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Kashmir is now moving towards Peace and Prosperity

The hopeless and tragic ground realities have begun to change in the past few years, and Kashmir is gradually regaining its lost glory – even though a lot of challenges remain to be surmounted.

From Dubai to Dallas, people all over the world today have had the chance to bite into a delicious apple from Kashmir or its famed walnuts and enjoy the fragrant beauty of a tulip from Asia’s largest tulip garden. All because the Indian government and Kashmiris have made exports a key fulcrum of Kashmir’s economic resurgence.

We have also engaged in finding ways of promoting Kashmir’s vast natural resource base – whether for developing land for cultivating major fruits, modernizing horticulture practices, boosting food processing and agro-based industries or helping the floriculture industry fully bloom.

While Kashmir remains one of India′s least industrialised regions, with a per capita income of $870 in 2016-2017 compared to the national average of $1,100, the focus in the past has also moved from earlier conversations on anti-terror operations and stone-pelting, to now talking about industrial growth.

Vast Land Banks, Small-Scale and Cottage Industries

The region’s handicrafts are famed around the world and the legendary demand for a Pashmina shawl has helped propel the traditional handicraft sector to a large industry status – receiving priority attention of the government due to its large employment base and export potential. Other small-scale and cottage industries such as carpet weaving, silk, basketry, pottery, copper and silverware, papier-mache, and walnut wood also have a crucial role to play in the region’s economic revival, and already provide direct employment to more than 350,000 skilled artisans.

According to Manoj Kumar Dwivedi, the Commissioner Secretary in charge of industry, commerce and tourism, India has offered a vast bank of land along with tax breaks and insurance cover to draw businesses here and the response from domestic and global investors has been very encouraging. Earlier this year, Reuters reported that the land bank on offer was a mind-boggling 6,000 acres – with more than 1,300 acres of it being in the scenic Kashmir valley.

While a planned Jammu and Kashmir Global Investment Summit had to be rescheduled for next year due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are already scores of companies who have shown interest in investing in Jammu and Kashmir. “We have started the process of contacting these companies who had shown interest early this year. Till now 70 of them have shown good interest,” said Dwivedi, who also holds the charge of managing director of J&K Trade Promotion Organisation.

Global Expressions of Interest

According to officials, the companies have shown interest in investing over $2 billion in the region in the form of 61 Expression of Interest (EOIs). Some of the sectors that these companies intend to invest in are IT, infrastructure, renewable energy, manufacturing, hospitality, defence, skills education and tourism. The companies that have shown interest include Jackson Group, Indo American Synergy, HCH Pvt Ltd and Atmiya Fieldcon Pvt Ltd

The steady flow of interest from global investors amid the coronavirus pandemic has also been the result of concerted efforts by the Indian Government, project the potential of the region for commerce and industry. Even in the midst of international criticism of the abrogation last year, India took a group of foreign diplomats – including the Ambassadors and High Commissioners to India of 15 nations – on an official visit to Jammu and Kashmir. They included diplomats from the US, South Korea, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Fiji, Maldives, Norway, the Philippines, Morocco, Argentina and Nigeria.

According to Excelsior, a favourable crisis management following the scrapping of Article 370 – such as the first-hand viewing of the valley as mentioned above – is also one of the key factors why many foreign countries have sent expressions of interest, including from the UAE, the UK, Singapore, Japan and others from the Middle East and South-East Asia.

Tax Holiday and Other Incentives

The overwhelming interest to invest in Kashmir has also prompted the government to think about offering some concessions to make the business environment further attractive. Among the proposals being considered are providing security and higher insurance cover to comfort investors in some conflict-ridden areas, along with a tax holiday of 10-15 years for strategic investments. “If we want somebody to come and do business here, taking care of the interest of the businessman is definitely our responsibility,” said Dwivedi.

The government is planning to set up 12 new industrial estates in Jammu and Kashmir to provide a robust investment environment and boost the region’s economy – a move that will help distribute the balance of businesses across the territory and away from Srinagar and Jammu.

Also under discussion is whether companies would acquire the land in Kashmir or it would be provided on a lease. “These things are under deliberations. Some companies have given us MoUs about what kind of business units and what kind of investment they will bring to the region,” one official familiar with the discussions told Economic Times.

With more than 100,000 new jobs on the anvil, companies have assured the government of hiring at least 80 percent staff locally at all industrial units set up by them in the region.

As Jammu and Kashmir marks a year of liberation from the oppressive shadow of Article 370, it is evident that the region has begun to catch up with the development curve, even though on-the-ground challenges and geopolitical risks will continue to linger for quite some time, given the enormous magnitude of the decision last year. Those who seek to play the victim card for the Muslims of Kashmir and seek to exploit it to build anti-national sentiments and trigger a constant state of unrest will find their task nearly impossible now – thanks to the strengthening of grass-roots democracy in the region where Panchayats get direct funding and people decide their own developmental priorities.

A view of common Kashmiri

Stone Pelter to Nation Builder

People living in complex territories like Kashmir change with every reality, unfolding day in and day out. We can say, those who survive the political ambiguity come to learn about reality. Political ambiguity, We believe, is the period of stress we occasionally experience in Kashmir; it renders thousands dead, and only a handful of people could live to disclose the reality.

It is the time when the majority of young people become prey to ideas that potentially advocate militancy and secessionism.

I graduated from Degree College in Baramulla. Our parents live in a distorted reality, they believe that sending their children outside Jammu and Kashmir may put their lives in trouble; this is a cardinal lie, factually incorrect. As per data, hundreds and thousands of young people choose colleges outside their home state to grab opportunities, they make it to national and international institutions to work in distinguished capacities. But here, most of my classmates joined the local Government Degree College and I followed them, and completed my Masters in Political Science.

The lack of alternatives and opportunities had made me so rugged that I was struck by the ideas of martyrdom and radical thoughts.

I threw multiple rounds of stone at the Indian army that could have broken the windows of Casspir, the giant vehicle. In the evening, many anti-peace people sent me appreciation texts, but The journey of change started. In 2017, at Showkat Ali Stadium, during a sports festival, I met SSP Imtiyaz Hussain Mir, known for his bravery and hard work. I exchanged ideas with him and I realised he is an officer with whom I can interact freely. In 2018, I founded “Save Youth Save Future” (SYSF) Foundation, with barely any support. I began to dream of a better future for the young. I sensed that young people are always told stories of death, I thought I must change their perception. This is a true incident, which is the only example, many such Kashmiris are improving the lives of other Kashmiris along with their lives.

A Bold Game-Changer in the Valley

People in J&K have been suffering from Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and radicalism for the last 75 years. If really Pakistan wants to show solidarity to the Kashmiri people, it should stop border terrorism and stop sending money and weapons to terrorists. Let Kashmiris live in peace. It will push 14 million Kashmiri people toward prosperity in a short time. Tight security measures in J&K will be relaxed. That is the real way of showing solidarity for the Kashmiri people.

The average Kashmiri can now look forward to the application of progressive Indian laws in the state – like in any other part of the country, the creation of mechanisms to implement welfare schemes, and the opening up of economic opportunities.

The abrogation of Article 370 will therefore go down in history as a bold game-changer that helped deliver Jammu and Kashmir from the clutches of permanent misery created by a temporary constitutional provision to a future full of possibilities, peace and prosperity.

29 Mar 22/Tuesday                                                                         Written By: Fayaz

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