Parties wary of PTI protest call

Activists of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) arrive to attend a protest rally in Peshawar. — Photo by AFP/Dawn File

ISLAMABAD: A plan by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to launch a street campaign from May 11 is being viewed with suspicion by most of the major political parties, and even its coalition partner in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government seems reluctant to join it.

They consider Imran Khan’s decision to launch the campaign against the alleged rigging in the last year’s elections ill-timed and suspect there is a hidden agenda behind it.

Reports that Dr Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) may join the PTI protest is the main reason for the political parties to believe that Imran Khan is doing this “at the behest of undemocratic forces”.

Though some opposition parties, including the PPP and PML-Q, believe that Mr Khan’s complaints about poll rigging are genuine and legitimate, they say the PTI should not go too far in its agitation as it can be detrimental to the democratic set-up and provide an opportunity to undemocratic forces to take advantage of the situation.

The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), a coalition partner of the PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has not yet decided to participate in the May 11 rally.

JI Information Secretary Amirul Azeem said they had not received aformal invitation from Mr Khan to participate in the protest campaign.

When asked what would be the JI’s response if Mr Khan sent the invitation to it, he refused to make any comment and said: “We will look into it when the time will come.”

PPP Secretary General Latif Khosa said his party was also a victim of rigging but it did not want to take any step that “may endanger the democratic setup”.

He said the country was already in a state of anarchy and Mr Khan should avoid taking any measure that could compound the situation.

Awami National Party (ANP) Information Secretary Senator Zahid Khan alleged that Mr Khan was making hue and cry over rigging though the PTI itself was the biggest beneficiary of the worst ever rigging in KP. He said Mr Khan was doing this to hide his party’s “bad governance and corruption” in the province.

PPP’s Farhatullah Babar, who is spokesman for co-chairman Asif Zardari, said, “both the PTI and the PAT have publicly expressed unequivocal and unreserved support for the security establishment in its standoff with a section of the media.”

As independent political entities, the two parties had right to choose their line of action “but their joining hands soon after public statements on the issue…raise questions about their motive,” said Mr Babar, quoting the statements of Mr Khan and Dr Qadri in support of the army in the ongoing tussle between a media house and the ISI after an attack on TV anchor Hamid Mir.

PML-Q Secretary General Mushahid Hussain said Mr Khan had “legitimate reservations” about the polls and like the PTI, his party also had moved election tribunals and courts to seek vote recount in different constituencies but had received no response. Therefore, he added, Mr Khan had the democratic right to hold peaceful demonstrations.

“His agenda remains to be seen,” he said when asked to comment on reports that Dr Qadri might join the PTI campaign.

PTI Information Secretary Dr Shireen Mazari said her party was exercising its democratic right to raise voice against rigging.

She rejected the apprehension that the PTI movement could be harmful to the democratic system.

“We don’t want to destabilise democracy. Had we wanted to derail it, we would have done it earlier,” she said.

The purpose of the movement, she pointed out, was to make the government realise that an independent election commission was necessary to ensure free and transparent polls.

She denied reports that the PTI had an understanding with Dr Qadri on the movement and said the PTI had given the protest call and any political party could join it.



Pakistan joins the 3G club

- File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The four cellular service providers bidding on licences for next generation mobile technology emerged the winners of Wednesday’s bidding war, with Mobilink, Telenor and Ufone picking up licences for 3G services while Zong being the only bidder to acquire a licence for both 3G and 4G services.

Mobilink and Zong bid for the ‘superior’ 10MHz band, while Telenor and Ufone preferred to bid on the cheaper 5MHz band. Although Mobilink, having acquired the 10MHz band, qualified for a 4G licence too, they opted not to go all the way.

This means one 4G licence is still up for grabs. Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman said that the licence would soon go under the hammer again.

Bidding began at 10am and continued until a little after 7pm at the Marriott Hotel. Bidders competed in eight rounds of 45 minutes each. A total of four 3G licences were auctioned and both Telenor and Ufone got the ‘shorter end’ of the spectrum.

“It was a strategic decision. We want to provide internet services for all our customers but at low costs. The 5MHz frequency is all that is required at the moment,” said Telenor Pakistan Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Muhammad Aslam Hayat.

Ufone had also shown an interest in acquiring both 3G and 4G licences, but on the day, they did not qualify. Under PTA rules, Ufone has to purchase the 10MHz band to be eligible for a 4G licence.

According to a Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) spokesperson, cellular companies with weaker frequencies would have to install more booster towers in their coverage areas, depending on how many cities they wanted to cover.

A taste of things to come

Visitors to the auction got a taste of next-generation mobile speeds at the stalls of various cellular vendors. Telecom reps showed off the astonishing speeds boasted by 3G services and demonstrated the power of high speed internet services on compatible mobile handsets.

Cellular companies will have to offer a minimum download speed of 256 kilobytes per second (kbps) under the stipulations of the 3G licence, which is four to eight times faster than current download speeds of 30-100 kbps that are currently on offer.

PTA Chairman Dr Ismail Shah said: “Meeting the budgetary targets is just one small aspect of this sale. We are looking at bigger benefits such as the creation of nearly 900,000 jobs and the development of newer, faster applications that will contribute to the improvement of educational, health and financial standards.”

The love chatroom crackdown

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has cracked down on “immoral” love chat services offered by mobile phone companies, stifling hopes of illicit romance in the conservative Muslim country, where dating is frowned upon.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said the ban was enforced last month due to protests from parents and lawmakers, but critics warn it is the latest attempt at creeping censorship.

The PTA first pulled the plug on dirt-cheap chat rates and late-night discounts in November, but operators simply started offering the services under different names.

So the regulator tightened the ban late last month, ordering telecommunication companies to scrap immediately “all kinds of chat services, irrespective of the time of day”.

In a country where parents keep young people on a tight leash and dating is considered inappropriate, late-night chatting over the phone or Internet can be a way to find love below the radar.

In Pakistan girls can be beaten or even killed by male relatives if there is any hint they are having a relationship and parents like to strictly control the marriages of their offspring.

A 20-year-old university student who did not want to give his name said that the ban had hit him hard as he is now unable to chat with random girls and find new dates.

“The cruel world has once again conspired against lovers and made it difficult for them to communicate,” he declared.

“It was so inexpensive and an easy way to find a date,” he added.

The 25-year-old manager of a boutique in Islamabad stated that he had found the “love of his life” through the service.

“I am going to marry her,” he said.

“We chatted, we exchanged numbers, we started talking and I was surprised to find out that she lived nearby,” he said.

There is no public data about how many people used the romantic chat, but of the 68.6 percent of the population with access to a mobile phone, it is likely to have been a small number.

Normal call charges are about two rupees ($0.02) a minute and 1.50 rupees for a text message, but chat services were offered at an hourly rate for a fraction of those rates.

A customer would dial a particular number after which a computer generated voice or text message guided subscribers through various options.

For example, if you want to chat to a girl press 1, a boy press 2, then you select your preferred age group before being connected to another caller by SMS conforming to your criteria.

Two of Pakistan’s five mobile phone companies said they had shut down romantic chat rooms, but would continue to offer calling services that stick to general interests, such as hobbies.

Another company said they had shut down all chat rooms, while two others were not reachable for comment.

Saeeda Khan, a 45-year-old mother of three, welcomed the ban.

“I am worried as they’re busy all night on the phone with their friends and cousins,” she said.

Khan said she worried about “what kind of people” are in the chat rooms and that children “are exposed to strangers”.

“I would never approve of chatting with unknown people,” the mother of three added.

Meanwhile, mobile phone companies have filed petitions in the Supreme Court against the ban, but no date has been set for a hearing.

Pakistan’s oldest English-language newspaper Dawn earlier accused the PTA of acting as an “unwanted morality brigade”.

“The intermingling of young men and women is not a matter that should concern the state which has nothing to gain except opprobrium by acting as self-appointed guardian of society’s morals,” DSS wrote in an editorial earlier this month.

“It (the PTA) should mind its own business.”

The PTA defends the move as a response to public anger, but the ban has raised fears about growing censorship in Pakistan.

