The federal cabinet has approved the first-ever cyber security policy to improve national security amid looming threat of cyber warfare gaining roots across the globe, said Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry.
Addressing a news conference in Islamabad after the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Fawad said the world is moving towards the cyber warfare at a rapid pace and the government formulated the comprehensive policy in that regard, which is crucial to protect the cyber security regime and electronic data of citizens.
The development comes days after it was revealed that an Israeli firm, accused of supplying spyware to governments, was linked to hacking attempts on tens of thousands of smartphone numbers, including activists, journalists, business executives and politicians around the world.
At least one number once used by Prime Minister Imran Khan was also targeted by the NSO Group and its Pegasus malware, which is capable of switching a phone’s camera or microphone on and harvesting its data.
Israel’s Haaretz had reported that India targeted a phone which was earlier in PM Imran’s use, through the malware. Several Pakistani officials, Kashmiri freedom fighters, Indian Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, an Indian Supreme Court judge were also targeted, it added.
In today’s presser, Fawad said the government has decided to thoroughly investigate the attempted Indian cyber espionage attacks on mobile phones and gadgets of Pakistani top officials, and the findings would be shared with the United Nations.
Rubbishing the rigging allegations during Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) elections, Fawad said there was no possibility of fraud in the electoral process as the PML-N was in government there and it had appointed the chief election commissioner.
The PML-N leaders should rather concede their defeat instead of crying foul by holding a press conference at the AJK prime minister’s office, he added.
At the outset of meeting, Fawad said the cabinet members congratulated PM Imran over the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) ‘remarkable’ victory in the AJK elections.
The cabinet appreciated the efforts of federal ministers Ali Amin Gandapur, Murad Saeed, Ali Muhammad Khan, and others in that regard.
The victory in AJK elections was, in fact, a manifestation of the people’s confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, he added.
The minister said the cabinet was given a detailed briefing by Prime Minister’s Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan on the electoral reforms process.
He stressed that both the government and the opposition needed to build consensus on important national issues such as holding free, fair and transparent elections, which were vital for national development. Otherwise, the allegations of rigging would continue to be levelled by the losing parties after every election, he added.
Fawad said the past governments used to misuse the official resources just to defeat the opposition candidates in the bye-elections, and it was only the PTI in the country’s history that did not resort to such practice.
The minister said the government’s consultations with the opposition parties on electoral reforms were moving forward.
There was no stalemate and the process would resume soon after the return of National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser from Azerbaijan.
He said a detailed report was also presented before the cabinet on the expenses being spent on the protocol of VIPs, including the president, prime minister, cabinet members, governors and chief ministers, and judiciary.
He said some Rs700 million was being spent annually on the security of the federal government officials, Rs2,529 million in Punjab and Rs998 million in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Apart from Balochistan, he said Rs1,400 million were being spent on the security of judiciary in other three provinces. The security of judiciary was of paramount importance, and the law minister and attorney general would discuss the issue with them.
The prime minister, he said, had directed to formulate a new security mechanism in view of such an increase in the security expenditure of VIPs (Very Important Persons). A “Threat Assessment Committee” was being formed to formulate new security system, he added.
The minister quoted the prime minister as saying that the “protection of taxpayers’ money is the foremost responsibility of the government and the people should have confidence that their tax money is being used in a judicious manner”.
The minister said the cabinet also gave approval to the Advertisement Policy 2021, which envisaged issuance of ads to digital media as well.
Presently, he said, there were no outstanding dues of the media against the Press Information Department (PID).
The present government, he said, had taken steps to overcome the problem and necessary legislation would also be done in that regard soon, the minister said.
Fawad said the PID had become paperless, whereas advertisements and payment of dues details were now available on its website.
The minister said the cabinet was also briefed on the latest Covid situation in the country. It was informed that so far 650,000 vaccine jabs a day were being administered and the plan was to achieve the target of one million doses per day.
The government, he said, had set the target to get 40 per cent of the population vaccinated by the end of July, “but so far we are behind the target”.
It had planned to manage 70 per cent of the population vaccinated by the end of the year.
He said various big institutions were being asked to make arrangements for vaccination of their employees. Vaccination had been made mandatory for the employees of government corporations.
If the rate of voluntary vaccination did not increase, the government has the option to block the mobile SIMs of those not getting vaccinated, he warned.
(With input from News Desk)