Where is Pakistan’s Chandrayaan?


Dr Qaisar Rashid

On July 14, the Chandrayaan-3 spaceship lifted off from the Launchpad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. Chandrayaan, the moon mission, is expected to reach the Moon’s South Pole for a soft landing with a lander and rover on the lunar surface (where water is expected) by August 23-24. By doing so, India would join the group of elite nations (United States, Russia and China) that had achieved the feat.
For a developing country, like India, mere launching the moon mission is a great achievement, especially after the failure of the first two lunar exploits. It simply means that India remained unfaltering in trying again and again to taste success. It also means that India relied on its scientists working in the space program to justify high expenditures in carrying out space research against all odds.
Taking forward the space research initiative of India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who founded the Indian National Committee for Space Research in 1962, India founded the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) on August 15, 1969. The main objective of the ISRO was to develop space technology and apply it to study space and its phenomena to meet various national needs such as developing satellite launching vehicles, throwing uni-purpose or multi-purpose satellites into required orbits, and sending space missions for exploration of extraterrestrial life. Currently, ISRO is the world’s sixth-largest space agency.
Focusing on Information Technology (IT) benefitted India a lot in reinforcing the ISRO. The IT section helped the ISRO in satellite communication, satellite tracking and navigation, remote sensing, spacecraft monitoring and control, ground station operations, and data analytics and processing. Regarding Chandrayaan-3spacemission, the IT facility of the communication system would help the mission explore the Moon through a lander and a rover. These machines would not only communicate with each other the gathered data through sensors but they would also communicate with the ISRO ground station through relay centers and satellites to transmit the data.
With the help of Tata Industries, India’s IT industry was born in 1967 in Mumbai. The first software export zone called Santacruz Electronics Export Processing Zone (SEEPZ) was developed in 1973 also in Mumbai. The SEEPZ is the precursor to the modern-day IT park. Rajiv Gandhi is greeted as the Father of Information Technology and the Telecom Revolution of India because, in August 1984, he established the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), which made possible the concept of Digital India.
This was the time when the Cold War was going on. The former Soviet Union helped India develop its space program. After the end of the Cold War in 1991, India laid more emphasis on the IT sector, especially on software development. Governments continued uninterrupted and prime ministers kept on strengthening the IT sector. This was the time when Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan) were rearing their heads with rapid industrialization and high growth rates of more than seven percent a year. These were four high-income economies, which made the Asian Miracle possible. India was failing in competing with them, till 1997 when the Asian Financial Crisis posed a setback to their economic growth. This was the entry point for India with its workforce equipped with English proficiency, IT expertise, and cost-effective advantage. The education system with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) offered a large pool of highly skilled and educated IT professionals. By formulating and implementing various policies (such as offering tax incentives, subsidies and other benefits) to grow the IT sector, the Indian government hastened the entry of the Indian IT workforce into the export sector.
Today, the share of the IT sector is about nine percent of India’s GDP. Further, the IT sector is budding at a nine percent growth rate per year. India’s IT market stands at $180 billion worth and it is projected to grow to $350 billion by 2025. Indian IT experts ask the world to outsource IT work to them.
Against this background, the question is this: India’s Chandrayaan is en route to the Moon, where is Pakistan’s Chandrayaan?
Though, under the guidance of a physicist and Nobel Laureate Dr Abdus Salam, Pakistan established its Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission in 1961, and though Pakistan has also sought the help of China, Pakistan’s Chandrayaan is not in sight. Pakistan’s IT sector is still rudimentary.
After 1991, when India was struggling to make its position secure amongst exporters of IT services, Pakistan was grappling with political make-and-break. Pakistan squandered the decade of the 1990s in internal bickering and strife. Though dictator General Zia ul Haq had gone, people kept on intervening behind closed doors to construct a favourable system. Lured by prospects of power, politicians became willing guinea pigs, the experimental rodents. On top of it, Pakistan’s overreliance on aid in dollars dumped initiatives for self-reliance.
Pakistan is not sure what kind of education system must be permitted to continue. Just a year ago, Pakistan was experimenting with the introduction of one syllabus to serve all. Courts are in action to discourage the use of English in the country. More and more Pakistanis are learning to write English in Urdu such as Aur Aap Ka Kiya Haal Hai? (instead of writing, How are you?), while communicating with each other. Not pure sciences but social sciences are still preferred subjects, and then come strikes to demand employment in the government sector.
Pakistan has failed to make its population understand that the government sector is no longer a platform for offering employment.
Today, Pakistan has to service a debt of around $2 billion a month for the next three years (including this fiscal year) to fund its external payment obligations. Pakistan is falling back upon the agriculture sector for economic revival. The army would now watch Pakistan’s agricultural interests. Moreover, not any industrial sector, but real estate is the main cradle of the circulation of money, besides becoming a door for permitting black money to enter the mainstream economy. Instead of becoming an exporter of goods, Pakistan has become an importer – the trend which depletes foreign currency reserves offering a crisis in the balance of payment.
Just to weaken political governments, the dirty role of propoing up religious sentiments translated into demonstrations and rallies has not only weakened the resolve of the political governments but such tactics have also empowered religious zealots to question frequently the country’s trajectory. Anything carrying a semblance of the West is derided as unIslamic.
Pakistan’s Chandrayaan has been lost in short-sightedness, internal strife and lack of understanding of the world’s needs.