Chief Executive Councilor of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh, Rigzin Spalbar tells Saima Bhat that barter trade with Chinese is a normal occurrence at the border in Ladakh and it would be better for the government to legalize it.
KL: Chinese incursions have happened in Ladakh. What do you know about it?
RS: Yes, we all have seen that Chinese have come inside the area which is uninhabited. There is no specific demarcating line in the area. It all depends on the perception. We all know it is a serious matter and we also know the government has taken up the matter. But all these issues cannot be resolved by debating or a trail through media.
Our forces are strong enough to take care of such issues. Being a responsible nation, we cannot have media convictions. This has to be resolved at the earliest without any media glare and other things. If it is trailed in media and media takes the decision, as there is so much of cyber rattling already, any Tom, Dick and Harry comes on television and give their own version, it seems media people will send China and India on war. Nobody wants war. Do you think China wants a war? It is not the India of 1962. The world communities would not like to have conflict in this area.
On our side also, we are happy that lot of infrastructure facilities are being built. The government is strengthening and guarding our borders. It seems that has paddled up China. So they are just diverting the attention because things are not going well in Tibet and Lhasa. There are self immolations going on and there is lots of pressure on China as well. I feel they are doing this to divert the attention of international community.
Media is reflecting the crisis it in such a manner as if China has come up to Leh. It spoils our tourism. They have never come here. They are 200 to 300 km away from Leh. Everything is peaceful. Nothing has happened. We are not worried. This is going to get settled. We should not make a big issue out of it. We must have faith and confidence in our Army.
KL: The incursions have happened time and again. How does it affect the locals?
RS: It is not for the first time that such thing has happened. But it is for the first time they have walked in and stayed. But there is a difference. The area they are in is a plain land. There is no water, nothing else. They cannot stay there permanently. They have to leave. These are serious matters. Let the government handle it.
KL: You are a responsible person of the area. Have you visited and seen the Chinese Army? What are they doing there?
RS: Yes I have seen them. We do go to the borders. There can be some incursions and they can’t be trusted always. For that matter, we have created some infrastructure to strengthen our borders, which is good and we should continue to do so.
KL: What was the immediate reaction of local people when the latest incursion took place?
RS: Everything is absolutely peaceful. Nothing is happening here. People are not worried. It is only the media and they are fiddling with it. I don’t know what is happening. You come here to see it for yourself how we are living. Seeing is believing! For TV correspondents who come here, they are not able to go to the border. They stay here and then start reporting as in what is happening in and around Leh, sensationalizing the things, you know.
KL: As per some reports, Chinese and Ladakhis are involved in trade. How far is that true?
RS: Absolutely rubbish. Not at all. There was a time when we used to trade with our neighbours on Silk Route throughout Central Asia. But everything has changed now. It’s all closed now. In the wake of 1962 war, everything was closed.
KL: What is the status of Dumpsele market?
RS: Dumpsele is a place where we share common border. There are nomadic people on either side who keep on moving on their respective pastures. At one particular period of time, they meet. For rest of the time, they are divided throughout the year. They meet on border as there is no fencing.
That is why we want the GOI to open this route of Demchok from where we can reach Kailash Manasarovar. We want the route to be opened for trade like they have opened the Nathula route. We want GOI to legalize it. Thereafter we can open it for pilgrimage to Kailash Manasarovar. The route from Leh takes just two days to reach Kailash Manasarovar but if we travel through Delhi, it takes at least 5 days and through Uttarakhand, it takes a month. Those routes are risky too.
KL: Chinese products are a craze in Ladakhi market. How far is that true?
RS: (Break into laughter) Not in Leh. We have our own products, livestock. But when borders are not guarded, the sheep and cattle may go here and there. Similarly it is happening with locals and Army men as well. Now if you open the route legally for trade, there is so much of potential &scope.
It is such a vast area. Hundreds and hundreds of kilometers are open, you know, how can one deploy Army in that area? For the people living on borders, the mainland is far away for them. So they prefer to exchange goods. We can get lot of livestock, wool, Pashmina and it will be like a win-win situation for both countries. Maybe some things get exchanged on the border – ration from this side, livestock, Pashmina from other side. Therefore if at all some things are taking place, smuggling, etc., why don’t we legalize it. Why don’t we do it openly? Some products are brought from Delhi as well.
But if you think in terms of Chinese people are coming here and people from this side are going there, it is absolutely rubbish. Nothing is happening as such. Maybe at the border some barter trade is taking place. It is a fact.
KL: How is your relationship with Indian Army?
RS: Exemplary! Perfect. We are proud of Army and it is the Ladakh Scouts Regiment, you must have heard about it, we are proud of them.