By Wahab Munir Qureshi

 While referring to Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK), the first thing which comes to mind is the renowned Kashmir valley and Jammu district. Kashmir valley and Jammu district collectively constitute about 30% of IOK land, whereas rest of the 70% territory of IOK goes unnoticed. This vast territory is known as Ladakh. Ladakh comprises of two districts, Leh and Kargil. Leh is a Buddhist majority district with 80% Buddhist while Kargil is predominantly Muslim district with 85% Muslims. Ladakh in more then one ways is unique as compared to the rest of Indian Occupied Kashmir. Contrary to its immense territory, it constitutes just 2.5% of the over all population of IOK. Another unique feature of Ladakh is that its population is very much evenly distributed among Muslims and Buddhists. Muslims comprise roughly about 52% of the total population while and Buddhists are about 44%, and Hindus about 5% with 1% followers of other religions.

Ladakh region is likely to gain importance once India and Pakistan strive to solve the long standing dispute of IOK. If IOK is to be divided between India and Pakistan, then Jammu district and Kashmir valley may have a comparatively simpler solution. As Kashmir valley is dominated by Muslims and Jammu district has been converted into a Hindu majority district, as such these two districts may join India and Pakistan respectively.  However, a number of difficulties may arise while deciding the future of Ladakh due to its sheer size, demographically unique characteristics, and most importantly due to its strategic importance. So Ladakh may serve as a potential hurdle as per the peaceful solution of IOK is concerned.

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Ladakh is the only piece of land on earth which shares boarders with three nuclear powers; China at its North-East, Pakistan at North-West, and India at South-Eastern end. Ladakh is mainly a hilly area with sky scrapping mountains and a harsh terrain. It’s 30% area remains covered in snow during the eight months long winter. This snow melts and irrigates the vast lands of the subcontinent. If Punjab is known as the “bread basket” of subcontinent, then without a doubt, Ladakh is the “water tank” for the subcontinent. Snow of Ladakh makes water flow in the rivers of Pakistan and India, thereby sustaining the agricultural life in the two countries.

Ladakh is a very sacred place for Buddhists and is also known as ‘mini-Tibet’. Due importance has never been given to Ladakh.  Ladakh is neglected primarily due to two reasons. Firstly, due to the small size of its population which comprises only2.5% of the total population as such the focus is placed on settled areas like Kashmir valley and Jammu district, just because they have more votes, hence more voting power. Secondly, Ladakh’s scenic mountain ranges are rarely discussed, as they can not be used for any other purpose but tourism. However, as it is a fact that both India and Pakistan are well populated areas, perhaps with surplus human resource. So, Ladakh is not expected to increase the burden on economies of Pakistan or India. Another feature which does not attract businessman is very important for a statesman. Remote mountains of Ladakh provide the maximum security possible for any nuclear installation in subcontinent. Ladakh is situated in extreme north of subcontinent, away from Indian Ocean and in center of land which remains covered in snow and which is home to world’s tallest mountains. Its mountainous terrain and extreme weather conditions make it very difficult for any army to launch an attack on it, its height forbids any air force to fly low and hit their target. Its distance from the Indian oceans makes it even difficult to conduct any missile attack from the ocean. So, Ladakh is very important from the security point of view for both nuclear rivals, which are almost always engaged in enhancing the security of their nuclear installations and nuclear stockpiles.

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 Ladakh’s geographic position along with the above mentioned characteristics will make this land a point of divergence between the two nuclear powers. If India and Pakistan succeed in deciding a mechanism for the future of this part of IOK, then chances to resolve other more populated disputed areas will increase. Therefore a solution of Ladakh can act as a catalyst to resolve the dispute in IOK.

Demographic characteristics of Kargil and Leh, are almost completely opposite. . Kargil is a Muslim majority district with 85% Muslim population; on the other hand Leh is dominated by Buddhist and comprises 80% of Leh’s population, whereas Muslims constitutes 15%. Proximity of these two districts with Pakistan and India could result in following manners. Kargil boarder with Pakistan and Leh is situated on North-west of Himachal Pradesh (North West State of India). A possible solution might be to divide Ladakh between India and Pakistan, with Muslim majority Kargil acceding to Pakistan and Leh could vote for their future.

If this could happen, then Kargil district and Kashmir valley would join Pakistan, and Jammu district and Leh district of Ladakh would vote for their future. In this way the unfinished agenda of division of British India into two independent, peaceful nations would be materialized. This will give a chance to people living on both sides of LOC a hope for a better and prosperous future.