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Muzaffar Hussain asked: Why is India not opening up trade through Ladakh area? Is their any security threat involved?

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  • Joe Thomas Karackattu replies: Ladakh has historically been a vital link between Tibet, Xinjiang and Central Asia. The connection between Leh and the towns of Yarkand, Kashgar and Khotan are well noted. This connection with Xinjiang was so active that there are people of Yarkandi descent who’ve settled in Ladakh over time. Exports of textiles, tea, spices and oils and import of bullion, silk and carpets was the main economic activity. Tibet was largely dependent on Ladakh for supplies of essential goods (food grains, saffron, shawls, etc). The annual turnover of Ladakh’s trade with Tibet during the Dogra rule is noted to run into several lakhs of rupees, only to be disrupted in 1950, and ultimately coming to a standstill in 1959.

    The decision to open up trade is conditional on both India and China pursuing a broader vision of regional development. There is the outstanding issue of Aksai Chin, which India considers as part of Ladakh. Apart from the settlement of political issues, the region needs an all-weather road network to Leh. The viable connections that could result in revival of economic activity for Ladakh include Demchok in southeastern Ladakh on the Indian side connecting to Tashigang in Tibet. There is also the Nubra Valley of Ladakh region which could be used for smooth conduct of Kailash and Mansarovar yatras (also tourism and employment generation for locals in Ladakh). India can gain reliable access to inner Asia, and even China has much to gain in terms of development of its relatively poorer western regions if these issues are pursued in an overall cooperative framework as opposed to a zero-sum game.