ISLAMABAD - The mobile companies have so far verified 50.3 million subscriber identity modules (SIMs) out of total 103 million SIMs, under the National Action Plan to counter terrorism in the country, strengthening the fear that whether the campaign would bring any change in law and order situation.

Till February 17, a total of 50.3 million SIMs were verified against 38.0 million CNICs, said an official on Friday adding around 5.9 million SIMs, which could not be verified, were blocked.

After realizing use of mobile phones in crimes and terrorist activities, the government has initiated biometric verification of SIMS to identify and block illegal SIMs brought from neighbouring country Afghanistan, and those issued under fake names.

The biometric verification system was started in Baluchistan and Sindh on 31st December 2013, but was failed to get any response from mobile users as well as the mobile companies, who were more concerned in business than burdening their retailers and franchisers with an additional task. In August 2014, the biometric verification was initiated in across the country but it hardly was noticed by anyone. After the Peshawar school terror attack in December last, the government had communicated to mobile operators to carry out biometric verification, without fixing the responsibility of sale of illegal SIMS on telecom companies.

According to Interior Ministry officials, it was the leniency of the companies that they continue to issue SIMs to anyone without even entering details of even national identity card, and whenever law enforcing agencies took any action against the illegal sale of SIMs, the powerful cellular companies exerted pressure to withdraw the cases.

But after the Peshawar incident, responding to the harsh tone of the government, the mobile companies finally initiated the process, assigning more than 60,000 retailers throughout the country to carry out finger prints verification. In the first phase till February 26, those possessing three or more than three SIMs would be validated. From February 27 to April 13, general users possessing one or two SIMs have to be verified.

Insiders believe that mobile companies initiated full operation after PTA advised them to make money out of the campaign and whatever they charge for the verification PTA would not take any action against them.

No wonder, the retailers and franchisers continue to charge upto Rs. 250 in different parts, whereas normally the fee obtained for the verification ranged between Rs.20-50, whereas the government has allowed Rs.10 per SIM verification to mobile companies. PTA has not only put a deaf ear to the overcharging but at times justified it.

“The operators have already spent Rs 3 billion on installing more than 70,000 machines to introduce biometric reading devices, following the government directions. These expenses are besides the Rs20 per verification cost that the operators have to pay to Nadra,” said PTA Chairman Dr Ismail Shah, while answering to the question of overcharging in a recent National Assembly Standing Committee meeting.

The PTA official refused to comment when asked why NADRA is charging so much money for just data sharing, and if that is true, why the government has fixed Rs 10 for each verification. According to officials, around 25 to 30 million SIMs might be blocked after the expiry of the campaign.

Experts fear that SIMs verification may help in eliminating terrorism up to some extent, but it would be for a very short span of time, as terrorists would most probably find alternate communication modes to carry out their operations.