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Pakistan Loses Internet, Chaos Ensues

While Pakistan must wait several days for its primary link to the Internet to be restored, commercial activities, particularly banking, are "a big disaster" without connections to the Web.
While Pakistan must wait several days for its primary link to the Internet to be restored, commercial activities, particularly banking, are "a big disaster" without connections to the Web, according to news reports from the region.

On Monday, the undersea fiber optic cable that connects Pakistan to the rest of the world was damaged -- reasons yet unknown -- and the country's 10 million Internet users were without access to servers outside their borders. The damaged cable was 21 miles out to sea, off Pakistan's main port, Karachi.

This is the second time in the last three months that Internet service to and from Pakistan has been disrupted. In April, a similar problem resulted in a shorter outage.

Although a repair ship was dispatched from the United Arab Emirates, it didn't arrive on the site until Thursday. The Emirates Telecommunications Co., which owns the ship, said repairs would take at least 48 hours, since the cable would have to hauled to the surface.

Pakistan is connected to the rest of the Internet through this one cable.

But it's not the only country in the area affected. While the cable is being fixed, Internet users in India, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Djibouti will also experience disruptions for several hours as all data in the cable is shut down. The cable is owned by a consortium of 90 countries, and has end points in 36, including Pakistan.

Internet users and businesses, meanwhile, scrambled to deal with the sudden Internet-less environment.

"Most of our work is being carried out manually," a foreign bank dealer told Reuters on Wednesday, as banking transactions aren't being logged electronically as they would normally. "A large backlog has built up, and it's increasing all the time. It's a big disaster," said the banker.

Other reports told of brokerage houses seeing a 60 percent dip in trading.

In the meantime, Pakistan Telecommunication Co. Ltd., which operates the data link between the country and the rest of the Internet, had brought up two satellite-based systems. The stopgap, however, was providing only about a third of the normal bandwidth that the country enjoys.

To prevent any future disruption, the president of Pakistan Telecommunication, Junaid I. Khan, said Wednesday that a backup cable would be laid by October, and if the government gives approval, a third line would be laid to India, to connect Pakistan with its often-rival's Internet backbone.

Telephone links within Pakistan, and between Pakistan and the rest of the world, were not affected by the data cable outage.