Friday 5th may 2017; India successfully launched the ‘South Asia Satellite’ which was supposed to be known as the SAARC satellite to honor the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Pakistan refused to accept this particular Indian “Gift”.
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“The successful launch of South Asia Satellite is a historic moment. It opens up new horizons of engagement,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi
On the day of the launch, Pakistan’s foreign office released their explanation as to why Pakistan is not willing to be a part of this project. The explanation, which was straight forward and obvious, stated that the reason is India’s unwillingness to allow the participation of other nations in the development of the satellite namely, of course, Pakistan.
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“As India was not willing to develop the project on a collaborative basis, it was not possible for Pakistan to support it as a regional project under the umbrella of SAARC.”
– Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria
Pakistan, having its own space program known as SUPARCO (Space and upper Atmosphere research commission), which is eight years older than ISRO (Indian space research organization), offered its assistance in the development of this supposedly joint project for all South Asian nations but after the refusal of the Indians on the matter. Pakistan became uncomfortable with the exact objectives of this Indian initiative; especially since both nations frequently point fingers at one another about spying. Incidents such as the capture of Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadav by the Pakistani’s and the “spy” pigeons and ‘ISI dogs’ of Pakistan.
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“Pakistan, having its own space program at an advanced level, was ready to share its expertise and technological know-how and was keen to participate in the project but India’s solo flight caused Pakistan to opt out of the project,”
– Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria.
So far Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Maldives have signed up to make use of the satellite. Pakistan said it was working on its own satellite and did not join. The satellite, according to the Indian foreign ministry, will provide different services ranging from television services to communications technology for bank ATMs and e-governance. They further added that it may even serve as a backup for cellular networks, especially in places where the terrestrial connectivity is weak.
Both Pakistani and Indian media agree on one common analysis which is the satellites use to counter the Chinese influence in the region creating a battle for economic supremacy in the region between the two economic giants. China, which is Pakistan’s greatest ally and apparently India’s economic rival, has involved itself in numerous economic projects in South Asia, CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) being India’s biggest threat which, like the “South Asia satellite” was a project open for all to participate in but administrative authority only remained with the Chinese. India using its trying to push back against China’s expanding involvement in infrastructure building across south Asia, by offering financial and technical aid of its own.
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“During the 18th SAARC Summit, India offered to ‘gift’ a satellite to SAARC member states, to be named as the so-called ‘SAARC Satellite’. Subsequently, however, India made it clear that it would build, launch and operate the satellite solely.”
– Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria
The project is a part of India’s “neighborhood first” policy, which is very similar to China’s “good neighbor policy”, and highlights India’s attempts at improving its neighborhood so that stability, which will lead to development.
However, despite Indian claims of neighborhood first policy, last year it torpedoed the SAARC conference that was to be held in November 2016, Pakistan. In a hostile attempt to isolate Pakistan in the region.
With escalating tensions between the two nations in light of recent events such as the alleged killing and mutilation of Indian soldiers by Pakistanis, the arrest of a twelve year old boy who is being accused of working with “terrorists” by the Indian’s in Kashmir, the talk of a retaliatory action the Indian military chief. The collaboration of the two nations in any projects through SAARC or any other collaboration in the near future seems like a whimsical thinking.