The government frequently shuts down mobile networks to prevent militant attacks and access to YouTube has been blocked for a year over a low-budget American film deemed offensive to Islam.

In November 2011, the PTA also tried to ban nearly 1,700 “obscene” words from text messages, which included innocuous terms such as “lotion”, “athlete’s foot” and “idiot”.

In 2010, Pakistan shut down Facebook for nearly two weeks over blasphemy and continues to restrict hundreds of online links.

Independent technology think-tank Bytes for All, Pakistan stated that the fresh ban was a violation of human rights.

“Any regulation on the basis of ‘morals’ falls under moral policing, which is unjustified, undemocratic, dictatorial and a violation of fundamental rights,” said Furhan Hussain, Coordinator Advocacy and Outreach at Bytes for All, Pakistan.

One engineering graduate, when asked if he had ever used the chat service, said he regretted only hearing about it after the ban.

“Damn! I could have been dating girls, now I regret it.”

No law exists to stop late night mobile packages

ISLAMABAD: Moralists in Pakistan had long been crying that the night packages offered by the mobile phone companies are “a bad influence” on the society. This week the matter came to a head in the Senate.

Angry senators demanded that the government take action to stop the services. But how?

Technically, there exists no law that would allow that.

“No court or government can ask the cellular operators, conducting lawful business in the country, to stop offering the late night packages,” Barrister Mohammad Amir Ali told Dawn when asked for his opinion on the demand.

In fact, members of the Standing Committees of the Senate and the National Assembly had been seized with the issue during the last five years but their discussion never went beyond instructing the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to “direct” the five cellular services operators to stop night packages.

All the lawmakers did in these meetings was to moan that the mobile phone companies had been targeting the gullible with their low rate, late night ‘talk’ and ‘chat’ offers for wasting their time, depriving children of sleep and “corrupting” the morals of their young subscribers for profit.

Even at the latest such meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology, no initiative was taken to introduce an enabling law to stop all these “evils”.

Senator Mohamamd Mohsin Khan Leghari, a member of the committee, did not agree with the demand to shut down the night packages but said the mobile phone companies should “reconsider their marketing strategies and target relevant consumers” for their services.

Advocate Babar Sattar agreed that the PTA possessed no authority to regulate cellular traffic content. He said,

There is no explicit statutory provision in the Telecom Act 1996. This is moral panic and other solutions should be found instead of completely finishing services for consumers.

The government informed the Senate during its current session that each of the five companies has two to three late night, low cost talk and chatting packages on offer.

Mobilink offers ‘Gup Shup Corner’ and ‘Mtalk’, Warid its ‘Anonymous Chat’, ‘SMS Chatter Box’, and ‘Crazy Night Warid’, Ufone the ‘Ufone Dosti’, ‘SMS Buddies’ and ‘SMS Chat Buddy’, and Zong its ‘Zong Chat Buddy’, ‘SMS Chat Buddy’, and ‘Zong Good Night Offer’, and Telenor has ‘Late Night Offer’ and ‘Chat Room’ on offer to subscribers.

Barrister Amir Ali says that the Specific Relief Act 1877 does not allow the government to ask a lawful business to curtail its activities/dealings.

In his opinion, directing the cellular companies to stop their night packages will harm businesses operating at night, such as call centers, which have invested millions in Pakistan.

“There are no negative intentions behind these packages. Misuse happens everywhere. In the case of children, parents are best to enforce discipline,” said the corporate lawyer.

PTA spokesperson Khurram Mehran recalled that after receiving complaints from the public and the legislative bodies, the PTA had sent a notice to the mobile phone companies on November 14, 2012, directing hem to stop immediately their night packages.

“The companies challenged the directive in the Islamabad High Court on November 21, 2012 but withdrew it eight days, only to raise the same in Supreme Court when the PTA pursued the matter, where the case is still pending,” the spokesperson added.

A senior official of a mobile phone company said the night packages were introduced for the entrepreneurs and businesses operating at night.

“From night watchmen to businesses – especially those conducting transactions abroad after later hours – all avail the low cost packages,” he said.

“It is imperative to utilise our networks at night when the traffic load goes down to 10 per cent compared to the daytime load of 90 per cent.”