KARACHI - Sindh government has decided to ban instant messaging and internet telephony applications for three months to deprive the terrorists and criminals of a handy means of communication and make Karachi operation more effective.

The decision to ban VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) applications – such as Skype, Viber, Tango and Whatsapp – was taken at a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah to review the law and order situation of the port city, Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon said on Thursday.

Giving the rationale of the decision at a press conference in Archives Complex Clifton, the minister said the terrorists and criminal elements were using these internet applications for communication after the launching of the targeted operation while the government agencies were not equipped with the latest technology to detach or trace them.

He said that provincial government has requested the federal government to ban these internet telephony applications and “we hope the central government will our request” as these measures were essential for restoration of peace in the city. He said Sindh home secretary will contact Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for the ban.

Sharjeel said Sindh government would also contact federal government to block illegal cellphone SIMs. He said this is not for the first time that communication services have been suspended or blocked as in past government had occasionally blocked cellular services as part of anti-terrorism measures.

Sharjeel informed that since Sept 5, about 3,000 raids have been conducted by police and Rangers in Karachi in which 20 criminals have been killed while hundreds have been apprehended. He said that around 1,400 absconders have also been arrested out of which 50 criminals had been booked in murder cases. The minister said 138 encounters were reported during all these raids.

The minister informed that targeted operations would be launched in Hyderabad and other cities of the Sindh from tomorrow. He said the government has also imposed ban on brandishing and carrying of arms while the drive of collecting illegal arms was going on that will end on October 12 and then an operation would be launched against individuals in possession of illegal weapons.

He said that 2,000 retired army personnel were being recruited to Sindh Police.

Talking about the collection of hides of sacrificial animals during Eidul Azha, Sharjeel informed that none of the welfare organisation would be allowed to go house to house for the collection however the citizens are free to donate animal hides to anyone they want.

Reuters adds: Sharjeel did not spell out how closing down the networks would improve security. But security services say instant messaging and internet telephony are used by militants and other armed groups to plan attacks. It was unclear if the ban could be practically enforced. Officials from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority did not return calls requesting comment.

Sana Saleem, a co-founder of Pakistani internet advocacy group Bolo Bhi, said any move to stifle Skype would be illegal. “This is just the government trying to show they are cracking down when they have failed to control law and order problems,” she said. “Sadly they are doing that by taking away people’s fundamental rights.”

Staff Reporter from Islamabad adds: Taking notice of the Sindh government’s move, Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan said the federal government had so far taken no decision to ban Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Tango and other internet based communication networks in Sindh for a period of three months.

In a statement, the minister said he personally was against the move to ban such communication networks. He said when federal government would receive any proposal from the Sindh government in this connection it would see how much weight it carries. The statement said that the federal government did not want to disturb the masses without any reason.