Founded in 1646, Muzaffarabad is the capital of the disputed Azad Jammu and Kashmir. In 2005 it was hit by a strong earthquake that destroyed half its infrastructure.
Muzaffarabad city is the capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir State. Located 138 km northeast of Islamabad, it also serves as the capital of Muzaffarabad District. The district had an estimated population of more 600,000 in 2009. As the provincial capital, Muzaffarabad houses the Supreme Court building as well as the state bank, a university, the legislative assembly building, and the Secretariat.
Muzaffarabad is situated in the midst of the lesser Himalayan Mountains and although nestled inside a valley, stands 724 meters above sea level. The city was built at the site where two major rivers join. The Neelum River flows the length of the city and about halfway the Jhelum River, at an area known as Domail, joins it from the east. This is a popular spot with tourists, who can easy walk down to the water and sit on charpais that are placed inside the river.
The people of Muzaffarabad are linguistically and culturally related to those of upper Punjab. Hindko is the main spoken language, while other languages such as Gojri, Kashmiri, and Urdu are also spoken. Agriculture is a large part of Muzaffarabad’s economy and rice and maize are its two major crops. Many artisans also make their home in this city. Wood carved furniture, paper-mache items, and hand embroidery are commonly found and sold here.
Muzaffarabad was founded in 1646 by Sultan Muzaffar Khan of the Bomba Dynasty. The Bombas were not natives to Kashmir and had entered the region a few hundred years before the founding of Muzaffarabad. They kept Muzaffarabad as their capital until the Sikhs overthrew them in 1819. The Bombas continued to rebel against the Sikh governors that were appointed. In 1846, Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu was granted rule of what is now Kashmir and Gilgit–Baltistan. The Bambas, with the help of the local governor Immaddudin, initially put up a strong fight but in the end they were overcome. Gulab Singh became the first Dogra ruler of Kashmir.
In 1947, Raja Hari Singh, the last Dogra King of Jammu and Kashmir, signed a ‘standstill’ agreement because he could not decide if Kashmir should join India or Pakistan. In October of that year, tribesmen from Pakistan’s northern region invaded Kashmir, and the Maharaja asked for assistance from the Indian Government. India took over two-thirds of Kashmir, while Pakistan retained control of what is now known as Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Part of Kashmir was also handed over to China in the 1950s.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars over this territory, but no decisive outcome has emerged. In 1948, India took the issue of Kashmir to the UN, and till today it is the oldest dispute on the UN agenda. The Line of Control established in 1947 still remains a contested border between the two countries.
The Red Fort, also known as Muzaffarabad Fort, is strategically located beside the Neelum River, which flows around it on three sides. Standing three stories high, it once had stairs that descended into the river below. The Red Fort was constructed and expanded across a span of 200 years by various rulers.
It was first built by the Chak rulers in 1559 as a means of defense against invading Mughal armies. But Akbar was able to overcome them and chose to convert the fort into a royal travel lodge. The Red Fort was largely forgotten until 1646 when Sultan Muzaffar Khan of the Bomba Dynasty repaired and finished the construction of this fort and used it as a military base. In 1846, the Red Fort passed into the hands of the Dogra rulers who expanded it, giving it the structure that is still visible today. Though initially used by the Dogra army, it was once more abandoned in 1926 upon the construction of a new cantonment. Today it stands in ruins, much destroyed by the 2005 earthquake.
In the early morning of 5 October 2005, an extremely powerful earthquake, rated 7.6 on the Richter scale, shook Azad Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Muzaffarabad was at the center of the earthquake. Its effects were felt as far off as Quetta and Lahore, and even in Afghanistan. This was the deadliest earthquake in the recent history of the subcontinent. More than 80,000 died, while over 200,000 were injured, and approximately 4 million people were left without homes. Entire towns and families were wiped out; mountain roads, highways and bridges were destroyed, while surviving villages and towns were left severely damaged. The onset of winter, as well as continuous land sliding after the earthquake, continued to make rescue efforts near impossible. Through the support of the federal government as well as international funding, Muzaffarabad today looks like a modern city.