Mobile phones didn’t just arrive in Pakistan. But someone could be fooled into thinking otherwise, considering the tens of millions of Pakistanis pouring into mobile phone stores these days.

In one of world’s largest efforts to collect biometric information, Pakistan has ordered mobile phone users to verify their identities through fingerprints for a national database being compiled to curb terrorism. If they don’t, their service will be shut off, an unthinkable option for many after a dozen years of explosive growth in mobile phone usage.

lady on mobile in lahore

Concerned about a proliferation of illegal and untraceable sim cards, the directive is the most visible step so far in Pakistan’s efforts to restore law and order after Taliban militants killed 150 students and teachers at a school in December. Officials said the six terrorists who stormed the school in Peshawar were using phones registered to one woman who had no obvious connection to the attackers.

But efforts to match one person to each phone number involves a jaw-dropping amount of work. At the start of this year, there were 103m sim cards in Pakistan – roughly the number of the adult population – that officials were not sure were valid or properly registered. And mobile companies have until 15 April to verify the owners of all of the cards, which are tiny chips in phones that carry a subscriber’s personal security and identity information.

In the past six weeks, 53m sims belonging to 38 million residents have been verified through biometric screening, officials said.

“Once the verification of each and every sim is done, coupled with blocking unverified sims, the terrorists will no longer have this tool,” said a senior interior ministry official, who was not authorised to speak publicly about the government’s security policy. “The government knows that it’s an arduous job, both for the cellular companies and their customers, but this has to be done as a national duty.”


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