Islamabad/New Delhi, Oct 3 – Pakistan and China have been collaborating in the field of space technology for some time now. The progress made thus far by Pakistan in building its space infrastructure has been mainly a result of constant assistance from China, even though Pakistan had taken the initiative of setting up its Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) as early as in 1961 with a promising dream of building its own space architecture under the guidance and supervision of Abdus Salam — a Pakistani physicist and Nobel Laureate, who is also the founder of the Pakistani space programme.
However, over the years, the Pakistani space programme did not witness as much growth as was expected and planned due to increased focus by the government on the nuclear programme. This led to shifting of scientific talent and resources towards Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
Moreover, the years of governance by the military led to a lack of freedom and independence for scientists in Pakistan. Realization of prioritized objectives became the mainstay of the scientific community. Subsequently, with the signing of an agreement between the Chinese Ministry of Aerospace Industry and SUPARCO in 1991, the Pakistani space programme got more attention.
Over the years, one saw considerable exchanges between the two sides as the Pakistani space program saw progress and growth. China and Pakistan also signed a 2012-2020 roadmap for space cooperation between SUPARCO and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) in 2012. This agreement sets the pace for more intensive cooperation between the two sides.
Besides, the fact that China and Pakistan have signed an agreement on space exploration, China has also successfully launched two remote sensing satellites for Pakistan. There are also plans for Pakistan to send an astronaut to space with the help of China. The Chinese have also been assisting Pakistan in its Remote Sensing Satellite project.
According to reliable inputs, SUPARCO is in the process of acquiring Satellite Image Telemetry Service and Associated Ground Station for High-Resolution Optical Satellite Constellation. In this regard, a Chinese entity M/s China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC), has come forward in cooperating with SUPARCO. The technical proposal submitted by the company is presently under consideration before being finalized. Earlier, in August 2020, SUPARCO was in the process of procuring High-Resolution Optical Satellite imagery data and its telemetry services, and the Chinese company M/s China Volant Industries Co. Ltd. (VOLINCO) had come forward with assistance.
Pakistan has also been exploring the possibility of cooperation with other countries in the space sector with the aim of modernizing and advancing its space programme. In this connection, a three-member delegation from SUPARCO was scheduled to visit (September 5) Bucharest to meet officials of M/s Airbus Defence and Space. The delegation, led by Zafar Iqbal, Member, Space Application Research Wing, was also to discuss possible areas of bilateral cooperation with Romania in the field of Space Sciences,Technology & Applications. M/s Airbus Defence and Space, Romania, established in 2005, is a subsidiary of M/s Airbus that provides a full spectrum of defence & space products and related services.
Space programmes are of enormous value for a developing nation especially in the context of peaceful uses of space technology which can contribute towards climate monitoring, agriculture science, socio-economic sector, urban planning etc. However, Pakistan has always been seeking a competitive edge over India in every sphere and the high degree of insecurity that prevails in the Pakistani establishment vis-a-vis India has undoubtedly led to a strong defence centric focus of its space programme.
With China’s assistance, Pakistan would have been inevitably working towards proactively building the framework of a defence oriented space programme. This is an area that will warrant close watch by the international community as behind the scene cooperation between China and Pakistan can lead to damaging outcomes, especially since Pakistan’s core objective in expanding its space and nuclear programmes has been to remain a step ahead, if not at par, of India.