Connecting commerce to conflict

The internet is an economic powerhouse that drives economies and at times it needs to be looked beyond the anticipation of troubling law and order of a region.
Connecting commerce to conflict

In war, 'truth' is the first causality, but in case of Kashmir, it's the 'internet'. Kashmir valley has witnessed more than 130 days of continuous mobile internet ban, which was lifted partially on Friday night (the ban on prepaid mobile internet still continues). Probably one of the longest internet bans across globe ever. Why this has not made any headlines is because internet facility seems like a luxury for a place where basic human rights are still getting compromised consistently. The enforcing agencies have repeatedly justified the ban on the grounds that social media, during situations of public anger, shape public opinion negatively which eventually drives action and creates unavoidable law and order situation. Social media is surely a very powerful tool in shaping opinions as validated by the recently held US presidential elections, however, internet is not just about social media.

While deciding on internet curfew, Government needs to realize that internet is way beyond facebook and whatsapp. The internet is an economic powerhouse that drives economies and at times it needs to be looked beyond the anticipation of troubling law and order of a region. In a research paper published by McKinsey Global Institute on "The Impact of the internet on economic growth and prosperity", one finds striking correlations between a country's GDP and Internet growth. As per the research, the contribution of Internet to a country's GDP range from 7 percent to 21 percent, which is envisaged to increase further in coming times.The important point to mention here is that this contributing economic output is not limited to just IT and ecommerce sector, but an improved internetecosystem causes immediate economic dividends even in the traditional brick and mortar businesses. Another important observation in the research shows that in addition to performance improvements in large businesses, the impact of internet is leveraged more by SMEs and start-ups. The finding was substantiated with the fact that those SMEs that employed web technologies grew twice as fast as those with a limited web presence. However, during situations like social unrest, conflict, war and other issues; states across globe have repeatedly resorted to switching off internet.

As per a research conducted for a period from July 1, 2015, to June 30 this year by US based thinktank, Brookings Institution, India ranked No. 1 in terms of number of internet disruptions as well as in terms of amount of economic loss. A total of 22 internet disruptions were recorded in India during this period which is at par with war-torn Iraq, 8 in non-ISIS controlled parts of Syria and surprisingly only 6 in Pakistan. Internet shutdowns cost India a whopping Rs 6,485 crorefor this period, highest among 22 countries surveyed. In Aug-2015, Gujrat witnessed around 7 days of internet shutdown during Patidar agitation. After which, Gujrat Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), went on records in saying that more than bandh, it's the internet ban that has negatively impacted the trade and commerce which has resulted in loss of thousands of crores to Gujrat economy in just 7 days. Among all the nine states in India who have faced internet shutdown in India from January to June this year, Kashmir ranks No. 1 with nine instances. And from July started the darkest period of Internet in Kashmir with more than 133 days straight and still counting on prepaid mobiles.

In last couple of years, valley witnessed a proliferation in internet based ventures and start-ups. The change was looked towards as a positive indicator and a potential solution for the chronic unemployment problem of the state. In addition to this, state's legacy cottage industries and SMEs were slowly and gradually getting associated with internet communication superhighway, opening up global markets and supply chains. The growth was slow, however, the undercurrent was felt very strongly. Ranging from online GI tagged pashmina to providing IT and web services globally, youngsters in valley were riding a new wave and positive energies were getting channelised towards a sustainable economic good. Young girls still in their colleges were running a number of online Instagram based fashion apparel stores like TulPalav, and were doing quite well. New age entrepreneurs were selling unsold tourist locations online creating innovative adventure tour offerings and giving a flip to our tourism sector. But to our misfortune and dismay, this journey of economic upliftment didn't go smooth and myopic systemic impediments in the form of internet ban disrupted the hard earned momentum. All these business models were based on connectivity, without which all the profitability assumptions became irrelevant. 

The aftermath to this sustained internet ban is quite ugly. In addition to majority of start-up owners winding up and going outside state seeking jobs, a good chunk of those non-resident Kashmiris who decided to come back, invest in local business ventures, create jobs and help local economy are fleeing back to their old overseas professions. Not only this, aspiring youngsters with radical ideas are scared to experiment in such a discouraging environment. The love for jobs seems to have only gone up and the brain drain is further aggravated.

After all these economic and social costs of banning internet, are we better off or worse off? Has the decision to ban internet really paid off? These are some of the questions that ban imposing authorities need to answer before relying on this myopic and ineffective tool of opinion control.

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