By Rustam Shah Mohmand
INDIA made history last month as its Chandrayaan-3 Vikram landed on the south pole of the moon. There were celebrations all over the country as people watched history being made. The lunar landing was a spectacular breakthrough in space exploration and will undoubtedly open more avenues and opportunities for more such missions in the future.
The landing of Vikram happened just a few days after a Russian attempt to land on the south pole ended in failure. In 2019, Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan -2 had failed to land successfully. Since then, pioneering efforts were underway to achieve the feat of the world’s now-most-populous country and establishing its credentials on the exploration of outer space. These efforts were finally crowned with a remarkable success as no other country has so far been able to send any mission to the south pole. Not only for the people of India, but for all South Asians, this is a moment to rejoice at a monumental achievement. Indian scientists deserve to be congratulated.
There is enormous significance of the success of this space mission. The south pole’s shadowed craters contain water ice that would support a future base on the moon, allowing astronauts and scientists to work there for extended periods of time. The moon rover has begun the search for water and is sending data on the composition of the soil. No other country has explored the rugged south pole and India is only the fourth country after the US, Russia and China to land its spacecraft on the moon.
Surprisingly, the Chandranayaan-3 project only cost $75 million. It is expected to remain functional for two weeks, running a series of experiments including an analysis of the mineral composition of lunar soil. India’s space exploration program’s next objective is to launch a mission in September to study the sun. A human space flight is also planned. No date has yet been announced but it is expected to be launched sometime in 2024.
The success of our neighbor’s moon landing has been possible because of continuity of governance, an emphasis on setting good priorities, consistent focus on research and availability of resources. Above all it is a testimony to India’s institutions and an unwavering commitment, however nuanced, to put the country on the right trajectory to accomplish feats that enhance India’s prestige in the world. It’s safe to say that goal has been achieved with the lunar landing.
Now, riding the crest of a wave of worldwide popularity and high esteem, India is looking forward to chairing the G-20 meeting next month. It could be the perfect time for New Delhi to reflect on its many successes in different fields and to reappraise its policy on minorities in the country. A nuclear power and the most populous country in the world with huge credentials like uninterrupted democracy and the rule of law, must not allow itself to be derailed by communal disharmony that affects the lives of millions of people. It is time for India to unite as a country, and that includes addressing the deep-seated issues of unrest and unlawful oppression in Kashmir. Let the success of the space mission mark a new beginning for India, where it is paramount to safeguard its secular foundations and governance systems.
It is precisely these foundations that have ensured India’s huge success in governance, socio-economic emancipation of its people and above all, its unity in diversity– which has faltered greatly in recent times. Perhaps now, with the eyes of the entire world on it for good reason, it is time to build on its principles and continue its advances in the fields of poverty reduction and inter-faith harmony.
(Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.)