What is the explanation for Pakistan's decision to suspend mobile phone services for millions of people on the eve of the Eid festival? Cell phones went blank in Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Multan and some other cities from 8 pm Sunday until Monday mid-morning. It is a time when Pakistanis traditionally send each other messages welcoming the end of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
According to Interior minister Rehman Malik, the ban was brought in because the government was particularly worried that militants affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Pakistan Taliban might use the Eid festival to plan attacks in the Punjab and Sindh. “The Punjab government has requested us to suspend cell-phone service in some parts of the province, but we think it should also be made temporarily inoperative in sensitive areas of Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, because terrorists usually use mobile phones in their acts of terrorism,” he said on Sunday.
The ban came in the wake of a particularly brazen attack by TTP gunmen last Thursday on an airforce base at Kamra that is believed to hold some of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. On the same day more than 20 Shia pilgrims were taken off a bus by men wearing army uniforms in the northwestern district of Mansehra and executed. The murdered men were mostly from the Astore Valley, a remote area on the western slope of the Himalayan mountain, Nanga Parbat. They were returning home to celebrate Eid. A very similar attack took place on 28 February in which 18 Shia men were killed at the side of the road. More on that attack here.
The phone call ban also followed a similar ban in much of Balochistan on 14 August, Independence Day. And before that, on 23 March this year, Pakistan's government also shut down mobile phone services in Balochistan for around 14 hours on the eve of another national holiday known as Pakistan Day. The government said cell phone services were suspended in order to implement the obscure ‘national security plan.’
Precisely how the phone call ban is meant to stop terrorist attacks has not been explained by the authorities in Pakistan.They continue to recur with sickening regularity.