RANGRETH, INDIAN KASHMIR
Four years ago, when Jehangir Raina, an Indian businessman based in the United Kingdom, decided to start an information-technology company in Kashmir instead of in hot spots like Bangalore and Gurgaon, business analysts thought him a fool.
But Mr. Raina saw in this conflict zone what only a few others did: business potential.
"Initially, our clients were reluctant to do business with a company not based in a metro, but in a conflict zone in the Himalayas," he says with a smile. "Once they saw potential in us, their reluctance disappeared." Over the years, I-Locus, Raina's market-research company, has managed to woo more than 200 international clients, including Microsoft and Wipro.
In a way, Raina's success story demonstrates the growth prospects of a region that, for years, has been a crucible of terror and fear. Kashmir's economy has been sluggish compared with India's national average GDP growth of about 9.2 percent. But at nearly 5 percent growth, Kashmir still manages to defy the myth that armed conflict, which has raged here for 17 years, necessarily stymies economic potential.
Instead of the images normally seen in active war zones – bombed-out houses, empty shops, and abject poverty – what's conspicuous in Kashmir, says Adil Nisar, a manager at HDFC, Indian Kashmir's first private bank, are its opulent mansions, markets full of produce, and a burgeoning population armed with formidable purchasing power.
Despite years of militancy, Kashmir's poverty rate is the lowest in all of India. Only 3.97 percent of rural Kashmiris live below the poverty line, along with 1.98 percent of city-dwellers, according to government statistics. In the rest of India, those figures stand much higher, at 27.09 percent and 23.02 percent respectively.
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