Palestine Can? We Can’t?

Palestinian IT Industry growing at 20% annually!

HOPE

JUNAID AZIM MATTU

Successive State Governments in J&K have had the inexhaustible luxury of numerous excuses to hide their incompetence behind. And the most abused excuse to explain the misrule and planning failures in our State has been the political turmoil and instability that we have witnessed. Our roads are dry riverbeds, they say, because of the turmoil. Our hospitals are under-equipped and under-staffed, they say, because of the turmoil. Our government schools are in cow sheds and horse stables, they say, because of the turmoil. Our private sector lies buried under a mountain of darkness, they say, because of the turmoil. But if turmoil, of the nature that we have witnessed in the last decade and especially considering the years of normalcy of late, hinders governance on all fronts, how does the West Bank in Palestine have a booming IT industry that’s growing at 20% annually? How does Palestine have dynamic, local IT start-ups that have registered a 35% growth in the last one year alone?
I was amazed to learn that the Palestinian IT industry is growing at such a phenomenal pace that some Palestinian expatriates in the US and UK are heading back to work in these companies which often boast of direct BPO arrangements with Tech Giants like Microsoft and Intel. With foosball tables, casual dressing codes and flexible working hours that permit the developers to work from home, these IT start-ups are taking inspiration from Google and Facebook. The Palestinian IT industry is officially “booming”. How can Palestine, despite being sandwiched by oppression and military might by Israel, have a “booming” IT industry when J&K – a State that has hundreds and thousands of unemployed youth, have nothing more to its credit but a dysfunctional ‘Software Development Park’?
Our State is naturally disadvantaged to host a number of industries because of its climate, location and topography. But all of that changes when you speak of the IT industry. As we’re seeing in Palestine now, the IT industry can exist in the most hostile atmospheres. This due to the nature of the industry in how it doesn’t require the mobility of goods or people or an interaction in the local consumer markets that would bring in a sensitivity to local conditions. The IT service industry makes location irrelevant – be it Kashmir or the Palestinian West Bank. And this is something we need to understand and understand well!
The Indian cities of Bangalore and Hyderabad have based their success stories on the base of the IT booms that both cities witnessed. Aided with government schemes and economic incentives, IT start-ups in both cities benefited from growing demand in the service industry in the western world. Almost all the big IT and Tech service companies in the US had customer service call centers based in Indian cities by the turn of this new decade.
This tragic lack of innovation on the policy front in our State in the IT industry is the part of a bigger tragedy – of how successive governments in our State have made the emergence of a robust private sector a mission impossible. My party has been the only party that has time and again spoken of the importance and urgency of aiding our private sector. The lone voice advocating the needs of a nascent private sector in our State has been our Chairman, Sajad Lone – from whom I have learned much about the dynamics and role of a private sector growth towards an economic resurgence in our State. The other two mainstream parties that have been part of ruling dispensations in our State have done little on this front. Entrepreneurship, business establishment and operation continues to be marred by a labyrinth of regulatory and red-tape nightmares. The State’s IT industry is more or less an implementation agency with almost no significant State budgetary allocations.      
The Feb 2011 Report of the Expert Group to Formulate a Jobs Plan for the State of J&K, in its section on the potential and proposals for the IT industry in J&K states that “The sector (IT) has attracted a number of young entrepreneurs but the growth in the sector has been constrained by lack of connectivity, shortage of skilled, reluctance of talent from the rest of the country to work in the State and poor network of educational institutions in IT”. The report made the following recommendations:
1) A fully connected SWAN network in the State.
2) Special preference to local companies through policies framed by GoI and the State Government.
3) A cable termination station/exchange link, which is currently up to Chandigarh, should be extended to Srinagar to provide robust bandwidth access to J&K (at least 50 GBPS) with a goal of 99% uptime and scalable connectivity.
4) Encourage private sector participants to become Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the districts.
5) Immediate introduction of IT education in government schools.
The State Government has, very predictably, chosen to put the recommendations in a deep freezer and has not shown any will to move forward to implement them. Job creation to them, remains an over-abused slogan in rallies and press statements, nothing more.

(Junaid Azim Mattu is the Srinagar District President of Peoples’ Conference. Views are personal. Email – junaid.msu@gmail.com

Lastupdate on : Fri, 2 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 2 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 3 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST




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