Rehman Malik has left but his legacy of barring cellphone networks still lives on

Published: November 21, 2016

Cellular phone services are suspended in Pakistan every time something important is happening. PHOTO: AFP

My driver didn’t show up today. I could drive myself but then my other family members need the car too. None of us can call Uber or Careem because the apps are not working in the absence of mobile data services so we are stuck.

My friend from college is in town for a day. I cannot reach out to her because the only way to contact her is via cell phone – I cannot expect her to check emails to figure out a plan. I had planned that she would come over; we would order something and hang out together. But guess what, home deliveries too, come to a halt when the cellular services are suspended.

All this seems fickle, right? Let us get to some serious effects of suspending cellular phone networks.

Imagine someone trying to get an ambulance. How do you get that without a cell number? Do bear in mind that a majority of Pakistanis from all strata rely more on cell phones compared to landlines.

Health help services can also not be accessed in the absence of a cell phone services. With no access through phones, no helplines can be called in cases of violence, street crime or any emergency.

If you are on the go and don’t know the way, remember that your maps don’t work for navigation without the internet.

Calling and messaging is not just impacted – it is in fact stalled. Whatsapp groups are not just used for senseless forwards and by bored people who have nothing else to do. They are used for coordination related to work and serious commitments. Today, most of us check and answer emails on the go – emails on which many approvals and conformations related to work are dependent. We get everything from airline tickets to medical lab test results on email. With no mobile data, all of that is lost to us for hours at a stretch.

Usually, these suspensions are on occasions that are big public events. These occasions involve massive congregations of large crowds of people – people who need to stay in touch with their families and friends. In case of an unforeseen incidence, God forbid, how do these people get help? And how do people get news of the safety of their loved ones? Locating people, finding out if they are safe or if they require assistance – it can pose nightmarish difficulties in the absence of mobile services.

A lot of Pakistanis these days do not have landlines. Also, check your phone’s contacts list – most of the numbers we save are cell phone numbers. So even if they do have a landline number, we don’t usually have that number with us to call in an emergency situation. And if your landline phone is like mine, it is out-of-order at least 10 months of the year.

Take away Wi-Fi and you are practically cut off from the rest of the world. Considering that even most of the EVO devices stop working because these are on-the-go internet devices and the fact that so many people rely on just these devices for internet, so much time is lost – time that could be used working.

A friend shared with me an incident where a family lost a loved one on 10th Muharram a few years ago. The ordeal of the family was unimaginable. In addition to grappling with a family member’s death, they had to go through trying to inform relatives and friends, arrange for an ambulance, coordinate with the staff at the mortuary, and arrange for burial, all without access to cellular phones.

Cellular phone services are suspended in Pakistan every time something important is happening. We thought this was one of those things that would go away with the going of Rehman Malik but – unn kee legacy aaj bhi zinda hai (his legacy is still alive).

Mobile networks continue to be religiously suspended on occasions to avoid any threat to people’s safety, they say. But even after this trend started, things have happened. Those who have to harm people find some ways of doing it anyway. If it’s really helping save lives, then tell us how. Pakistanis deserve an explanation for all the inconvenience caused to us in the name of national security. And if not, then please think of other ways you can make us safer than stalling our lives for hours and days.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

A writer and editor, who has worked as a Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works as a media trainer and communications practitioner. She tweets as @FarahnazZahidi (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.