Chinese Tension Haunts Ladakh Even As Valley Remains On The Boil
ISLAMABAD-As the Indian Air Force jets hover over Leh, capital city of newly created Union territory Ladakh, there is deafening silence on the ground in the cold desert. Amid the roar of fighter jets and unprecedented security build up in Ladakh, the police are not allowing anyone to move in the streets of Leh citing COVID-19 restrictions. There has been a steep rise in coronavirus cases in Ladakh over the past one week, forcing the government to resume the lockdown. However, the border tension following deadly clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers on June 9 looks more worrisome than the pandemic.
“China carries out aggressive acts every year, but they have crossed all limits this time,” says a shopkeeper in the main market of Leh. Many politicians in the city argue that the Chinese will not stop here if they are not pushed back. “They have taken our cultivated land, our grazing land, and if they are not stopped, it is not going to end,” warns Rigzin Spalbar, former chairman of the Ladakh Hill Development Council. Ladakh MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal asks, “If we know ‘Azad Jammu Kashmir’ as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), why not to call Aksai Chin ‘China-occupied Aksai Chin’?”
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In contrast to the silence on the roads in Ladakh, there has been no pause in the almost-daily encounters in the Kashmir valley, leading to the killings of young militants, some of whom took up arms barely a month ago or even later. When the government snaps the internet connection in a district, people there come to know that encounters are about to take place. These days, the internet is shut down almost every morning in the south Kashmir districts of Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama. On June 21, internet connection was snapped and three militants—all new recruits—were killed in the heart of Srinagar’s old city, taking the total number of militants slain this year to 106. Over 70 of them were killed during the COVID-19 lockdown. After the June 21 encounter, the police claimed to have recovered an AK-47 rifle and two pistols.
Many here believe that regardless of how the situation plays out on the LAC, it will have an impact on Kashmir and counter-insurgency operations. When former CM Omar Abdullah tweeted asking people not to look towards Beijing and cited the plight of the Uyghurs in China, he faced such a backlash that he deactivated his Twitter account. “There was rage against Omar as he didn’t gauge the mood in Kashmir,” says a member of a mainstream political party. “With the BJP government working for demographic change in J&K by enacting law after law, you cannot browbeat Kashmiris by brining up the Uyghurs. India’s Kashmir record is so terrible and inhumane that even citing the Uyghur example is seen as an affront here and Omar realised it within half an hour of his comment.”