Cellular services were last night suspended in four major Pakistani cities, including Lahore and Karachi, to prevent terrorist attacks using bombs triggered with mobile phones, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.
Millions of people in Lahore, Multan, Karachi and Quetta were unable to use their mobile phones from 8 pm as cellular operators suspended all services in most parts of these cities on the directions of the Interior Ministry.
“We have done it to stop bombings using mobile phones,” Malik said during an interaction with reporters when he made a surprise inspection of security at a market in Islamabad late tonight.
He said the Interior Ministry had made arrangements to suspend cellular services in Islamabad too in the event of any emergency.
Mobile phone services could be restored in the four cities during the night so that people could wish their relatives and friends for the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr.
However, services would be suspended again between 7 am and 10 am today to prevent possible terror attacks on congregations offering Eid prayers, Malik said.
“The objective of the Pakistan government is to save lives. There will be some inconvenience due to the lack of mobile services but I will request the people to bear with it,” he said.
The decision to suspend cellular services was made following intelligence reports of possible terror attacks during the Eid holidays, he said.
“There have been instances of mobile phones being used as detonators in bomb attacks,” he said.
However, the move was sharply criticised by residents of the four cities.
Many Pakistanis took to social networking sites to criticise Malik and the suspension of mobile services, saying that people would be unable to contact police or rescue services in any emergency.
Referring to the terrorist attack on the Kamra airbase, a bomb in Karachi and a suicide attack on security personnel in Quetta over the past few days, Malik claimed some elements had drawn up a “blueprint to destabilise Pakistan’’.
Nine terrorists and two security personnel were killed in the attack on the Kamra airbase and seven persons were killed in the attacks in Karachi and Quetta.
Malik claimed the investigation into the attack on the airbase was on in “full swing” and the attackers had been identified.
He said some persons had been arrested but refused to give details on the grounds that this could affect the probe.
Though the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for the attack on the Kamra airbase, Malik said he would accept this only if TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud came forward and acknowledged the group’s role.
Malik pointed out that all major terrorist attacks, including the 2007 assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto, had been traced back to North and South Waziristan.
Punjabi militants, members of banned organisations and foreign fighters were based in Waziristan, he said.