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Friday, February 3, 2023
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Pakistan wants peace in space but weaponization is inevitable

Pakistan is apparently the last link of the strategic chain in which the United States and China influence each other’s strategic behavior, India follows the lead and eventually, Pakistan has to reluctantly react. Anything India tests considering a threat from China, might not exclusively be used against China only.

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At a time when other nuclear states like the United States of America, Russia, China and India are establishing or enhancing the preexisting, designated space forces and assets, it might sound odd for another nuclear state like Pakistan to champion the cause of peaceful space exploration. Pakistan has always maintained that it is against the exploitation of space for military purposes in any shape and form and that it believes space to be a ‘common heritage of mankind. The idea, however, has its merits as ground realities do support the stance that Pakistan has taken but given the geopolitical realities and its own geography that has proved to be more of a bane, eventually, Pakistan might have to follow the course.

Firstly, it is important to assess the merits of Pakistan’s approach to a peaceful space. Being a small country that has faced an existential threat from its much larger eastern neighbor India since independence, Pakistan realizes that the economic cost of national security is simply too high. Since it became a matter of life and death, Pakistan had to go down the path of nuclear weapons after the Indian nuclear tests. The national resolve culminated in establishing deterrence stability in South Asia. However, the country has faced economic and diplomatic repercussions for detonating the nuclear devices in response to Indian tests in 1998.

Read more: Beg, Borrow and Repeat: A Tale of Pakistan’s Obsession with the IMF

Space exploration is an expensive venture

Cost per launch has plummeted in recent decades courtesy of innovation in the space industry, still, the average per launch cost is around $62 million. It costs $1200per pound of the payload that a rocket carries, notwithstanding the humongous costs associated with research and development of the payload worthy of sending into space. And to put things in perspective, Pakistan’s entire budget allocated for its space research agency, SUPARCO, stand at nearly $38 million or 8.7 Billion PKR for FY 2022-23. The cost itself would not have been a problem had the country’s economy been thriving.

But the truth is that the situation is as bad as it could get and it has never been in a state where substantial resources could be allocated for the space program, either civilian or military. Hence, it is logical to think that Pakistan would want to prevent the weaponization of outer space because if the precedent of the nuclear race is an indicator, once it becomes an existential matter, every country would opt for guns instead of bread. It sets the country onto a path where the common people suffer the most as scarce resources are redirected towards defense. Hence Pakistan prioritizes utilizing the limited resources it has to explore space for much-needed socioeconomic development.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, its geography does not complement the intended approach toward space. It borders India and China, the revisionist states on a regional and global scale respectively. It is evident from the technological build-up that both these states are eyeing space control. Revisionist China conducted an Anti-satellite (ASAT) test in 2007 to showcase its ability to target any space-based critical infrastructure if need be. In response, India conducted its own ASAT test in 2019 which many experts foresaw ever since China’s ASAT test.

Pakistan is apparently the last link of the strategic chain in which the United States and China influence each other’s strategic behavior, India follows the lead and eventually, Pakistan has to reluctantly react. Anything India tests considering a threat from China, might not exclusively be used against China only. Furthermore, India has been continuously improving its space-based ISR capabilities. It has long-term strategic implications for Pakistan in terms of its nuclear deterrence.

Read more: The power game and the future of Pakistan

In 2011, National Command Authority (NCA) approved Pakistan Space Vision 2047. In his speech, then SUPARCO chairman highlighted the mission statement as “space as a strategic sector, exploit all aspects of space science, technology and its application for national well-being and national security.” The fast-paced transition in space technologies for military purposes in Southern Asia might eventually lead Pakistan to follow the suit of its neighbors and pursue the requisite course for its national security needs.

 

 

The writer works as a Research Officer at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. His work focuses on ‘Developments and Militarization in Outer Space’. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy.