The Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) has issued a statement supporting the Special Communication Organisation’s(SCO’s) bid for a telecom licence to operate throughout Pakistan, Pro Pakistani reports. Operated by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) and controlled by the military, the SCO currently provides fixed and mobile services to the public and private sectors in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). The company has been seeking autonomy from the MoITT and permission to operate throughout Pakistan on a commercial basis for the last two years, saying that government procedures were holding up infrastructure works, giving its privately-owned competitors an advantage. The MoITT has consistently opposed the proposals, however, citing a non-compete clause in the shareholder agreement between the government and Etisalat, signed as part of the latter’s acquisition of a 23% stake in incumbent provider Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) in 2006.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Law and Justice, however, is backing the SCO’s request, arguing that there is no legal barrier to issuing a nationwide licence to the SCO. The law ministry claims that the terms of the shareholder agreement were illegal – a view also supported by the Competition Commission of Pakistan – whilst the SCO has stated that it does not intend to compete with other telecom operators outside of GB and AJK. Instead, the SCO has said that its wishes to operate nationwide for strategic and national security reasons.
Consequently, the AGP has now thrown its weight behind the SCO, stating that ‘as long as [the] SCO remain within the confines of its mandate and establishes a regime which caters for [the] strategic and security concerns of Pakistan, it will not fall foul of the covenant made between Etisalat and the Government of Pakistan.’ To guard against any potential ‘litigious challenges’, however, the AGP said the SCO should incorporate a separate legal entity for the operations, and that its intention not to compete with Etisalat should be on record.