Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik has seemingly backtracked on his threat to block all unregistered SIMs by saying in a radio interview broadcast on Thursday that all stakeholders will be asked to deal with the problem of SIMs being issued against fake ID cards, or to a person other than the user. He identified those stakeholders during the interview as political leaders, ordinary people and government servants. This follows in the slipstream of the ban Mr Malik’s Ministry imposed on Chand Raat on mobile services, to prevent terrorists using such SIMs from carrying out mayhem. Such SIMs are often utilised by ill-intentioned persons for their purposes, for while mobile phones are eminently useful for them, registering the all-important SIM ends anonymity.

One of the main stakeholders would appear to be the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), and its advice must be followed in this. However, one of the advantages enjoyed by mobile phones is that obtaining a connection is by no means as troublesome as the antiquated procedure for getting a landline, and whatever new method is devised, must not sacrifice this. The decision must not ‘coincidentally’ further any commercial interests, which would be based on the corrupt practices of the past. The purpose of defeating terrorism must not just be uppermost, but the sole purpose of the exercise.

It is true that the proliferation of mobile phones has meant that there is about as much confusion as growth, and many loopholes which terrorists and other criminals exploit. However, the attempt to regulate must not become ones which strangle the industry instead, of which there is a great danger. At the same time, mobile phones should not become a tool for terrorism or other crimes, and there is no legal justification for users trying to hide behind fake identities. This exercise will also give Nadra a reason to go after fake cards, and after the methodology that allows them to be produced. This should provide Nadra itself the opportunity to rid itself of corrupt elements. Should all stakeholders be involved, it would mean that mobile service providers will also get an opportunity to voice any and all reservations they will certainly have.