for a copy of their NICs, but these days every other shopkeeper is involved in the sale of SIM cards of different MNOs, he added.

The official said they had recently held a culprit involved in a serious offence, adding that when they verified his number it was found that it was registered in someone else’s name and that his CNIC was used to register other numbers as well.

He said MNOs usually tell their dealers operating in various parts of the country to meet the set targets, warning them that if they failed to meet the targets, their dealerships will be disowned or some other action will be taken against them.

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