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Space laws of Pakistan: a need for domestic legislation

Thursday 14 September 2023

Sahar Iqbal
Akhund Forbes, Karachi
sahar.iqbal@akhundforbes.com

Abstract

Pakistan, alongside other United Nations members, signed the ‘Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies’ in 1967. Recently, during the 61st session of the Legal Subcommittee (STSC) of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Pakistan issued a statement expressing its concerns about protecting outer space as a shared heritage of humanity, promoting peaceful purposes and granting access to all nations, regardless of their economic or technological status. However, despite Pakistan's global stance on space laws, the country lacks a comprehensive national space policy, and much domestic legislation is needed. This article will address Pakistan's stance on space laws at a global level and highlight the pressing need for legislation on this matter on a domestic level.

Pakistan’s global stance on space

The speech made by Pakistan at the 61st session of the STSC adequately describes the country’s stance on global space laws. It emphasised the escalating congestion and competition in outer space, highlighting the significant role played by private actors in this trend. This situation leads to unilateral national legislation, which may conflict with international commitments. The Pakistani spokesperson affirmed the usefulness of voluntary norms but advocated for legally binding instruments to guarantee the rule of law and equitable access to outer space.

The importance of space traffic management was stressed and an international legal framework for space traffic management was deemed necessary. Pakistan voiced concern about the increase in space debris and called for the adoption of a database and mitigation procedures to prevent collisions and interference with space objects.

The spokesperson concluded by endorsing the establishment of a working group dedicated to the exploration, exploitation and utilisation of space resources, ensuring fair access to the geostationary orbit.

The need for domestic legislation

Currently, Pakistan lacks domestic space laws, and there are many reasons why working towards domestic legislation can prove to be fruitful and is necessary. Pakistan is contemplating the initiation of a national space policy to address national security concerns and the country’s international obligations for national activities in outer space under the Outer Space Treaty, of which Pakistan is a signatory which requires allowing private enterprises to invest and add to its space programme while protecting public interests. The policy should be transparent, effective and comprehensive to ensure proper authorisation and supervision of private space activities which will enable Pakistan to implement an effective mechanism for monitoring and controlling space-related activities.

The country needs a comprehensive national space policy which includes a statutory framework and guidelines for cooperation with international and regional partners. The lack of designated legislation and space policy has limited Pakistan's space cooperation with China, while other countries have already introduced regulatory frameworks. To diversify its joint ventures in space research, Pakistan should establish joint working groups with European states and private space companies. It should also collaborate with universities and establish a facilitating agency to promote space entrepreneurship and enterprises. A regulatory environment for emerging start-ups and private players is necessary for a robust commercial space research sector. Additionally, Pakistan should design a roadmap to counter emerging threats in outer space and protect its satellites from destruction or denial of access.

Having a well-structured space policy is crucial for establishing a strong and sustainable space programme. Without such a policy, activities may be conducted in an ad hoc manner among various national agencies, leading to a lack of coherence and long-term sustainability. It is important to note that all space activities are funded by different groups, both public and private, each with their own understanding of risks and expectations of reward. In order to successfully execute space policy, the private sector should be seen as a major partner.

Governments must establish the right balance between levels of investment in publicly funded space activities in order to avoid ad hoc policy making, which can result in regulatory and political inconsistencies and create industry uncertainty. Public policy must also address issues of public safety, resource allocation, environmental protection and technology transfer. Investing in public awareness programmes is essential for helping people understand the value of space activities and their benefits for both individual and collective welfare.

International cooperation and partnerships can play a significant role in expanding capacity beyond the capabilities of any one country. Forums like the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Global Earth Observation System of Systems, and the International Committee for GNSS promote capacity building and international cooperation. Regional forums can also help strengthen regional space capabilities, and sharing costs and maximising benefits is a win for everyone involved.

Conclusion

Pakistan has taken a step in the right direction on the importance of global space laws and equitable access to outer space, as evidenced by its recent statement during the 61st session of the Legal Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. However, the country still lacks comprehensive national space policies and legislation. It is important for Pakistan to address its national security concerns while simultaneously facilitating private sector investment in its space programme. To achieve these goals, Pakistan needs to establish a statutory framework, guidelines for international cooperation, and a regulatory environment that promotes space entrepreneurship and diversified joint ventures in space research.