India recently launched the first South Asia Satellite, built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and funded entirely by India, that at once boosted its ‘neighbourhood first policy’, as well as helped it carve a unique place for itself in space diplomacy by ‘gifting’ a satellite to its neighbours.
The benefits of India’s GSAT-9, or the South Asia Satellite, include mapping natural resources, telemedicine, IT connectivity and people-to-people links. It is also expected to cement bonds between Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and overcome the negative vibes from Pakistan, which is the only South Asian country to opt out of the project.
Pakistan was the only country to stay away from the celebration of the launch of the satellite from Sriharikota, off the coast of Andhra Pradesh, when a group of South Asian leaders joined Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi via a satellite link. In his remarks, Modi recalled that he had made a “promise to extend advanced space technology for the cause of growth and prosperity of our brothers and sisters in South Asia” at the 2014 summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Kathmandu.
“The successful launch of the South Asia Satellite marks the fulfilment of that. With this launch, we have started a journey to build the most advanced frontier of our partnership,” Modi said. “Our coming together is a sign of our unshakeable resolve, to place the needs of our people in the forefront. It shows that collective choices for our citizens will bring us together for cooperation, not conflict; development, not destruction; and prosperity, not poverty,” he added.
The South Asia Satellite will help partner countries in effective communication, better governance, better banking and education in remote areas, more predictable weather forecasting and efficient resource mapping, linking people with top-end medical services through telemedicine and quick response to natural disasters.
The South Asia Satellite is a geosynchronous communications and meteorology satellite. According to news reports, it will provide significant capability to each of the participating countries in terms of DTH (direct-to-home), besides linking the countries for disaster information transfer.
Each South Asian country will get access to one transponder through which they will be able to beam their own programming, besides common “South Asian programming”. The countries will have to develop their own ground infrastructure, though India is willing to extend assistance and know-how. Initially, it was to be named “SAARC Satellite”, but its name was changed to South Asia Satellite after Pakistan refused to join the project, citing monetary adversaries.
In his remarks, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani noted that South Asia was one of the least integrated regions in the world. “South Asia today has taken a giant step towards regional integration,” he said. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina noted that the new satellite would change the face of South Asia and expand connectivity from land and water to space.
In his message, Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay described the launch of the South Asia Satellite as an “impressive milestone in the history of the world” with one country launching a satellite for the “free use of its neighbours”. Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Gayoom said in his remarks that the launch of the satellite underlined India’s “neighbourhood first” foreign policy and showed its commitment to the development of the region.
Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda said that the satellite was a “testimony” to South Asia becoming self-reliant in space science. The satellite would boost connectivity in the region that in turn would spur development. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said that the satellite would help alleviate poverty and improve the living standards of South Asians.