Elected representatives in Ladakh say their grazing fields would be lost with the disengagement in Eastern Ladakh’s Gogra-Hot Springs area.
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Following the latest round of disengagement of Indian and Chinese soldiers in Eastern Ladakh, elected representatives in the region and military experts have vastly different takes on the development, with representatives saying that India has now lost its grazing fields and military experts hailing it as a strategic move.
Indian and Chinese soldiers have been locked into a military stand-off at multiple places in Eastern Ladakh since early 2020 when the two sides clashed at Pangong Tso lake. Later, the two sides clashed in Galwan Valley in which 20 Indian personnel and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers were killed.
Over the last two years, troops have disengaged from multiple points of confrontation, with the most recent disengagement being at Gogra-Hot Spring Area. It was completed on Tuesday.
Ladakh’s elected representatives said the disengagement has caused loss of huge grazing land as it would now be converted into no man’s land. Military experts have described the disengagement agreement as a brilliant strategic move which will ultimately lead to de-escalation and bring prosperity to the region.
Disengagement refers to the pulling back of soldiers of the two sides physically locked against each other at a location whereas de-escalation refers to the broader pulling back of war-waging equipment such as artillery, missiles, and fighter planes deployed in the region, and reserves in the rear. Since the stand-off began in 2020, around 50-60,000 soldiers along with war-waging equipment are deployed in the region.
“For us, the disengagement is not a positive sign. A huge grazing area has been turned into no man’s land and we are retreating from our own land. We have retreated around 40 sq km from our own land,” says Konchok Stanzin, a local politician from Eastern Ladakh’s Chusul village.
Stanzin, who is also a councillor in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), tells Outlook that the agreement is in no way a welcome move for people living in the region as they are witnessing the loss of their grazing land. He adds that after the agreement, “our side” is losing around 40 sq km whereas the Chinese are not losing any land.
He says, “Some of the posts that we have dismantled are not new posts. They had been around for more than 50 years at PP-16 [Patrolling Point 16]. We are very concerned about it. We are not allowed grazing on the right side of the Hot Spring.”
He adds if they continue to disengage in the same pattern in other areas, within a few years “we will have to give up our villages”.
Stanzin says local people and local elected leaders should have a say in the matters of negotiation with the Chinese as it is their land that is being discussed and exchanged. He says Ladakhi leaders should raise their voices as the latest agreement is not in their favour.
However, Colonel (Retired) Sonam Wangchuk described the disengagement as a positive development. Wangchuk, who was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra — India's second highest award for gallantry for his successful operation in the Kargil War, says this government’s approach towards Ladakh and crises along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is proactive.
Wangchuk says local nomads might have a genuine concern but through a larger strategic and military viewpoint, the agreement is in favour of the nation. He said the agreement has been carried out after a series of negotiations.
“I have never seen such kind of seriousness over issues pertaining to Ladakh and the LAC,” says Wangchuk.
He says the government has taken a firm stand on the issue of the LAC and Ladakh. He says such agreements after long and firm negotiations are in the interest of the nation and it will lead to de-escalation. He adds that since the Ladakh region’s conversion into a Union territory, huge infrastructural development is taking place in the region.
“The present infrastructural development is unprecedented in the history of Ladakh. Ladakh is now part of national debate in newspapers and news channels."
He says tourism is transforming the region with people from even down south visiting Nobra, Drass and other remote areas.
“This shows the emerging importance of Ladakh,” says Wangchuk.
In a joint statement last week, India and China announced pulling back their soldiers from Gogra Hot Springs area.
“…to the consensus reached in the 16th round of India China Corps Commander Level Meeting, the Indian and Chinese troops in the area of Gogra-Hot Springs (PP-15) have begun to disengage in a coordinated and planned way, which is conducive to the peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” the joint statement by the two countries issued on September 8 said.