After consistently running into the Pakistan firewall, India wants its South Asian satellite project to take off on a sub-regional basis, again showing how issues between the neighbours could derail regional initiatives.
At the group’s annual summit in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced India would fund and launch a SAARC satellite that would help countries of the region in education, health and emergency communication during disasters.
Since then, Pakistan consistently raised concerns that the satellite would help India access information on its vital installations as well as resources.
With little hope of a consensus, senior Indian officials said New Delhi would now have to look at a policy by which it could go ahead with the project with willing countries while waiting for Pakistan to come onboard.
That would be akin to how India has moved on a regional road connectivity project after Pakistan refused to join the initiative under the SAARC rubric. India had gone ahead with connectivity plans with countries with the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) initiative in a bid to bypass the neighbour.
“The reason for Pakistan’s objection to the satellite is political. We need to move on with the project, hoping Islamabad has a change of heart sooner rather than later,” said an Indian official.
The SAARC agenda works on the principle of consensus and issues between India and Pakistan have interfered in regional integration.
An Indian official differed. “From day one, PM Modi made it very clear: it is a gift from India to SAARC countries. Subsequently, we sent out the concept paper of the project, where he stressed that this project is ‘voluntary’ in nature.” The SAARC satellite will have 12 transponders to cover the region.
Both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have announced their intention to join the project, though they raised a few issues.