India on Friday fulfilled its promise to launch a communications satellite in order to serve the needs of all the countries in South Asia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during 2014 SAARC summit in Kathmandu, had made the commitment to launch the satellite.
PM Modi called the successful launch of ISRO’s GSLV-F09, carrying the South Asia Satellite (GSAT-9), from at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, a “gift to SAARC nations.” The prime minister further thanked the leaders of the neighbouring nations – Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, President of Maldives Abdulla Yameen, Nepal Prime Minister Prachanda and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena – who joined the satellite launch event via video conferencing along with Modi. Pakistan was not a part of the project.
“The support and presence of these leaders will add even more joy in the hearts & minds of our region. We are a united family of South Asian countries, united in our pursuit of peace, progress & prosperity of our region & the entire humankind,” he said.
The move aimed at building stronger ties with South Asian nations, though, was criticised by Pakistan, who chose to stay away from the project. The neighbouring nation had earlier agreed to associate with the project and collaborate with India in building and designing the satellite. But Pakistan, later, pulled out forcing India to change the name from SAARC Satellite to South Asia Satellite.
Speaking to the media, Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria blamed India for excluding Pakistan from the project and said, “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,” Zakaria said.
Zakaria further added that Pakistan was keen to work on the project and was willing to share its expertise with India. “However, 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. The Satellite was then renamed as ‘South Asia Satellite’ as the project was taken out of the SAARC ambit,” he added.
While some analysts speculated Pakistan’s apprehension towards the satellite due to possible espionage concerns, Zakaria dismissed the speculations as “unfounded”, according to CNN.
The relations between the two nations have suffered severe strains in recent times, as India blamed Pakistan for mutilating the bodies of two soldiers at the Line of Control. Pakistan has denied the charges. Army Chief General Bipin Rawat on Thursday hinted at “retaliatory action” against the neighbouring nation. “We do not talk about future plans beforehand. We share details after execution of the plan… when this kind of action takes place, we also carry out retaliatory action,” he said.