Update February 10, 2011: Due to the popularity of this article and the developments over past 3 years, I am re-writing this article completely. Goal is to make this article more generic and remove the references to certain events/ideas which may or may not be relevant at this time or in future.

If you would like to contribute ideas, constructive criticism, corrections, etc., you are welcome to drop me an email at feedback(at)mirnazim(dot)org.

Originally published 2 years ago(at a url no longer accessible) during the height of Amarnath land transfer controversy.

Kashmir is burning. Sky roaring freedom slogans, placards saying "No Agreements, No Compromises, Only Freedom"; March to Muzaffarabad; 41 people dead; more than 500 injured ...in just 3 days. I have already written about atrocities and crimes committed by Indian Security Forces in Kashmir on my old blog at WordPress.com. This time, let's discuss the idea of 'Free Kashmir' from an economic perspective.

DISCLAIMER: I am not an economist, neither do I have any formal education in economics. I am a techie, geek or whatever you like to call me. The passages that follow are just my thoughts.

Current Economy

Kashmir's economy is centred around agriculture. Traditionally the staple crop of the valley has been rice, which forms the chief food of the people. In addition, Indian corn, wheat, barley and oats are also grown, but not much now. Given its temperate climate, it is suited for crops like asparagus, artichoke, sea kale, broad beans, scarlet runners, beetroot, cauliflower, cabbage and other temperate foods. Fruit trees are common in the valley, and the cultivated orchards yield pears, apples, plums, peaches, and cherries. The chief trees are deodar, firs and pines, chinar or plane, maple, birch and walnut, apple, cherry.

Historically, Kashmir became known world-wide when Kashmiri Wool(also called Cashmere Wool) was exported to other regions and nations (exports have ceased due to decreased abundance of the cashmere goat and increased competition from China). Kashmiris are well adept at knitting and making shawls, silk carpets, rugs, kurtas, and pottery. Kashmiri saffron is also very famous and brings the state a handsome amount of foreign exchange. Srinagar is known for its silver-work, papier mache, wood-carving, and the weaving of silk.

Animal husbandry and tourism are other parts of economy of Kashmir. The Kashmir valley is also known for its sericulture(silk farming) and cold water fisheries. Wood from Kashmir is used to make high-quality cricket bats, popularly known as Kashmir Willow.

Kashmir also produces some very high quality nuts like almonds, walnuts, dried peaches, dried grapes etc.

Agricultural exports from Jammu and Kashmir include apples, barley, cherries, corn, millet, oranges, rice, peaches, pears, saffron, sorghum, vegetables, and wheat, while manufactured exports include handicrafts, rugs, and shawls.

Currently Kashmir is connected to outside world only by India's National Highway No. 1(NH-1). All the supplies, medicines, food items, etc. are brought into Kashmir through NH-1. All the imports and exports go through this very road.

Economic Blockade: An attempt to starve the valley.

In wake of recent Amarnath Land Transfer controversy(which is a different story all together), Jammu and some other states of India like Punjab imposed an economic blockade on Kashmir Valley for 2 long months, stopping all the essential supplies to the Kashmir, leading to acute shortage of essential commodities including life saving medicines. Empty departmental stores and medicine less hospitals are enough proof of it.

While Government of India and Jammu(including other states) are consistently denying the economic blockade, one needs to be present here in order to witness it.

Now the Kashmiris are on the road again, demanding opening of Muzaffarabad Road, the our traditional and original link to the outside world. The importance of reviving this traditional link is very vital to the survival of Kashmiri fruit business. Fruits of Kashmir was lying in the Valley in export season and roting. Fruit traders had had enough and decided to march to Muzaffarabad. Where more than 15 people were killed and over 250 were injured when Indian Security Forces opened fire on the people. The very people of a place which India calls its integral part. It should be noted that Muzaffarabad Road is only 'all season' road link to Kashmir, making it's revival even more important.

Now we are demanding the opening of Muzaffarabad road and eventually freedom. Why? Because it has been proved that NH-1 is not only our lifeline but also our choke point. Kashmir can easily be starved by choking this particular road. It is being done now. It can be done again.

The Freedom

Now let's talk about the freedom itself. Let's understand the meaning of freedom for an common man's perspective. I talked to some of my friends and I found out that the understanding was unanimous.

'Freedom from Indian Occupation'. Is it that we need freedom only from the occupation or are there any other things also that come packaged with freedom?

Assuming that we are free from occupation, a few basic questions arise. Where are the policies for Free Kashmir? Who are the policy makers? How do we ensure that we have enough jobs for our people? What are the major economy boosting sectors in Kashmir? Do we have answer to any of these question as of now? I would like to say that we have the answers, but I am afraid that is not correct. We have no idea how we are going to tackle these questions.

