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A new Muzaffarabad emerges (Photograph by Arif Mahmood/White Star)

Until the massive earthquake of 2005 Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir, was considered to be the end of the earth by people living elsewhere inPakistan. Picturesque as the setting is, it was always more of a ‘passing through to somewhere else’ kind of place, heavily centered on its heavily trafficked long distance bus station and not exactly a magnet for tourists.

Once the dust had settled over its almost total destruction though, the city, now firmly on the map, began to undergo an incredible transformation, a transformation initially accredited to aid agencies and humanitarian entrepreneurs but since largely taken over by the Government of Azad Kashmir and business concerns keen to invest in what could be a very prosperous future indeed.

With a diverse range of properties, from homes to industries to rebuild, infrastructure to replace, roads to remake and schools and hospitals to reconstruct, the supply and building industry was, quite naturally, the first sector to benefit bringing with it a steep rise in associated employment opportunities which was welcomed by local people and also by migrant workers who rushed there in search of jobs they were unable to find elsewhere.

This rebuilding of a city has resulted in the upgrading and restructuring of numerous previously dilapidated localities but has, miraculously, also managed to conserve at least some historical aspects of this ancient city and, in an unexpected manner, gone a long way towards improving the lot of traditional artisans who are actively encouraged to ply their diverse trades such as handcrafted furniture and assorted household items carved out of wood, embroidery work and the making of papier-mâché artifacts for which the region has always been known.

The construction of a large hotel on the outskirts of the city also served to boost morale and tempt an increasing number of tourists to add Muzaffarabad to their travel itinerary and, as the number of both traders and visitors has expanded, so too have the number of restaurants serving traditional Kashmiri food and souvenir items of a type that people so love to purchase as gifts and mementoes.

Ghulam who has a small shop in a thriving bazaar says, “The earthquake was horrendous, so many people were killed or disabled and many still need help to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Despite this, however, Muzaffarabad has suddenly become a hive of industry and opportunity and, in many respects and especially from a business point of view, it is now the best place to be.”

– B Khan

First published on February 5, 2012 in the Real Estate Section of the DAWN National Advertiser.