BY ZAFFAR IQBAL
Leh, June 18 (IANS) As we move out of the Leh Airport on Thursday, we notice that an eerie silence has gripped the town — the markets are shut and not many people are on the streets due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Uncertainty is also palpable and one can’t miss a sense of nervousness as the standoff continues between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.
Tensions have substantially gone up after 20 Indian soldiers were killed on Monday night after they were attacked by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh.
Tani, the cab driver, tells us that the situation is grim, as he drives through the empty markets in Leh. “Things are looking bad,” Tani speaks in a low tone.
Near the Shanti Stupa, 10 km from Leh town, we meet Colonel Sonam Wangchuk at his home. Wangchuk is a Kargil War hero, who evicted Pakistani intruders from a height of 18,000 feet during the Kargil conflict in 1999.
The Lion of Ladakh’s heroic feat won him the Maha Vir Chakra award. He has now retired from the Army.
He says people of Ladakh stand by the forces, but to dislodge the Chinese from the heights, wherewithal of war is needed.
“People of Leh are patriotic and stand with the Army in body and soul,” he said.
Meanwhile, the anger on the ground is growing. The President of Ladakh Buddhist Association, P.T. Kungzang, says this is not the first time the Chinese have done so.
“Every year they come into the Indian territory and nibble away land bit by bit,” he says, adding: “The government should sent across a tough message like it did when the Pulwama attack happened by striking at Balakote.”
Back in the Leh town, post-mortems were conducted on the bodies of the slain soldiers at the civil hospital. The mortal remains of the soldiers were flown to their respective states.
A wreath laying ceremony was held in Leh for the martyred soldiers. Their friends and colleagues remembered them with moist eyes.
Meanwhile, the top commanders of India and Chinese held another round of talks on Thursday to diffuse the situation and prevent any further flare up.
According to sources, not much headway has been made in the talks although the channels of communication on the ground are open.
BY ZAFFAR IQBAL