Injustice at the hands of PTA/FIA in Pakistan

CNBC%20Covering.jpgToday there was a protest out side STP 2 in F-5/1 Islamabad by the employees of Cogilent Solution. Many media teams, including GEO, ARYONE, and CNBC where there to cover the event.

In order to highlight the issue before press and IT community, friends of Faisal, Jawad, Cogilent and IT/CS professionals of twin cities arranged a peaceful and graceful protest in front of Software Technology Park-II, Evacuee Trust Complex, Aga Khan Road, Next to Marriot Hotel, on Wednesday, 13 December 2006 at 1:30 pm sharp.

This was an activity for half an hour to express solidarity with Faisal/Cogilent, to demand immediate release of Faisal, with drawl of the illegal and fake case and punishment for those who have taken this colonial and barbaric step. Faisal’s old bed ridden mother is grief-sicken, Jawad (accused CTO, still ‘at large’ in FIA files) with his young daughter who was detected with brain tumor few days ago, is running from pillar to post. Cogilent is practically shut down with FIA teams going there every day and harassing them with dire consequences. The whole team of young CS guys is in miserable shape and need your help. They’re suffering due to high headedness of government officials, but no one is trying to heal their wounds.

Following is an account on background of all this from Atif Mumtaz the unfortunate affectee

I wanted to share a recent harrowing experience that a company is going through in Islamabad Pakistan. First a bit of a background.

Protest%20Boards.jpgBackground:
I Co-founded an internet Startup company, called Cogilent Solutions (www.cogilent.com), in Islamabad, which runs a very successful job portal in the country called BrightSpyre ( www.BrightSpyre.com). Among our innovations, we are the largest web based portal with over 300,000 users in Pakistan and customers like United Nations, Pakistan Software Export Board among our growing list of over 200 national and multinational companies. We are also one of the first companies in the world to launch an integrated Voice Resume system based on VoIP technologies. And our solution is being used by companies like TRG, CresTel and others to hire quality talent for their call centers in Pakistan.

The Injustice:

On Tuesday Dec 4, around noon, Pakistan Time, FIA (Federal Investigation Authority) and PTA (Pak Telecom Authority) walked into our offices in the software technology park 2 in Islamabad, and seized all our servers, mobiles and everything on the pretext that we are using our office premises to make illegal VoIP termination. They also locked up our current CEO, Mr. Faisal Chohan behind bars and also put out the arrest warrants for Ahmad Jawad and Director Networking. Even when we explained to them that we are not doing call terminations, and only develop creative solutions for call centers to use, they would not listen.

The accusation that we have been informed through Managing Director Pakistan Software Export Board is that there are over 29,000 call records that are terminated internationally through our server.

Here is our sincere response. In our office, at Islamabad, we manage a telephone exchange that is based on our product IRIS and popular software called Asterisk. This exchange was brought live a few months ago to not only enhance the functionality of our IRIS product but also to act as our inter-office exchange. It is completely VoIP as almost all inter-office exchanges are. It is primarily used to call within the office for communications and to our clients, our homes and friends through our PSTN gateway. This fact can easily be verified by comparing with PTCL Call Records with call logs on the server. Therefore, the calls that were made from our exchange can also be easily traced and tracked and will prove without doubt that we were not terminating the services anywhere. These calls will end up either at our clients offices locally or homes of our employees in Islamabad. That means, all the calls were made locally for local contact with no international contact….or termination… Furthermore, in order for this machine to act as an international gateway, it needs to be connected with another box somewhere. Since they have the machine in their control, they can easily verify that the machine is not connected with any server anywhere and is actually a standalone box. And lastly but not the least, the hardware configuration of the box is a Pentium 2 machine dating back to 1998/99. It only has all our office PTCL numbers terminated which are just three phone lines. How can we make 29,000 calls with such a configuration. A load test on the server box by anyone can prove without doubt that this machine is unable to handle the load.

Therefore, in conclusion, the purpose of this machine was to act as an inter-office exchange and to further the development of our IRIS services. For that we have been testing various new technologies on it and implementing various tests. Without testing our services, we cannot sell this hardware box to any of our customers. Hence, everything inside it is designed for that purpose.

A close look at our financials will also prove that we have nothing to hide. All are money is legitimate and can easily be traced back to our customers. And majority of our financials come from BrightSpyre and software services.

Cogilent and BrightSpyre
Since 2002, we have focused our business around BrightSpyre and its related services. We occasionally also secure software projects from abroad for work within Pakistan. Taking away all our servers and routers means, we cannot deliver on those projects.

Furthermore, we had never received any notice from PTA or FIA that we were doing anything illegal. Nor are they willing to listen to anything that we say, and are accusing us and threatening us.

It also does not bode well that they have locked up our CEO and have also taken a remand off him for 3 days (till Saturday). What can he tell them that we have not repeated a million times? There is nothing to find and nothing to hide.

