The Mangla Dam project in Mirpur, Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, otherwise known as ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir, was the largest embankment dam project in the world at the time of its completion in 1967. At the time, the 260 square km reservoir was formed by four major dams, each with a different cross-section and structure. The original plans included “provision” for raising the dams, as and when required, in the event of future sedimentation. In 2000, ‘capacity’ lost due to sedimentation became a concern for the government of Pakistan who decided to expand the size of the Dam thereby destroying local communities of upwards of 40 thousand people. These communities were resettled in other parts of Pakistan and Pakistan-administered-Kashmir.

The Dam has benefited many people in Pakistan.

This is an uncontroversial fact celebrated in Pakistan.

The Dam has been a complete catastrophe for the people of “Azad” Jammu & Kashmir, in particular those living in the vicinity of its waters, and upstream in Andarhal and Chakswari. Of the original victims in 1967, just under 300 villages were submerged under the waters and more than 110 thousand people became homeless. Inadequately compensated, some were resettled in the desert parched lands of Multan, whilst others were rehoused closer to ‘Mirpur’ in Pakistan. A lot of victims insisted on being resettled in Mirpur District to be close to their brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, grandparents and children. Others became reliant on the sponsorship networks and migrated to the UK with work “vouchers” that guaranteed work in British factories without which they would have been denied entry into the UK.

It is wrongly assumed that the Pakistani government somehow benignly transferred the entire population of Mirpur to the UK in the wake of the Mangla Dam, despite only having obtained 400 vouchers from the British company that won the contract with the assistance of the UK government. This was a ‘kickback’, and yet we read in the works of numerous writers that Pakistan facilitated the migration of Mirpuris to the UK. These writers forget that Mirpuris had been coming to the UK well before the 1960s and their sponsorship network predates the creation of the Mangla Dam and its ecological and social fallout by decades.

Ignorance has seldom been poetic!

As the impressive mansions of Mirpur overlook the waters of Mangla, the dispossession of her people stares them in their faces, every day, as they look into the waters that destroyed their communities – all this ‘money’ and no roads, hospitals or schools. Nothing for the poor and destitute masses of Azad Kashmir’s dispossessed who have no cousins or friends in the UK to send them ‘remittences’, not even ‘electricity’!

The Mangla Dam has proven without any shadow of doubt that the elites of Pakistan – and not Pakistani’s destitute masses who are our brethren – have never cared for the people of “Azad” Jammu & Kashmir. What have ordinary Pakistanis gained from its political elite for us in Mirpur to now decry our treatment at the hands of tyrants and their local agents?

Perhaps China’s bridge – we all know Pakistan couldn’t afford to build this bridge – will be a small plaster over our deep wounds.

It’s time we started to think about our own priorities. Or else we can carry on living like ‘mountain sheep‘ in the UK flying Pakistani flags – a favourite slur of our brothers and sisters in Pakistan!

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