The South Asia Channel

Pakistan to Split, Sell National Airline; Abdullah Congratulates Ghani; Modi Launches Ambitious Campaign

Pakistan Pakistan to split national airline Mohammad Zubair, Pakistan’s privatization czar, told Reuters on Thursday that the country plans to split the ailing Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) carrier into two separate companies and "sell control of the core business to a global airline over the next 18 months" (Reuters). Noting that political opposition to the ...

FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/GettyImages
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/GettyImages

Pakistan

Pakistan to split national airline

Mohammad Zubair, Pakistan’s privatization czar, told Reuters on Thursday that the country plans to split the ailing Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) carrier into two separate companies and "sell control of the core business to a global airline over the next 18 months" (Reuters). Noting that political opposition to the sale will be intense, Zubair said no decision had been made about a possible buyer, though he mentioned Gulf giants Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways as possibilities.

PIA has some 17,000 employees, but just 36 aircraft — 10 of which are currently grounded due to a lack of spare parts. It has also faced a number of scandals, with one pilot arrested in the United Kingdom for being three times over the legal alcohol limit before he was set to fly in 2013, and another delaying a New York-bound flight for more than two hours as he waited for a sandwich delivery.

The sale is one of several Zubair is overseeing this fiscal year, in an attempt to raise around $4 billion. News about the PIA sale came just days after media outlets reported Pakistan would sell a 7.5 stake in the country’s Oil & Gas Development Co. in October, which should raise about $815 million.

Scotsman shot and wounded in Pakistani jail, Christian pastor killed

Muhammad Asghar, a 70-year-old Scotsman from Edinburgh who is currently being held in a Pakistani jail on blasphemy charges, was shot and wounded by a policeman on Thursday (BBC). According to reports, Asghar was in his cell in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail — known for overcrowding and poor conditions — when the attack occurred. The officer, said to be a constable with the Elite Force, walked up to the cell and fired several shots, hitting Asghar in the arm and back (Dawn). He was then over-powered by the facility’s security guards. Asghar is currently recovering in the jail’s hospital. 

Asghar was arrested in 2010 after writing letters to a number of people claiming to be a prophet. He was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in January 2014 (Reuters). Asghar’s family and lawyers have argued that he has a history of mental illness, and British politicians and activists have been campaigning for his release.

Reuters also reported that Zafar Bhatti, a Christian pastor who shared a cell with Asghar, was killed during the incident; it was the only news source that cited Bhatti’s death. According to the wire service, Bhatti was on trial for blasphemy; in 2012, an Islamic leader accused him of sending text messages that were derogatory to the Prophet Muhammad’s mother. According to Bhatti’s family, he had received death threats from both inmates and guards at the prison in recent weeks.

Afghanistan

Bonus Read: "Rebuild Afghanistan’s Giant Buddhas? Foot-Shaped Pillars Give Legs to Debate," Margherita Stancati (WSJ).

Abdullah optimistic about national unity government

At a press conference in Kabul on Thursday, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah congratulated President-elect Ashraf Ghani and said the national unity government the two one-time rivals agreed to earlier this week was a significant step in bringing Afghanistan back together after a contentious election (Pajhwok). He also apologized to the nation for the prolonged election process, assuring Afghans that: "All our negotiations in the past months have been to ensure the interests of the nation" (TOLO News). Making an argument for peace, Abdullah told those in attendance: "When disagreements emerge, it is easy to resort to violence. But there are severe, damaging consequences that the nation would suffer from. The nation doesn’t deserve that." Bonus Reads: "Getting to Known Afghanistan’s New Leaders," Saleha Soadat (TOLO News); "Remembering Karzai" Frud Bezhan (RFE/RL).

