March 2006 News

Army Reaches Out To Ladakhis

30 March 2006
The Indian Express

Leh: The Army is undertaking a major public relations exercise in Ladakh to snuff out from the root any effort by separatist elements to unravel the social fabric of this conflict-free district, especially in the wake of the recent clashes between the Buddhist and Muslim communities. If the February clashes between Buddhists and Muslims over an alleged desecration of the holy Quran here are anything to go by, the days of peaceful coexistence between the two communities seem to have been disrupted by 'foreign elements' trying to 'destroy the stability of the region'. Keeping this in mind, certain sections of the Army, concerned over a rising trend of 'external influences' over the people of the region, supplemented by military intelligence of miscreants infiltrating the strategic northern district have decided to win over the locals and nip attempts of creating communal disharmony in the bud. Army sources said that with the opening of communication channels over the years, the influx of such people, desiring to divide the two major communities in Ladakh have started which culminated in the recent clashed that left close to 10 injured and led civil authorities to clamp curfew in the area. However, with its ongoing operation Sadbhavna in Ladakh, the Army is clearly trying to gain confidence of the locals and by solving their basic sustenance problems hoping to stop jihadi elements from cashing in on their poverty. The Corps XIV of the Northern Command of Jammu and Kashmir have embarked on several 'goodwill' projects in the region including running free schools for normal and differentially abled children in Kargil, Karu, Drass, Partappur and other areas, assisting village educational communities, setting up adult literacy centres and helping the village girls acquire vocational skills to earn a living. The strategic and tactical position of Ladakh bordering Baltistan in PoK and China face threat from both sides and loss of any of its strategic heights would seriously hinder the forward bases of the Army all over the crucial Siachen glacier and risk the Indian troops to enemy fire besides cutting off crucial supplies. To prevent the local population from being brainwashed by separatist elements slowly gaining ground in Ladakh where Buddhists dominate Muslims in numbers in Leh with the reverse in Kargil sector, the 14 corps is making efforts to take care of the primary and tertiary health needs of the hill people and merging themselves with their societal structure. From cultivating solar energy and helping the locals replace fossil fuels with reusable energy sources to building foot bridges and ensuring that the promotions from the tourism go to the ethnic majority, the Army has its hands full in Ladakh to improve its image in Ladakh and win hearts. The concerns that have been simmering for some time over inputs of communal elements trying to convert the villagers seem to have made up the Army sit up and take notice and prompt it to build bridges with the local community. The traditionally peaceful Buddhist and Muslim communities in Leh have been living in harmony and intermarriages have also happened which have given the region a stability that very few other states face. Army sources said that while foreign tourists to Ladakh are scanned as per rules, to keep track the people going in and out of district and those arriving from Jammu or Kashmir is considerably difficult. With state-of-the-art computer centres, it labs in government schools and 18 V-sat connections, the Ladakhi youths are trying to write a new future secure from threats of militancy and misplaced nationalism, Army sources said. Water, which is an essential commodity of the district, have been channelised and irrigation projects undertaken to make maximum use of the states resources. A solar-power driven eco-friendly women's training centre has come up in Leh where girls from the remote villages tucked up on the dizzy heights of the hills of Ladakh learn to weave shawls and knit carpets which are sold in Army canteens and other establishments giving a steady income to the women. The 153 general hospitals of the Army have opened its doors to locals here suffering from various cold related ailments, besides treating the troops. This is the world's highest multi-speciality hospital located here.


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