We would like to cooperate and find out what is the issue, but we are not being informed of anything and are totally lost.

Mr. Yousuf Hussain, Managing Director, PSEB, Mr. Wahaj us Siraj (Micronet) and Dr. Aamir Matin (Cisco) have been assisting us in this matter as they have not only used our services but know Cogilent for many years. We would like an amicable end to this debacle and cooperate but we are only getting threats.

So far, we have called up PASHA (Pakistan Software Houses Association), PSEB (Pakistan Software Export Board), ISPAK (Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan) to assist and help us in this regard. But PTA/FIA have not budged from their position.

Conclusion:
On one side, the government is promising so many incentives to help the nascent software Industry in the country. On the other, it is using these horrendous acts of saboteur that it makes it impossible for us to work efficiently.

If there is an issue then they should send us a notice or talk to us first and discuss the matter. To barge into our offices, locking up our staff and seizing our hardware/software will not help in any way get them more investment in the country. The most ironic part of the incident was that our office is located in the Software technology park, less than 100 feet from Pakistan Software Export Board and two floors below Ministry of IT and Telecom.

In today’s day and age, we need to understand that we are not all guilty until proven innocent. Sometimes, just talking to us and working together will help. We will not only cooperate but will also be able to share new developments in the industry.

Cogilent Solutions has always prided ourselves for being self made. We started with nothing in our pockets in 2002 and worked hard to generate all the revenue. We now employ 20 employees and pay our taxes on a regular basis. We have never taken any bribe or given to any company for doing any project. We have also shied away from any shady business and have only accepted legitimate projects.

We were also one of the first companies to successfully launch a web based business in Pakistan, called BrightSpyre (www.BrightSpyre.com) which today has almost 300,000 users. That is the largest online community of professionals in the country and Cogilent is proud to attract such a huge talent to its fold. We were awarded, “Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2004” award by Shell Corporation for successful innovation and creativity in hiring solutions in the country. We are also one of the only 100 software houses in the country that is ISO-9000 certified.

We now request your support and cooperation in amicably resolving this crisis that has plagued us this week. We are losing money daily and are also suffering. Your help in this regards will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks and regards,

Atif Mumtaz

14 Comments so far

  1. A for apple (unregistered) on December 13th, 2006 @ 3:18 pm

    A depressing fact altogether … May allah shower his mercies … It reminds me of the same tales we used to listen post 9/11 days … let’s see how quick teh Justice comes …

    Since justice delayed is justice denied …. so hopefully it wont be denied neither be delayed …!

    As far as protest is concerned it was a right step by CS/IT professinals of islamabad … I went to "see" it too – even few ppl came all the way from ufone I-9 to participate in it …!


  2. Phil (unregistered) on December 13th, 2006 @ 9:22 pm

    The sad part is that the Judicial Framework on Internet Technology matters is so pathetic that there might be no proper justice in this case. I see the company paying a huge sum to quench PTA/PTCL people in a hegemonized monopoly over telecommunications. OK, they are listed on Forbes 1000 Asia but that doesnt mean they go out kidnapping people for VoIP services.

    Further more, that I wont make hasty decisions until the PTA/PTCL side of the story is heard. The email that is pasted here does say:

    In our office, at Islamabad, we manage a telephone exchange that is based on our product IRIS and popular software called Asterisk. This exchange was brought live a few months ago to not only enhance the functionality of our IRIS product but also to act as our inter-office exchange. It is completely VoIP as almost all inter-office exchanges are. It is primarily used to call within the office for communications and to our clients, our homes and friends through our PSTN gateway.

    There is no telling that test calls were made to USA or UK ‘offices’…?! There is no telling they charged their ‘exclusive’ employees for their calls to their ‘homes’ and ‘offices’.

    It doesnt take a CS or IT proffessional to tell that there is something stinking on both sides…says a CS guy. And that @stanford.edu doesnt impress me, he has his own company and cant afford a personalized email on company domain.


  3. IslooGirl1 (unregistered) on December 13th, 2006 @ 9:53 pm

    The phone # is from CA (Area Code 650) – Stanford Alumni Association phone # is 650 723 2021 & Operator # 650 723 2300


  4. 1967 (unregistered) on December 13th, 2006 @ 9:56 pm

    Wonderful analysis Phil. But you should not undermine the fact that unless proven guilty in a court of law, you are technically not guilty. You cannot be inhibitted from working, and by no way can you gate crash a private office to abduct the CEO.


  5. Ovais (unregistered) on December 14th, 2006 @ 12:05 am

    For those who this that VoIP is illegal, it was legalised by PTA in 2003. License is only required if you terminate the VoIP calls on basic telephony. And this is evident from the fact that PTA people didn’t find any gateway, sims or any other termination equipment.


