Making Ladakh a Union Territory Was Not Enough : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-2: India and its Neighbourhood- Relations.

Key Phrases: Article 370, Ladakh problem, Union Territory, security challenges, Aksai China, the annexation of Tibet, 1959 Tibetan uprising, Geostrategic Significance of Ladakh, lack of political representation, employment opportunities, immigration.

Why in News?

  • Since the removal of Article 370, Ladakh has been through a range of emotions — from the initial euphoria to anxiety about its new status as a Union Territory and the diplomatic and security challenges that followed.

Resistance from Neighbours:

  • Attempts by Pakistan and China at internationalizing Ladakh at the UN were blunted.
  • However, China accused India of “undermining its territorial sovereignty” by amending its domestic laws; Beijing announced that it “does not recognize the new status”.
  • Ladakh is being used as a pretext to backtrack on key border agreements — China even resorted to military hostility along the LAC and has refused to commit to the pre-2020 status quo.

Geostrategic Significance of Ladakh:

  • The 1950s marked the beginning of Chinese expansionist designs in Ladakh.
  • Although India has always considered Aksai Chin to be part of Jammu and Kashmir, China built a highway, called the western highway or NH219, connecting Tibet with Xinjiang through this region.
  • China today claims Aksai Chin to be part of Hotan County of its Xinjiang province.
  • On March 2, 1963, Pakistan ceded the Shaksgam Valley—part of the Baltistan region north of the Karakoram—to China following the Sino-Pakistani agreement.
  • In the early 1960s, China annexed a substantial area of eastern Ladakh.
  • The presence of resources is what marks India, China, and Pakistan’s struggle over Ladakh.
  • Ladakh is critical for maintaining Indian presence on the Siachen Glacier as it provides a physical approach to the frozen battlefield, connecting to the rest of the country.
  • Pakistan and China are in conflict with India over Siachen and Aksai Chin in this region.
  • The Kargil War renewed the strategic importance of the region multi-fold as India urgently felt pressure to revamp security and intelligence in the region, owing to its perceived vulnerability to Pakistan.
  • The most recent Galwan clash has accentuated the significant regional import of Ladakh in particular.
  • India’s energy needs may also be met by constructing a pipeline from Central Asia via this region.
  • The passes of the Ladakh region connect some of the politically and economically significant zones of the world like Central Asia, South Asia, China, and the Middle East.

China’s strategy:

  • The annexation of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China in 1950 sparked a newfound interest in Ladakh, particularly so after the 1959 Tibetan uprising that erupted in Lhasa when the Dalai Lama fled into exile and was granted political asylum in India.
  • In 2020, the PLA wanted to cut the most western Chang Chenmo route — Tangtse, Durbuk, Galwan, Murgo to DBO that runs along Shyok Valley.
  • Earlier, in 2013, the PLA had tried to cut the Karakoram Pass by intruding into Burtse/Depsang Plains.
  • India’s position in the 972 sq km Trig Heights Burtse/Depsang Plains remains vulnerable.
  • The PLA has been building a 20-km road below the Murgo post. Like in Galwan, the road here can potentially cut off the Indian supply line to Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO).
  • All in all, the intrusions are part of China’s strategy to push the Indian position west of the Indus and Shyok rivers and reach the line claimed in 1960.

India’s weak policy for the region:

  • India’s Aksai China policy is still ambiguous and bordering on the sanctimonious — “will take back every inch of territory from China”. No serious study is being conducted to resolve it.
  • India does not have administrative capabilities over the vast area beyond Shyok in the east to Sesar in the north towards Depsang, Murgo, Burtse — no post office or a police station. Surely, the Army alone cannot hold the land.

Unfulfilled Ladakhi Aspirations:

  • The conferment of UT status had initially caused a lot of excitement but it fell short of fulfilling their demands.
  • Their concerns are not issue-based but demand-based — lack of political representation, inadequate say in local governance, fear of losing control over land, employment opportunities and immigration, etc.
  • While the tourist boom has undeniably created employment opportunities in the region of India, it has led to severe after-effects on the environment.
  • Precipitation patterns are so erratic that they pose a risk to agriculture.
  • Ladakhis rely almost entirely on glacial and permafrost melt for water. However, in recent years, due to rapidly receding glaciers, water shortages in Ladakh have become more severe.


  • India’s policymakers, while drafting their policies for Ladakh, should consider its geographic location, fragile environment, resource potential, and its people’s aspirations.
  • In such a strategic location, it is crucial to keep all these aspects in harmony to take advantage of it to its fullest, and the formation of the Union Territory needs to be taken to its logical conclusion.

Source: Indian Express

Mains Question:

Q. How has the removal of Article 370 benefited Ladakh and what are the aspirations of Ladakh that still need to be addressed? Discuss.