Pakistan's new army chief says will defend "motherland" during visit to disputed Kashmir


FILE PHOTO: Lieutenant General Asim Munir, who was appointed as the new Chief Of Army Staff (COAS) of Pakistan, meets with Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif at the Prime Minister's House, in Islamabad, Pakistan November 24, 2022. Press Information Department (PID)/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) - Pakistan's new army chief on Saturday said the military was ready to defend "every inch of our motherland" if attacked, during a visit to the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the disputed Kashmir region, which is claimed by both Pakistan and neighbouring India.

The visit came less than a week since General Asim Munir took charge of Pakistan's powerful military, and were among his strongest public statements on arch-rival India since taking up the role.

"Let me make it categorically clear, Pakistan's armed forces are ever ready, not only to defend every inch of our motherland, but to take the fight back to the enemy if ever war is imposed on us," he said, according to a statement from the military's media wing. "Indian state will never be able to achieve her nefarious designs."

India's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters' request for comment.

The two South Asian nuclear powers both claim the Kashmir region in full, but rule only parts, and have fought two of their three wars over the area.

Both sides often accuse each other of breaching a 2003 ceasefire pact by shelling and firing across the LoC, a 740-km (460-mile) de facto border that cuts Kashmir into two.

Since early 2021, the LoC has been mostly quiet, following the renewal of a ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan's generals retain a strong influence over security matters and foreign affairs, according to analysts, and Pakistan's army chief will play a key role in managing risks of conflict with India on its eastern border, while also dealing with potential friction with Afghanistan on its western frontier.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Ros Russell)

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