Islamabad, November 16, 2020 – Mobile networks continue to face disruptions on the second consecutive day in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Networks were initially suspended on November 15 due to a political rally being held under the leadership of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).
The Government of Punjab had ordered a suspension of mobile services in the Rawalpindi region on account of the rally. The suspension was to last from 4.00 am on the 15th of November to 9.00 pm the same day. However, the hours were later extended until 6.00 am of November 16. The city administration blocked services in Islamabad as well. However, networks have not been completely restored in the twin cities well after the scheduled disruption.
In times when citizens are more reliant than ever on mobile and internet services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the suspension has caused much disturbance in civilian life.
Mobile Phones and Office Work
Due to the onset of the second wave of the coronavirus in the country, several workplaces have reverted to their Work From Home policy, which has made access to the internet a necessity. In such a situation, interruption in internet access has caused much distress.
Salwa Rana, a lawyer, was visibly anguished when questioned about this. “We are working from home due to COVID-19. All of our work is conducted online. What does anyone expect us to do in the absence of mobile services? Neither Careem nor Uber are functioning given the situation, so you cannot even go to the office. The state thinks the solution to every problem in the country is to suspend mobile networks,” she remarked.
Impact on Students
Universities are also conducting online sessions due to the pandemic, and the suspension of mobile services has posed serious difficulties for students and teachers alike. Wajid Zulqarnain, a college professor, was quite stressed because of the networks in the city being blocked. According to him, the virus had already disrupted his students’ education, and suspension of internet and mobile services is only making the situation worse. He also fears that the current political sit-in might shape up similarly to the one conducted by TLP in 2017, which lasted twenty days.
Mohammad Muzammil, a student of Quaid-e-Azam University, who currently resides in the university’s hostel has been unable to contact his family for the past two days. According to Muzammil, the subpar internet services of the hostel had forced him to shift to mobile data, which now is unavailable due to network suspensions. The political situation of the city has made him wary of stepping outside his hostel premises, and so contacting his family seems like an impossibility at the moment. The government should not use mobile network suspensions as a one-stop solution to every problem, according to him.
Annam Lodhi and her spouse are both journalists. Annam is currently pregnant, and her husband is tasked with covering the sit-in. According to Annam, in such conditions, being unable to contact her husband is a cause of much distress for her.
By the time this story was completed, mobile phone networks were partially restored in some areas. However, most of the city continues to face network suspensions.