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‘Issue of opening Demchok road with China taken up’

Ishfaq Naseem

Posted: Apr 02, 2005 at 0301 hrs IST

AHEAD of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India, the J-K government today said New Delhi has taken up the issue of opening of the controversial road of Demchok between Ladakh and Tibet with China.

J-K Tourism Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir, in reply to the resolution seeking the opening of the Demchok road moved by former Union minister P. Namgayal, said in the Upper House today that the issue has been taken up at the highest level.

The Indian Express later obtained the letter which has been shot off to the state’s Ladakh Affairs Department recently by the Union Home Ministry, which affirms that the matter is being followed up by the Ministry of External Affairs.

The opening of the Demchok road will give a fillip to trade in the Ladakh region and will also restore this link as an easy transit to Lake Mansarovar and Mount Kailash. As of now, the pilgrims have to trek for many days through the Shipki La in Uttranchal to reach the Mansarovar, while this religious place that is known for the abode of Lord Shiva is just a three-day distance from Ladakh. The Kailash Mansarovar is just 300 km away from Demchok and much of the road is motorable.

Despite the variation in the perceptions between India and China over the Demchok road, P. Namgayal, MLC from Ladakh, is hopeful that the road can be opened.

‘‘Even as China claims control over some of the areas in Demchok and it is a dispute, we believe when India and Pakistan can open the Srinagar-Muzafarabad road in the disputed region of Kashmir, then traffic can also ply over the Demchok road,’’ said Namgayal.

Ghulam Hassan Mir said the state government is in favour of opening of the Demchok road, as with its opening, Jammu and Kashmir can become the centre of trade activities. National Conference MLC M.Y. Taing said with the restoration of this trade link, the trade of pashmina and the high-priced shahtoosh will pick up in the state.

The local leaders of Ladakh are unanimous that the opening of the Demchok road will serve as the biggest confidence building measure between India and China, but they differ with the way the two countries should resolve the border dispute that paves the way for opening of this road.

P. Namgayal says to resolve the differences over the dispute on Demchok is not an uphill task, but the main roadblock is the solution over the 38,000 sq km area of Aksai Chin.

‘‘In order to retain Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, if India cedes control over Aksai Chin, it can claim some of the areas in Tibet like west of Indus river, Chhu Murti and India-Nepal-Tibet trijunction,’’ said Namgayal.

However, chairman of the Ladakh Autonomus Hill Development Council, Rigzin Spalbar, differs. ‘‘The people of Ladakh are critically against any concessions over Aksai Chin. We can in no way afford to lose any area of Aksai Chin to China,’’ he said.

The Aksai Chin is considered to be a lifeline between China and Tibet and connects the area of Turkemnistan in China with the Tibet, say the local leaders.

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