Speculation about Islamabad's plans to integrate Pakistan-administered Kashmir, officially called "Azad Kashmir," with mainland Pakistan has been circulating for some time.
Pakistan and India both rule part of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, but claim it in full. The area is a flashpoint between the nuclear-armed archrivals. China, too, has some territorial claims in the area.
Earlier this month, Raja Farooq Haider Khan revealed that he could be the final prime minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, giving credence to speculation and rumors, and triggering a wave of concern over the future of the territory.
India's August 5 decision to abrogate Jammu and Kashmir's special status to integrate it into its territory has fueled speculation on the future of the restive region.
Kashmiri nationalists feel that significant investment from China, which has a long border with Kashmir, is a key factor prompting Islamabad to abandon its decades-old stance over the disputed territory.
China is pouring $57 billion (€51 billion) into Pakistani infrastructure and energy projects — more than in any other South Asian nation.
Islamabad is working to convince Beijing to beef up its investment in Pakistan, whose economy has been on a downturn for more than 18 months, prompting criticism from Kashmiri nationalists who say that Islamabad will do anything to attract foreign investment.
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Tauqeer Gilani, president of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front — a nationalist organization working in Pakistan-administered Kashmir — fears that Beijing's investment in the disputed territory may have catastrophic consequences.
"The Chinese are business-oriented people," Gilani said. "They want to invest money in our region, but they also want to secure it because ours is a disputed territory and taking business initiative in such a territory is highly risky. Therefore Beijing is perhaps pushing Islamabad to decide the legal status of our region and annexation is one of the easiest ways to do so."
Gilani warned such a move would trigger a wave of anger across the territory. "Look what China did in Sri Lanka, what is it doing in Africa? How can we allow any change in the status of our region for the sake of Chinese investment and Pakistan's ruling elite? We want an independent Kashmir, free from both India and Pakistan."
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Zahid Tabassum, a Kashmiri analyst, concurs with Gilani. "We are already surrounded by two nuclear states — Pakistan and India. If Pakistan annexes our region, permitting China — which is already directly or indirectly pumping money into our region — to invest here then it will prompt the US, and possibly Russia, to intervene in our land."
Tabassum said Islamabad's move to "annex our land" would be strongly resisted.
DW asked Tabassum if a concrete plan exists to integrate the territory into mainland Pakistan. He said a plan was revealed by the "highest office holder of our land — the prime minister of Azad Kashmir."
"It can't have been a slip of tongue," Tabassum said.
"Such an important statement could not have been issued by mistake. It seems the prime minister must have been told about such a plan, but he is reluctant to divulge the name of the planners."
Pakistan-administered Kashmir has retained a so-called independent status, with a president, prime minister and a legislative assembly. Critics, however, believe this autonomy is a farce because the real power lies in Islamabad and the country's powerful military. Most senior bureaucrats are non-Kashmiris sent by Islamabad who do not answer to the elected legislative body.
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There are concerns among Kashmiri nationalists about such an "annexation" plan, explained Khaliq Ahmed, a Kashmiri academic.
"There is resentment among the Kashmiris who do not want to be part of either Pakistan or India but believe in autonomy," Ahmed said.
"Unfortunately, Pakistan has prepared a large number of people among the Kashmiris who may be amenable to the idea of annexation, which means further division of our land. This is the biggest specter that is haunting not only the Kashmiris living in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, but the Indian part of Kashmir as well."
Pakistan's government denied it is mulling such a plan. Ishaq Khaqwani, a senior government leader, told DW that it is absolutely false.
"These are only rumors and speculation and I think India is spreading such rumors," Khaqwani said. "We cannot even think of annexing our part of Kashmir. It is a disputed territory."
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