The government has banned mobile number portability (MNP), barring cellular phone subscribers from switching over to other networks while retaining the number issued by the first service provider.

The decision was taken at a meeting, presided over by Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Thursday. The meting discussed the law and order situation, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan, and security arrangements for Muharram. Top police officers and home secretaries from the provinces, representatives of intelligence agencies and senior officials of the interior ministry attended the meeting.

According to an official, the MNP facility was creating problems in tracking down criminals’ whereabouts.

An official of a cellular company said he was unaware of the reason behind any such decision. “We can only say something after receiving an official communication. I wonder if it is a temporary arrangement or a complete ban.”

Other important decisions taken at the meeting included a new procedure for issuing subscriber identity module (SIM) for mobile phones. A SIM will now be issued only on production of a computerised national identity card and utility bills.