The Express Tribune Editorial 9 September 2019

India’s failed moon mission

India was left red faced with embarrassment as its ambition to become the fourth country to land on the moon ended with failure. In a viral video on social media, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seen hugging and consoling a distraught K Sivan, the head scientist at Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), soon after the landing went awry. The country was aiming to join the United States, Soviet Union/Russia and China as the only nations to have soft-landed on the moon. But the dream turned sour with loss of contact with the Chandrayaan-2 mission lander during the final stages of the September 6 landing attempt.
A live stream from the ISRO showed Vikram lander making its descent as planned from its previous 36 by 110-kilometer orbit down to a fine braking phase below six kilometers. However, footage illustrating the spacecraft’s descent trajectory stopped just short of reaching surface. After minutes of silence, ISRO chairman announced that communications with the lander had been lost. No further information was immediately available and the fate of the lander remains uncertain. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was present at ISRO mission operation complex at Bengaluru, told press following the communications loss that, ‘it is not a small thing that we have achieved. Be courageous.’
The landing attempt continues a surge of lunar-related activity in 2019, following a failed soft landing attempt by an Israeli spacecraft in April and China’s unprecedented January lunar far side landing. The United States in March announced plans to accelerate a human lunar program with the target of a first landing in 2024. ISRO chairman told Indian media in the run-up to the event the ‘very complex process’ of final approach and autonomous landing would be ‘15 minutes of terror’. It turns out his prediction was not far off the mark.


The K-IV project fiasco


As if Karachiites’ problems weren’t serious enough, there is more bad news regarding the ambitious Sindh-Centre K-IV water project, launched in 2007 to address Karachi’s acute water shortage. The project, scheduled for completion this year, seems at least two to three years behind schedule. Upon completion, it is expected to supply about 650 million gallons of water per day to Karachi which currently receives only about 500 million gallons a day against its daily requirement of 1.1 billion gallons. The water would be supplied from Thatta district’s Keenjhar Lake via a 121-kilometre canal.
The alarming aspect of the project’s construction, however, is that, despite the purported completion of 70 % of the canal, the National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK) has said that there were still alignment problems with the canal which may need to be corrected. This despite the conduct of appropriate feasibility studies at the project’s inception as well as repeated subsequent project design and alignment changes! And there is more by way of ineptitude. Much of the land for the project has still not been acquired, the electricity network to operate the filtration plants has not been fully installed, and pipelines to transport clean water to Karachi have not been laid. Furthermore, the Opposition in the Sindh Assembly has also alleged rampant project irregularities, changes in its route to favour influential elements, and numerous mistakes in its planning. And the cost? When the project was approved in 2011, its estimated cost was Rs25.5 billion. Today, it stands at Rs150 billion. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to file a reference on the project. It is essential that the accountability watchdog determine exactly what has caused the much-heralded water project to go haywire so that remedial measures can be taken immediately. There is a lot at stake both for the citizens of Karachi and the financial health of Sindh.


The American nightmare


Originally intended to rid Afghanistan of militancy and terrorism, United States’ longest military nightmare may not end without a peace deal with the Taliban.
Recently, the militant group claimed responsibility for an attack in Kabul that killed at least 10 Afghan civilians, a US service member, and a Romanian soldier. A surge in violence has been constant in the backdrop of the ongoing negotiations and it continues even as the US and Taliban negotiators almost struck a draft framework agreement.
The final round of talks had to be followed by a ‘secret’ meeting between the Taliban head honchos and US President Donald Trump, who once seemed anxious to fulfill his campaign promise by securing the Afghan exit deal before kicking off his reelection bid.
Now both Washington and Kabul seem to be using the surge in violence as an excuse to delay negotiations and want the Taliban to lay down arms. Even as both Trump and Ashraf Ghani would like to tell the world that the talks ended due to the recent attacks or surge in violence, the truth is that the final rounds of talks — and even the rare invitation to meet the president at Camp David, occurred during a period of intensified violence in Afghanistan.
Hence, boycotting the meeting or cancelling the negotiations makes little sense at a time when the two sides were close to announcing a final peace deal. After all, the attacks, as tragic as they are, were never meant to stop before a formal agreement. The recent Trump turnabout shows the president might just have been waiting for an ‘appropriate moment’ to walk away from the talks. Once desperate to leave Afghanistan, Trump also happens to be under pressure from conservatives at home and it seems Trump’s personal and political agenda may now be conflicting with those who can tilt the balance in Washington D.C.
For now, all indications lead to one conclusion: America’s longest and most costly military engagement may not be over anytime soon, not until Washington decides to admit it wasted 18 years fighting a war that was never theirs to win.

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