Kashmir’s future is that of a knowledge economy. Period.
Agricultural land is dwindling, courtesy Kashmiris greed for disorganised construction, natural resources are being pummelled by powers elsewhere, exemplified by the monopoly of the New Delhi Government over previous water resources, and whatever little usable non-agricultural land is left, has been occupied by the Armed Forces in the name of defending the very people who are suffering as a result of their actions. (A recent study showed that the Armed Forces have occupied more than 2% of the total land of the Kashmir Valley)
Which leaves Kashmiri youth with little choice but to figure out ways to employ themselves, and suitably use their time—and becoming a major stop on the international knowledge super-highway is a good place to start. The Republic of Ireland has a population, which is equivalent to half of Kashmir and is about half the size in area of the state of J&K, exported US$89 billion worth of exports in 2013, of which a large section was information technology related services. Ireland was the second largest exporter of software in 2005. Switzerland is another example of a nation, quietly tucked in Central Europe, but disproportionately important in terms of banking, IT, and high-end pharmaceuticals.
But all this talk of countries located in areas of geo-political stability cannot bring success to Kashmir. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for Kashmir which can be brought in from outside.
What can be done—and what must be done—is an attempt at collective responsibility toward the economic future of Kashmir. The modern technological interface of a computer with an Internet connection and a webcam attached makes the world genuinely flat, to borrow the term from Thomas Friedman. Anyone, anywhere in Kashmir, can get on the Internet, and with little backing from the government, search for jobs, both online, and offline, which can be done wherever he or she is. The possibilities are endless, what we need is a change of mind-set, and facilitation of such access.
One of the ways to do so is to make online access easy, fast, and reliable through the creation of Wi-Fi hotspots, local digital libraries, and Internet access points. Mosques are the only form of construction that are universally available and they are amenable to minor alterations, which will make such details possible. We only need societal compliance, and social responsibility toward our future generation. In most urban and suburban areas of Kashmir, raising a few lakh from every mosque to purchase equipment needed to establish the necessary digital libraries should not be too difficult. Mosques spend lakhs every year on heating and maintenance anyway. Arrangements for temporary seating and timings for females can easily be arranged. Needs just a little will. The University of Kashmir can be roped in to provide access to its digital library so that students can have access to the latest authentic information. It needs societal oversight, not government interference to make this possible. It is an investment that will take a generation to show fruit.
The undertone of such an initiative will be clear for all to see. We can do it on our own, and we will. Kashmir will find a place in e-commerce, irrespective of the continued political flux. To achieve economic interdependence is better than being perpetually economically dependent.