BSA to be signed next week, U.S. State Department says

An official for the U.S. State Department told reporters on Wednesday that the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) — which will determine the size and scope of any U.S. troop presence that remains in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends in December — will be signed just days after Ghani is sworn in as president on Sep. 29 (Pajhwok). Though both Ghani and Abdullah had agreed to sign the BSA during their political campaigns, the New York Times‘ Michael R. Gordon noted that they "recommitted themselves to the agreement in recent weeks as they worked out the terms of a power-sharing arrangement" (NYT). Gordon went on to say that: "Though widely anticipated, the signing of the agreement is an important step that would provide a legal basis for American forces to advise Afghan forces after 2014." A similar agreement between the Afghan government and NATO is expected to be signed shortly after the BSA is finalized (VOA).

— Bailey Cahall

India

Modi launches ambitious "Make in India" campaign

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while speaking to an audience of CEOs in New Delhi on Thursday, inaugurated the "Make in India" campaign, an ambitious initiative to make India an international manufacturing hub (NDTV, BBC). The campaign plans to make it easier for companies to do business in India and cut governmental red tape. Modi said: "For Indians, FDI is First Develop India…for foreigners, [foreign direct investment] is an opportunity," adding that: "Global companies want to come to Asia but they don’t know where to look in Asia… Democracy, the demographic dividend, and strong demand are important factors, and India has all three" (Livemint).

Modi, stressing public-private partnerships, said: "Government is committed to development. This is not a political agenda, but an article of faith" (Indian Express). Presently, manufacturing contributes only 15 percent to India’s gross domestic product. The government identified 25 sectors where India has the potential of becoming a world leader, and released separate brochures for these sectors, which include automobiles, aviation, chemicals, information technology, leather, pharmaceuticals, ports, railways, textiles, tourism and hospitality, and wellness. Modi also launched a website —www.makeinindia.com — through which business queries will be answered within 72 hours.

Indian government reshuffles bureaucrats overnight

The Indian government in New Delhi issued orders late on Tuesday night that reshuffled senior officers belonging to the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Audits and Accounts Service, the Indian Civil Accounts Service, the Indian Forest Service, the Indian Postal Service, and the Central Secretariat Service (Indian Express). The transferred officers include joint secretaries and their seniors. 

Although the Indian government described the reshuffle of mid-ranking bureaucrats as "routine administrative transfers," the bureaucrats have named it a "midnight massacre," and are saying that factors like efficiency and proximity to the previous government were some reasons for the biggest reshuffle since the Bharatiya Janata Party came into power earlier this year (Times of India). Livemint reports that one bureaucrat, speaking anonymously, said: "They have brought in several new people from states. The move seems (designed) to place their own people in sensitive posts in areas of coal, petroleum, finance and foreign ministries" (Livemint). A transferred officer pointed out that while such transfers were common at the state-level, "[t]his is the first time that such transfers have happened en masse at the [center]."

Indian cabinet approves clean India campaign 

The Indian Union Cabinet, under Modi, on Wednesday approved the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) mission — a program that will be implemented over a five-year period in 4,401 towns — in a bid to promote cleanliness and sanitation in urban areas (Times of India). The program will be launched on Oct. 2, which is Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. Under the mission, public toilets and solid waste management facilities will be built in each town, and community toilets will be built in neighborhoods where it is hard to construct individual household toilets. Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s law minister, said: "The program includes elimination of open defecation, conversion of unsanitary toilets to pour flush toilets, eradication of manual scavenging, municipal solid waste management and bringing about a behavioral change in people regarding healthy sanitation practices" (Indian Express).

Modi, speaking about the campaign on Tuesday, said: "I myself am going out to use the broom. People often wonder why I keep harping on these small things. It is because I am a small man. These small people with their small works can take the country to supreme heights" (DNA). He added that: "I am seeking alms from countrymen. In alms, I seek your 100 hours in a year. We will together launch [this] cleanliness drive. You give your two hours in a week… As you clean up your house for a guest, prosperity will enter our country if we remove all dirt."

— Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan

Edited by Peter Bergen.

Neeli Shah is a Washington D.C.-based economics, law, and policy professional. She is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. @neelishah

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