By Afshain Afzal
Emirates Telecommunication Corporation (Etisalat), today owns the majority shares of Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) is purchasing Telenor Pakistan, the cellular company with management control and approved the purchase of the majority of Telenor’s shares. According to the foreign media reports, the sale of Telenor Pakistan is expected to be around $500 million or more. That is not all as in the recent development, Etisalat, which owns majority shares of PTCL and Ufone, has completed all the formalities with a European company and they are in the final stage of negotiations of about a $500 million sale deal with Etisalat. The track record of the company reflects that today, after nearly 18 years Pakistan is unable to recover receivables amounting to $800 million from Etisalat. Etisalat has only made 3 payments while 6 installments remain outstanding. It needs to be comprehended that India’s DB Group is also Etisalat’s partner in the Indian mobile joint venture, Etisalat DB.
If we recall, under the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996, PTCL took over all the properties, rights, assets, obligations and liabilities of Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation (PTC), except those transferred to the National Telecommunication Corporation (NTC), the Frequency Allocation Board (FAB), the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Pakistan Telecommunication Employees Trust (PTET). In 2005, Privatization Minister Hafeez Shaikh who was the mastermind behind the deal allowed Etisalat to acquire 26 percent shares of PTCL, holding over 407 million shares including management control from the Government of Pakistan as part of a large privatization initiative. As per the Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA), the Government of Pakistan was required to transfer 3,248 properties to the PTCL, which were leased, hired, and owned by the federal government.
Meanwhile, in 2017, Special Communication Organization (SCO) made attempts to operate nationwide for strategic and national security reasons. Eversince, SCO is struggling to seek autonomy from the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication and permission to operate throughout Pakistan on a commercial basis, claiming that not only government procedures were holding up infrastructure works, giving its privately-owned competitors an advantage. Etisalat cautioned the Government of Pakistan from granting SCO a license to operate on a commercial basis across the Pakistan. In this regard, Etisalat threatened to take the issue to an international court. In mid-March this year, the Cyberint Technologies Limited, an Israel-based company specializing in cyber-intelligence, announced that it had inked an agreement with Etisalat by e& to protect its infrastructure from cybercriminals. SCO currently provides fixed and mobile services to the public and private sectors in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
SCO is the largest telecommunication operator providing landline, GSM, WLL, Internet / data services in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJ&K) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). Ufone, os one of the major GSM service providers, has network coverage all over the country including AJ&K and GB. SCO has already signed a roaming agreement with Ufone enabling SCOM customers to use their parent network across the entire length and breadth of Pakistan. In December 2010, SCO and Pak Telecom Mobile Limited (PTML), cellular operators with the brand name of SCOM and Ufone respectively, signed a renewed Interconnect Agreement. PTML was incorporated in Pakistan on July 18, 1998, as a public limited company to provide cellular mobile telephony services in Pakistan. As on 31 December 2022, PTML carrying amounts, property and equipment, intangible assets and right of use amounts to Rs. 230,063 million, Rs. 64,167 and Rs. 16,468 million respectively out of which Rs. 96,398 million, Rs. 61,449 million and Rs. 12,363 million relates to property and equipment, intangible assets and right of use. Besides PTML, PTCL Holding Company and subsidiary companies include U Bank, DVCOM Data and Smart Sky.
The fact cannot be denied that theft of sensitive personal data is gaining momentum. Pakistan as well as some other countries instead of guarding national and personal data, have handed over the keys to the gateway to enemies, adversaries, and rivals, of course, some of them friendly countries. Now no individual, organization and even the governments in Pakistan and elsewhere can assure cent percent safety or security. Since almost a decade ago, PTCL is delivering fiber footprint to Telenor Pakistan under a fiber leasing agreement. PTCL introduced Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI) services to its customers by leveraging Etisalat-Telefonica CTI capabilities. Israeli and Abu Dhabian authorities also signed an agreement that provides Cyberint’s Impactful Intelligence and attack surface management solutions to protect Etisalat by e&'s infrastructure. The joint agreement to enhance its cyber security will also be applicable to PTCL assets and would allow real-time threat intelligence and monitoring of external risk exposure. This will detect, investigate, prevent, and remediate phishing, fraud, ransomware, brand abuse, data leaks, external vulnerabilities etc, ensuring continuous external protection from cyber threats. Interestingly, Israel will also cater other UAE’s businesses in Pakistan including telecom services, gaming, health, and insurance. Tel Aviv claims that it is Israel’s National Cyber Directorate initiative to create a national cyber dome aimed at strengthening the cyberdefense of the entire economy.