South Asian nations could move closer with India’s launch of a free-to-use satellite that will have applications across communications, governance, banking, remote education, weather forecasting, resource mapping and telemedicine.
In a region that is prone to disasters, the satellite will also give timely warnings to ensure a co-ordinated response.
New Delhi’s space diplomacy comes amid doubts that neighbors such as Nepal and Sri Lanka may be moving closer to China in response to India’s “big brother” attitude. The countries who will use GSAT-9 are
Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
Pakistan, which rejected India’s offer to use the satellite, and Sri Lanka, had previously launched satellites with the help of China. The launch of GSAT-9 is therefore seen as an attempt by India to prevent China from helping more neighbors in launching communication satellites.
It also fulfills a promise made by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Kathmandu SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit in 2014 to use Indian scientists’ skills in space technology to further the peace and prosperity of its members.
India initially wanted to label GSAT-9 “a SAARC satellite” but settled for “a South Asia satellite” after Pakistan pulled out of the project alleging India was unwilling to develop the project on a collaborative basis.
For Modi, the launch of the satellite is significant as it puts his governance theme “together with all, development for all” and his “neighborhood first policy” into a new orbit.
As he put it, “the launch tells us that even the sky is not the limit when it comes to regional cooperation”.
Soon after the launch, Modi joined South Asian leaders via satellite link.
Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said the satellite pointed to South Asia becoming self-reliant in space science. He said he hoped it would vastly improve communications in his country’s mountainous and remote areas.
Ashraf Ghani, the prime minister of Afghanistan, said even though India and Afghanistan do not share a land border, they can still be connected through space.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said the satellite would help in reducing poverty and improving the living standards of South Asians.
According to reports, each South Asian country will get free access to one transponder through which they will be able to beam their own programing, besides common South Asian programing.