Javed Bashir, Honoury Visiting Fellow at the University of Bradford, visited Mirpur as a part of education delegation.

There he spoke to people affected by the proposed Mangla Dam extension. Here he reccounts the trip.

A large number of Lancashires Pakistani community come from Mirpur (Azad Kashmir) and one of major reason for their migration was construction of Mangla dam.

The dam originally constructed in 1960s caused a large-scale exodus of Kashmiris from Mirpur when the whole of ancient historical town of Mirpur and over four hundred surrounding villages were submerged. Many of the displaced people ended up in Bradford where a process of chain migration was already in place for over a decade. These British Kashmiris consisted of male young workers later invited their families and now form one of the largest Kashmiri community out side of Kashmir.

The dam dislocated over 485 villages, over 65,000 acres of most fertile land and over 100,000 people were displaced, most were made homeless. After forty years since the construction of Mangla Dam the Pakistani government has decided to raise the height of the dam from 1210 feet to 1270 feet.

This will make available additional 2.9 MAF of water annually. The project will also provide additional annual power generation of 772 GWb. The work has already started on this and is expected to be completed in June 2007.

Pakistani rulers and WAPDA officials claim that the upraising is required to restore the water storage capacity which has decreased over the years owing to the sedimentation of this third largest earth filled dam in the world. However, the Anti extension campaigners claim that the very reason for fall in the water storage capacity has been WAPDAs failure to clean the silt.

Talking of the effects of the extension project it will displace will virtually destroy the New Mirpur, Kakra, Bangreela, Kalyaal, ajar, Haryam, Jumoohee, Panyam, Chaksawari and several villages in Dadyall.

The new Mirpur town was gradually built few miles from the old and is now the largest and most prosperous town in the whole of Azad Kashmir. New Mirpur has been mainly constructed by the over seas Kashmiris remittances mainly in Britain.

The second phase will further dislocate 7,000 families (43,000 people) according to the Pakistani government figures and over 150,000 according to the local estimates. This will cause major economic, social, environmental and psychological destruction for the people of Mirpur and surrounding areas.

A large chunk of the New Mirpur town that has built with hard savings of many migrant workers living in Lancashire will be submerged under the water.

In the first phase of Mangla Dam, the people of Mirpur opposed the construction of the dam, yet the dam was built and promises made to them were not honoured.

The fact is that the people of Mirpur are still suffering because of the dam in many ways. Those who were uprooted in 1960s still have not come to terms with the trauma of migration and problems faced in Pakistan. Many of them did not get possession of their allotments, some of them were forced to leave the area and return to Mirpur; and those who some how managed to live in new places in far fetched cities of Pakistan are still considered as second class citizens and are known as 'Mahjars'.

The second phase of Mangla Dam will have adverse affects in terms of displacement and destabilisation of life in Mirpur, very likely to be felt upon the Expatriate Kashmiris particularly those living in Bradford.

A new Mirpur town was gradually built few miles from the old and is now the largest and most prosperous town in the whole of Azad Kashmir. The protestors repeatedly criticised the proposed extension and gave detailed account of its adverse effects on the economy, social fabric and environment of the whole district of Mirpur.

Although, the president of Pakistan announced a package for the affected people and assured that Rs300,000(£2900 app) will be offered to each newly affected person, and Rs200,000(£1900 app)to the earlier ones. In addition, a 5-marla plot(25 sq metres) will also be given to each person free of cost.

The promises about compensations and alternative lands were only partially fulfilled in the first phase and according to Pakistan government document dated 27th June 2003, in which they admitted that 7707 families forcefully displaced in 1960s were never compensated whatsoever till this day.

The people being effected by this extension are criticising the Pakistani authorities for forcing Mangla Dam on them and then not meeting any of the promises made about rehabilitation, compensation, electricity and reconstruction of the New Mirpur.

They said that we sacrificed our history, culture, memories, houses, lands and even the graveyards of our ancestors for the electricity and water to be used for the development of Pakistan. But the way we are treated since shows that the Pakistani rulers never valued our sacrifices.

They never paid compensation, or the ownership of land to those who were settled in Punjab. They charge commercial rates for electricity from the Azad Kashmiris who were promised free electricity at the time of the Mangla Dam construction.

This extension will have a major physogical and economical effect on many of Bradfords Kashmiri people particularly the early arrivals who have sacrificed all their lifes saving and invested back home to build a house.

They had a myth of return which led to the instability of settling down, playing a full and active role in this society which partly led to sacrificing their luxuries, working overtime, poor conditions, living in overcrowded and poor housing, unable to give time to their children and families.

Majority of elders kept closed ties with families, politics and economic of their native country though challenged by many youngsters.

Perhaps this is going to be a new start for many Kashmiris living in Lancashire who have invested all their lifes saving and investing in Mirpur which they will be able to witness being drowned into water within 18 months time.

Some Kashmiris have realised that home is where you live and are beginning to play a full and active role in this society in terms of developing their social, economic and education status but for others this is time to think and reflect lets make best of this home which will provide future for our children.