I feel that all this is a ‘work in progress’, notwithstanding the expectations of our youth, I foresee it is a long drawn affair which for last 63 years has not been settled unless there is divine intervention, which could reduce our wait. We are certainly optimistic of a settlement and the faster it happens the better it will be for not only Kashmir but also for India and Pakistan.
As one writer in an article recently wrote which I find apt to quote that as the situation develops we need to have an ability to live less harmfully when we are in a transitory political phase waiting for the permanent conditions which can entail all the possible options which, as it looks, are (independence, merger with Pakistan, status quo with greater autonomy).
In time of crisis it is all the more important that our leaders do timely interventions and guide people with probity and fortitude as people cannot shun the responsibility of looking straight into the eye of the concerns that are associated with life.
In light of the present position being transitory till our political leaders reach a settlement it is important that the two important aspects of economy and education is tackled with probity (honesty and integrity) and fortitude (strength and resilience).
Having been associated with the economy of the state besides having the experience of being in business within Kashmir as well as internationally to a certain extent, for the last 32 years and going from different busts and booms in this period which were primarily due to the situation in Kashmir, I feel that our economy needs to live less harmfully, while we are in a transitory phase. The following economic initiatives can help us to live less harmfully and at the same time become self reliant.
SHORT TERM STRATEGY
1. Before any steps of long term strategy are contemplated, there is a need to take steps in regard to the present grave situation which should entail a blanket exemption on our organised manufacturing sector from the hartals and strikes, our shops and establishments for a minimum of three days in a week by which the people in business and transport trade will have some incomes to sustain for the time the political leadership will start meaningful negotiations for the final settlement of Kashmir. This will also take care of the people whose income is based on daily wages to a certain extent. It is also important for our political leadership to take the business community into confidence with their long term plan for settlement, which is important for the financial well being of our people.
2. It is important that local institutions in mohallas as well as NGOs be strengthened to take care of our people who are having very less resources to fall back on.
3. It is important that NGOs be created to take care of families who have lost their near and dear ones in this conflict from the start as well as the people who have got injured – permanently or temporarily. The government as well as the society, and politicians in particular, have failed uptill now.
4. It is important that our political leaders have a common platform to demand what is best for Kashmir and as well as make programmes for people to follow which will keep every aspect in view and at the same time make people ready for a long term struggle based on non-violence.
5. In regard to education which is important, educationists will be in a better position to tell but the initiative, by some young teachers in both undergraduate level as well as higher studies, of starting community education or/and based on internet, needs to be replicated in a bigger way with support from local committees formed in mohallas and villages.
6. The business community has to make the economy self reliant and at the same time see to it that they safeguard the resources of the state and ask for compensation for the losses they have gone through.
IN THE LONG RUN
Some steps have already been taken to make our economy self-reliant but these initiatives need further push.
A. Creation of cold storages for food processing industry.
B. Creation of food parks in all districts which will not only have units for processing apple but other fruits like pear, cherries, strawberry, walnut kernels, diary products along with value added products like chocolates etc to go up on the value chain for our fruits etc.
C. Handicraft and silk parks in all districts to produce world famous carpets, shawls, silk products and leverage the brand equity of Kashmir.
D. Floriculture with export of the produce to international destinations.
E. Exploitation of marble, granite deposits as well as lignite deposits and other minerals.
F. Aromatic and herbal plant processing.
G. Sheep rearing for mutton as well as wool.
H. Revamping poultry industry, which can thrive easily keeping in view a ready market is available.
H. Complete safeguarding the water resources of the state with generation of energy as a business which can be exported to Pakistan, India which are energy deficient countries.
I. Develop the information technology sector which needs little capital with appropriate personnel and is important for the future of Kashmir with limited scope for big industry.
J. Asking for compensation from Pakistan, India for the losses incurred by the Kashmiri people due to Indus Water Treaty which has been done by the world bank without taking into consideration the losses to the Kashmiri people and as such Kashmiris will be justified in seeking compensation from the international body as they should have asked the people of Kashmir as neither India nor Pakistan can speak for them as it is disputed.
K. Asking for compensation for all the losses incurred by people of Kashmir because of non-settlement of the issue up to date. The loss of life, economic losses from both India and Pakistan as well as the international community for not implementing the security council decisions.
L. Having in place an investment insurance scheme to take care of present conflict zone situation.
M. There is need of declaring Kashmir valley as a free economic zone along with international financial centre with the option to Jammu and Ladakh regions to join if they want to. This could be agreed as an interim arrangement till final settlement with access to Pakistanis, Indians, Chinese and other Central Asian countries citizens as well as our exports through the different ports of Pakistan.
N. MSME sector including retail and wholesale trade: The msme sector would thrive if there is local demand and exports would depend on the cost of the product. We could have an edge on those industrial products which will be based on local available raw material or specific local skill.
If the initiative of free economic zone is taken we could be a centre for trading between India Pakistan, china and Central Asia, and for once we could take advantage of geography.
If these above initiatives are taken kashmir can have a boom time in tourism where in it will not be farfetched to have even ten million tourists in a year becoming the main economic driver which in turn will give boost to the handicraft and horticulture industry also which would be the other two important sectors in future of Kashmir’s economic development besides Kashmir becoming a international trading centre and with time a financial centre of international stature.
All the above suggestions are made on the premise that we have the ability to live less harmfully with a transitory political phase leading to the permanent settlement decided by the people of Kashmir.
(The writer is an enterprenuer and former presdient of KCCI)