Voice of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Monday, September 26, 2022

Realities of Protest for 3G-4G internet Services in Waziristan

Last week, university students staged protest demonstrations in Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan tribal district, against the unavailability of high-speed mobile internet service in the region saying the lack of internet facility is badly affecting their studies.
According to the students, who had gathered outside Wana Press Club, Chief Minister Mahmood Khan and Federal Minister for Communication Murad Saeed during their visit to North Waziristan had announced launching third generation (3G) and fourth Generation (4G) internet services in the region but the high-speed internet was not available in the region yet. They were carrying placards inscribed with “We want 3G and 4G internet”; “We have no access to internet” etc.

Since the protest, various social media accounts inside Pakistan, Afghanistan and India have started propaganda campaign, exploiting 3G cellular internet issue against Pakistan. Similarly, leaders and workers of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) are fanning the issue inside South Waziristan and extending it to North Waziristan amidst coronavirus pandemic. The protest during coronavirus outbreak in the region is risking the lives of thousands of people.

Such protests at this juncture when isolation is advocated by government raises few questions. Is high-speed mobile internet the right of the residents of South Waziristan? The answer is absolutely, ‘yes’. Does the constitution, guarantees equal rights to all citizens irrespective of their creed, ethnicity and territory. The answer is again resounding, ‘yes’.

So, do South Waziristan lack all kind of internet facilities? The answer is ‘NO’. The area has digital subscriber line (DSL) facility available all around the district.

Then, why students are insisting on 3G, 4G internet services when DSL internet service is available and they can attend their online classes with it? According to senior journalist Dilawar Khan Wazir, some of the students from South Waziristan demand for cellular mobile internet i.e. 3G or 4G to attend lectures/assignments and due to its non-availability, they would miss classes, besides, they also need internet access to mark their attendance on daily basis.

When the issue was raised before officials of Higher Education Commission (HEC), the official said that HEC duly cognizant of infrastructure deficiencies have issued advisories for online and distance learning education amid coronavirus pandemic . Under the advisory, the HEC has allowed universities and degree awarding institutions to continue teaching and learning during the interrupted Spring Semester 2020 by using a variety of distance learning approaches. They include Internet; one-way or two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, broadband lines; audio-conferencing; or sharing of CDs for students without internet access. According to HEC officials, these options have become salient in the current crisis, since they can allow students and faculty to continue education without compromising on their health and safety. It will also ensure that all those students with no internet access or who can not afford one, will not miss classes or their session.

Now, how the district administration of South Waziristan is helping the students regarding their online studies? When contacted Deputy Commissioner Hameedullah Khattak regarding the unavailability of 3G internet services in South Waziristan said that as a public servant it was his responsibility to provide all facilities to the residents of the district. The provincial government is committed to the development and progress of all merged districts for which billions of funds have been allocated but it is a fact that the region has suffered badly due to terrorism and life started returning to normalcy when Pakistan Army conducted successful military operations against the terrorists. He said it is not easy for the district administration to provide 3G and 4G cellular internet overnight as the process is long and technical. It requires a considerable time to conduct survey, install equipment and provide 3G and 4G cellular internet. However, to solve online study related internet problems, DSL internet is already available in the whole district, besides availability, district administration has established internet cafes while following protective measures against Covid-19 in Wana, Chaghmalai, Mola Khan Sarai, Jandola and Kaniguram for those students who do not have access at their homes or too poor to afford internet. Hameedullah Khattak said that Shawal is most remote location in South Waziristan but for the student of that area, internet café is established at Razmak where students can utilize free high-speed internet.

When contacted Deputy Commissioner North Waziristan Sahibzada Najeeb said that students can utilize DSL and free internet cafes to participate in their online classes. However, when it comes to protest regarding 3G internet services, such demonstrations are politically motivated and they have nothing to do with the students or online education. He said government is fully committed to provide all facilities including 3G cellular internet to the people.

According to security sources and geopolitical experts, since Doha Peace Agreement between Taliban and US, the geo dynamics and political situation of Afghanistan is fast changing. Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other affiliated terrorist groups are trying to re-establish itself inside Pakistan along the Pak-Afghan border. TTP has stepped up its attack against Pakistan army and its installations on regular basis. Under these circumstances, if launched, the 3G or 4G cellular internet would greatly help the terrorist and their handlers in the area to intensify their terrorist activities.

So, if internet is available and civil administration is working to address the deficiencies, then why is political forces specially Pashtun Tahafuz Movement MNA Ali wazir instigating students to protest in such a precarious and dangerous environment amid corona virus. Senior Journalist and expert on the region, Aqeel Yousafzai opines that PTM has no interest in students or in their online studies but exploiting the situation for its political interests and to get media attention. But such opportunistic political approach would restrict PTM to a very small local community.

There is a requirement that political forces unite the entire Pakistan at this delicate time. One can hope and pray that students are no more put at grave risk for mere political scoring. Civil administration also need to be harsher on such protests and ensure a crackdown against instigators to avoid a looming corona crisis in tribal areas.

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