09.10.2023 Author: Abbas Hashemite

Pakistan and India’s Space Race

Pakistan and India’s Space Race

Pakistan and India have always been competing with each other since their inception. The two countries took different paths to outdo each other after their independence. Pakistan joined the US bloc in the Cold War, while India opted to be a part of the Non-aligned Movement. Both countries have consistently been contesting for supremacy. This competition led to the nuclearization of South Asia as India developed nuclear weapons with a claim to create a balance of power with China. The former’s nuclear power frustrated Pakistan, and it also developed the nuclear weapon to ensure its sovereignty and integrity. Recently, India successfully landed the Chandrayaan-3 mission on the South Pole of the Moon, which made it the fourth country to land on the Moon. The launch of Chandrayaan-1, a mission that has been terminated after successfully achieving the majority of its objectives, marked the commencement of India’s space journey. After that, India launched Chandrayaan-2 which successfully entered the lunar orbit but crashed before completing its mission.

India’s success in this domain has augmented a space race in the region, and many in Pakistan questioned the credibility and performance of their space agency. In 1961, Pakistan started its space venture for the first time by establishing the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Committee (SUPARCO) by the assistance of the United States. The then President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan, visited the United States in 1961 along with some scientists.

NASA, at that time, was facing challenging wind conditions in the upper atmosphere over the Indian Ocean, which hindered the procurement of significant information for its Apollo missions to the Moon. As a result, NASA proposed Pakistan to launch rockets under its auspices, which included training and the provision of essential equipment. The latter found this offer undeniable. Pakistan shared the acquired data from experiments conducted at altitudes of up to 160 kilometers, accumulated by launching rockets over its territory. Surprisingly, Pakistan accomplished this mission within a duration of nine months, from taking the training to launching the rocket in the upper atmosphere, and became the third Asian country to achieve this ambition, after Israel and Japan.

In 1967, Pakistan set up its first rocket manufacturing plant in Karachi. The country launched an indigenously manufactured Shahpar and Rehnuma series in 1969. Pakistan’s astonishing performance in the pursuit of rocket technology made the Americans suspicious, and they extended further support for the country. This American support led to the establishment of an Instrumentation Laboratory, which set the stage for the country’s satellite program. Pakistan’s rocket program blossomed under the SUPARCO with the help of the United States throughout the 1960s. The country launched many rockets, including 2 hypersonic rockets which reached 1000 kilometers in the atmosphere. This provided a solid foundation for a civilian space program in Pakistan. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, the country’s internal and external challenges resulted in a shift towards the nuclear program from the space ambitions of the country. Contrary to the common perception that, India commenced its space program nearly seven years after Pakistan, but India was not far behind. It established the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSOPAR) in 1962 and conducted a similar data collection mission under this authority. INCOSOPAR was later superseded by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in 1969 under which India continued its space journey successfully.

Presently, India’s space program is light years ahead of Pakistan’s, prompting Pakistani officials and SUPARCO to aggravate the country’s space endeavors. A significant factor that contributed to Pakistan’s lag in the space realm is believed to be the differences in qualifications and merits of the high-level appointments within the respective space programs. Pakistan has always been dominated by the military establishment due to the security needs of the country. Terrorism and Indian threats have always dominated the policies of the country. Pakistan’s focus on its security needs and involvement in the nuclear race led the country out of the space race. SUPARCO has long been headed by military officials instead of scientists, which led to the shift of Pakistan’s policy decisions from the civilian space program to the nuclear program. On the other hand, ISRO has mostly been headed by distinguished scientists, which resulted in its success in the space realm.

The significance of space programs could not be denied as it is crucial for monitoring enemies, conducting space research, and accessing weather patterns. However, both countries have a plethora of other pressing issues which require foremost attention. Scores of people in both countries are living below the poverty line. As per the World Bank report, the poverty level in Pakistan is expected to reach 37.2 percent in 2023. Moreover, the infant mortality rate is also very high in these countries, which stands at 26.619 and 55.77 deaths per 1000 in India and Pakistan, respectively. Furthermore, according to a government survey, over 21 percent of Indian rural households lacks toilet facility. India has 1.2 million out of school while this number has surged to 23 million in Pakistan in the year 2023. Climate change is also affecting both countries adversely. Pakistan and India, both need to pay foremost attention to human development and other relevant issues instead of trying to outdo each other.


Abbas Hashemite- is a political observer and research analyst for regional and global geopolitical issues. He is currently working as an independent researcher and journalist, exclusively for “New Eastern Outlook“.

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