Lack of policy makers is the fundamental roadblock in the path to our freedom. There must not and cannot be any freedom if we do not have policy makers. Don't get me wrong, our current leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq are great leaders as far as leading the freedom struggle goes and I am sure they will prove to be even better leaders in Free Kashmir also. But I am not sure whether they have any ability as far as policy making is concerned. My such opinion may be because they don't have a previous proven record in policy making. I may be wrong, but Huriyat Conference leaders are yet to prove themselves as good policy makers. Compare our leaders with the people who lead the India's freedom struggle: Sadar Valabh Bhai Patel, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and M. K. Gandhi, all, in one way or the other, had an idea of how India will be run after independence. The Indian National Congress(INC) under the British Raj was much more coherent, structured and forward thinking. Now compare Hurriyat Conference of this time with INC of pre 1947. But that does not mean we do not have good policy makers. Omar Abdullah of J & K National Conference is one such leader who has the superb ability in making good policies. He has proven himself at it when he was the Union Minister of Commerce in BJP led NDA government. To this date India is reaping the benefits of his vision when he realized the importance of African markets to India. But problem is that he is from a party that has submitted itself to the constitution on India. We need young leaders like him to make long term policies for a Free Kashmir.

The policies need not be detailed to the level of actual execution at this time, but we surely need some top level understanding of where we want to take our nation. We need those policies now. We cannot be lax about them by saying 'That can be taken care of later on, when we are free'. No. This issue needs to be addressed now and we need our policies ready long before we are free so that those can be understood better with time and changed as our understanding of policies & policy making matures, so that when we are free we can say that we have good and well thought out policies in place and we know exactly what we need to do in order make Free Kashmir a a great nation.

The Economics

Is Free Kashmir a viable option? Can Free Kashmir survive on its own? How will the supplies come? Where will the jobs come from? These are few of the numerous myths that are circulated and often talked about.

Mauritius is one small countries with a good economy surviving mainly on tourism. Let's compare Mauritius with Kashmir. (Data provided by Wikipedia).

Item MauritiusKashmir
Area2,040 sq km78,900 sq km
Population~1,000,000~4,000,000

From the above facts it's clear that Mauritius is way smaller than the Kasmir Valley, both in area and population. Now if Mauritius is surviving why can't Kashmir sustain. I understand that its easier said than done, but longest of journeys start with a single step. Man did not conquer space in one step. It took centuries of research on the other founding sciences to actually fuel the conquest of space. Same is the case with Kashmir. The question is, do we have what it takes & are we willing to do that? Lets analyze some of the opportunities available for the economic development of Kashmir.

NOTE: Some of the facts presented here were taken from a Pugwash Issue Brief titled Exploring the Potential for Economic Development and Cross-LOC Collaboration in Jammu and Kashmir; issued on July 2007 and Pugwash Workshop on Intra-Kashmir Economic Cooperation Colombo, Sri Lanka, 15-16 March 2008

Hydro Electricity

Perhaps the most potent economic use of our water resources is its electricity generation potential. The total hydroelectric potential of our water resources is estimated at 20,000 megawatts, which far surpasses the demand of Kashmir, northern India, and Pakistan. Given this fact, it is ironic to note that despite containing watersheds for all major rivers in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir remains severely energy deficient. Indian Kashmir is the most energy-starved state in the country.

Now just imagine the potential of earnable money, waiting to be capitalized by providing the power to area equivalent to full Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh, Pakistan and Northern India,

Tourism

After Hydro-Electricity, tourism is our another very big opportunity. Few years, back I heard on CNN that the tourism industry touched the Rs. 50 billion(just over USD 1 billion) in 1986-87 just before the insurgency took place. I am not sure how true that is but I am confident that this figure is close to the real. In spite of the tensions, hundreds of thousands of tourists storm to the valley every year to treat themselves to the picturesque views of our Valley.

Add to it Gulmarg, a premier destination for skiers from around the world. Thousand of skiers from almost all corners of world come to this beautiful place to ski.

Information Technology

According to the FICCI, at least 10,000 skilled IT professionals are present in Indian Kashmir. Add to it the number of Kashmiri IT professionals working outside Kashmir.

The Pugwash report mentions an interesting fact:

Arguably, the demand for IT services on both sides of the LoC could be expected to increase tremendously once Kashmir transforms into a modern economy and banking, e-commerce and e-governance practices are instituted. Therefore, there is a need for Pakistani Kashmir to accelerate IT development in the state. To begin with, Pakistani Kashmir could utilize the software development capacity across the LoC by outsourcing assignments. In order to develop human resource capacity for long term sustainability, Indian IT professionals could be requested to teach at small IT training centers that could be set up in Pakistani Kashmir. The Indian side(of Kashmir) could also help their Pakistani counterparts in setting up software technology parks and other such IT ventures.

I do not say that Kashmir can be transformed in Silicon Valley overnight, but Kashmir definitely has the potential to be a very attractive Grade B IT destination. Information Technology Enabled Services like call centers, support centers, etc. have huge potential here. This is can be deduced from the fact that almost 2500 students pass out every year with graduate level qualification IT and related qualifications like BCA, B.Sc-IT, BIT and some other vocational courses in IT. These people are can easily be absorbed in ITES sector. Add to it nearly 500 passing out with professional and post graduate qualifications like BS, BE, B.Tech, MCA, M.Sc-CS, and other related engineering qualifications etc. While we may not have the potential to build companies like IBM, Microsoft yet but there definitely is potential for exploring the set up small, niche companies in Kashmir that cater to a single technological need and cater well.

(A work in progress)