Mirpur (Urdu: میر پور), also known as 'Little Britain', is the largest city in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and the capital of Mirpur District. Mirpur is located at the extreme south of Azad Kashmir at an elevation of 459 metres (1509 ft). It is 125 kilometres (68 miles) south east of Islamabad via the Grand Trunk Road and 295 kilometres (183 miles) south of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Since Mirpur lies at the point where the Jhelum River breaks out of the heavily forested foothills of the Pir Panjal mountains into the plains of the largely treeless Punjab. It was an ideal spot for the construction of the boats used to carry goods down the five rivers of the Punjab to the Indus River and onto the seaports in the Indus delta. Traders have been operating from there across the Indian Ocean for over three thousand years. Most of the crew on the boats trading up and down the Punjab and Indus River system were drawn from Mirpur, as training as a boat-builder was a necessary prerequisite for becoming a boatman.
With the arrival of British rule however, the thriving river trade was decimated due to the construction of railway lines from Bombay and Karachi into the interior of the Punjab. Moving goods by rail was both cheaper and quicker, and hundreds of Mirpuri boatmen found themselves out of a job.
At the same time long-distance ocean trade was shifting from sail to steam. There was a huge demand for men who were prepared to work in the hot, dirty and dangerous stokeholds of the new coal-fired steamers. European seamen avoided such jobs whenever they possibly could. They preferred to work on deck. But in the 1870s Mirpuri ex-river boatmen were desperately searching for a new source of income. Although unfamiliar with stoking coal-fired boilers, they were prepared to learn and quickly gained a virtual monopoly of jobs as engine-room stokers on new steamships sailing out of Karachi and Bombay, a position they retained until coal-fired ships were finally phased out of service at the end of the second world war.
After world war two a new set of opportunities opened up. Britain's economy was just setting off on what proved to be a long post-war boom, and there was an acute short of labour in the foundries of the Midlands, and the textile mills of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Now it was the turn of ex-seamen to become industrial workers in Britain. So when the Mangla lake was filled up in 1966, depriving large numbers of Mirpuri farmers of their land, an alternative was readily available: to move overseas to join those of their kinsfolk who had established themselves in Britain.
As a result, Mirpur is one of the principal sources of migration from Pakistan to Europe, and especially to Britain, so much so that close to half a million migrants from this area now live in the United Kingdom. Although it is widely believed that the principal reason for this outflow was the construction of the Mangla Dam, this is only partially true. Whilst the construction of the dam undoubtedly reinforced the scale of the outflow, since the waters of the lake swamped most of the best land in the District, emigration from this region began long beforehand.
Mirpur city is situated at 459 meters above sea-level and is linked with the main Peshawar-Lahore Grand Trunk road at Dina Tehsil. It is the headquarters of Mirpur District, which comprises three sub-divisions, Mirpur, Chaksawari & Dadyal . The building of the new city in late sixties paved the way for New Mirpur situated on the banks of Mangla lake. In fact the remains of the old city (old Mirpur) are underneath the waters of the Mangla Lake, during colder months the water level decreases such that you can see the tops of minarets from the first mosques, and also the remnants of a Sikh gurdwara as well as a Hindu mandir possibly dedicated to the "mangla mata" (mangla mother goddess).This is a glimpse of pre-independence times when there were many faiths co-existing in Kashmir as a whole, but however after partition the Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs fled to India. Mirpur was well planned and the buildings are mostly of modern design, in addition there is significant inward investment from expatriates now living in the United Kingdom, Europe, North America, & the Middle East. The city has a number of hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and other urban facilities.
As Mirpur adjoins the industrial cities of Pakistan, the Government of Azad Jammu & Kashmir has successfully endeavoured to develop it as an industrial place and promote private investment for establishing, Foam, Polypropylene, Synthetic yarn, Motorbikes, Textile, vegetable ghee, logging and sawmills, soap, cosmetics, marble, ready-made garments, matches, rosin, turpentine and scooter industrial units in the area. However, much of the infrastructure still needs further development in order to compete on a national level. As part of the relief/compensation package in the wake of Mangla Dam Raising Project, a New City is being developed along the southeastern outskirts of Mirpur. Civil works at huge scale are going on around the whole district, by the Pakistani & Chinese contractors for raising the dam. Four towns in the district have been planned besides the new city, to resettle the population affected by the project.