Published in June 11, 2020
By Ahmed Saeed
After a massive online campaign by Voicepk.net, Senator Rubina Khalid, chairperson of the Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication has vowed to raise the issue of unavailability of the internet in the former FATA areas, Gilgit Baltistan (GB), and Baltistan.
Speaking to Munizae Jahangir, on her primetime show Spot Light aired on Aaj TV, Khalid said that no one is taking the problems of students seriously during these difficult times.
Many students from all over Pakistan voiced their concern about online classes and examinations in a virtual campaign initiated by Voicepk.net. They complained that it is impossible for them to attend online classes due to poor or no internet access, especially in the merged tribal districts. Ms. Jahangir also wrote an editorial for the campaign calling out the State’s attitude of neglect towards the youth’s basic need.
When Ms. Jahangir asked the PTI’s Senator Nauman Wazir about the internet issue in the merged tribal districts, Wazir said that the Universal Service Fund (USF) had last year awarded a new contract worth Rs 90 million to a private cellular company for providing internet in the South Waziristan tribal district.
In February 2019, USF also awarded Rs. 192 Million contracts to Jazz for providing cellular services to people of North Waziristan District, Frontier Region Bannu, and Frontier Region Lakki Marwat.
But, the students of these areas are continuously complaining about lack of internet connectivity and have pleaded with the government and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to halt their online classes as they cannot compete with their fellow students living in big cities who have stable internet connections.
According to the ‘About’ section of USF on their website, the company was established in 2006 by the Government of Pakistan (Ministry of Information Technology) to spread the benefits of the telecom revolution to all corners of Pakistan. USF promotes the development of telecommunication services in un-served and under-served areas throughout the length and breadth of the country.
Protests Over The Internet
Tribal students have been knocking all doors to get internet restored or installed in the area since the start of lockdown and subsequently online classes but nothing happened.
A writ petition was also filed in the Islamabad High Court pleading that the court should order the federal government and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to provide internet access in the tribal regions. In its last hearing on May 11, the interior ministry told the court that after the merger of FATA, the provincial government is responsible for restoring/halting internet service in the area.
After the ministry’s reply, the court asked the petitioner to submit the reply regarding the jurisdiction of this court and adjourned the hearing indefinitely.
After exhausting all avenues, the tribal students have now restored to protest over the breach of their constitutional right to get education due to the unavailability of the internet.
Scores of tribal students have protested outside the HEC building, the National Press Club in Islamabad and also the Quetta and Karachi Press Club and have demanded the government to either cease online classes or to restore the internet otherwise an academic year of tribal students would be wasted. They also urged the government to stop this discrimination with people living in the tribal areas.