  6. Talha (unregistered) on December 14th, 2006 @ 3:01 pm

    Great coverage!!

    Sad news…


  7. A for [pine]Apple (unregistered) on December 14th, 2006 @ 5:17 pm

    FYI – Just another mail I got following the issues raised in IT sector …!

    The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Federal Investigation
    Agency (FIA) are taking a serious view of any violation of the Pakistan
    Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act 1996 and in particular
    non-authorized use of the Internet for Voice Traffic (VOIP). Recently PTA &
    FIA conducted a raid on an Islamabad based software development company and
    arrested its CEO for alleged illegal termination of calls (illegal use of
    VOIP). The company was accused of committing offences under section 31 of
    the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act 1996, section 36/37 of
    Electronic Transaction Ordinance 2002, section 25 C of Telegraphic Act 1885
    and sections 34/420 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

    Pakistan Software Export Board urges all of its member companies to
    comply with the legal undertaking provided when signing up for Internet
    Service Provision as well as all rules, regulations and conditions
    prescribed in relevant laws which can be accessed at the following URLs:

    1. Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act 1996 at
    http://www.pta.gov. pk
    2. Electronic Transaction Ordinance 2002 at
    http://www.pakistan. gov.pk/divisions /itandtelecom- division/ media/eto2002. pdf

    Unless you are a call center registered with the PSEB, you should not be
    using the Internet for Voice Traffic. In addition, you must comply with all
    rules, regulations and conditions of operation as a call center. The
    detailed procedure for facilitation of Domestic and International Call
    Centers can be downloaded from the website of PTCL at
    http://www.ptcl.com. pk/tariff/ call_centres/ download/ call_center_ policy.doc

    Kindly note that if you are a developer of VoIP products, who generates
    minimal voice traffic over the Internet for product testing purposes only,
    then you are advised to please contact PTA for clarification and special
    permission with full justification of the case with a copy to PSEB at
    info@pseb.org. pk.

    Note that illegal generation of VoIP traffic can lead to arrest,
    imprisonment, and/or fines under the applicable rules and regulations stated
    above


  8. Atif (unregistered) on December 15th, 2006 @ 9:24 am

    Hi Phil,

    The stanford address was not to impress anyone. Our Cogilent mail server was located in our office and they siezed our gateway router, thus taking all our machines off the internet. Hence, our server was offline when I sent that email out. So I was not trying to impress anyone, it was just logistics at that time.

    As regards the VoIP. We are allowed to use it as it is now perfectly legal by PTA’s own order in 2003. And when we met with the Chairman PTA, earlier this week, he himself clearly mentioned that test calls are ok… even if anyone makes over 100 a month!

    Furthermore, the offense that they claim we are doing is running a call center. Which is quite preposterous…. as so far they have found nothing and no evidence for that has been brought forward.


  9. 1967 (unregistered) on December 15th, 2006 @ 10:04 am

    Atif:

    Very sad to hear that. We are all with you on this if your case and point of view are valid and justified. But even if you were guilty of comitting the offense, I still believe it did not make sense to abduct the CEO and shut down the office like this. It creates a really bad image in the software market, and let me tell you the whole software community is offended by this incident.

    This seems like being a prisoner in your own country, and your is not the first case. I know many big giants in the US with whom when you talk about bringing business to Pakistan ward it off as a silly joke. That’s because contrary to what we think, these people are closely following what is going on in Pakistan and in many cases are even more aware of what our “informed” Paki brothers know.


  10. Shakeel Ahmad (unregistered) on December 15th, 2006 @ 3:19 pm

    http://www.thenews.com.pk/print1.asp?id=35307

    i just wanna say , this is Pakistan – expect these stupid outrageous & sh** actions from dictator’s Government…


  11. 1967 (unregistered) on December 15th, 2006 @ 3:51 pm

    As for the so called telecom sector, the bubble has already burst. Paktel is shutting down, and there have been earlier instances of phone card companys who could not continue to do business, because they were “fined” in hundreds of million ruppees, just because PTCL suddenly realised that one of it’s clauses was causing huge IP traffic. Result: Companys like dvcom went bankrupt.


  12. Formerly Yahya (unregistered) on December 15th, 2006 @ 7:42 pm

    Easier to get away with murder these days in Islamabad then (alleged) VoIP traffic.


  13. Mike (unregistered) on December 15th, 2006 @ 8:12 pm

    When Pervez Musharraf comes to USA next time and if he doesn’t hide like he has been… then he should surely get ready to clarify the false promises he and his gov. is masking and trying to fool around the IT world! Does these guys even know what is VOIP? At last the People of Pakistan are responsible for such act. Government is your servant not boss, WALKUP PAKISTAN!


  14. Formerly Yahya (unregistered) on December 17th, 2006 @ 5:33 am

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