Syed Asim Munir: Pakistan to appoint ex-intelligence chief as new army chief

Islamabad, Pakistan

Pakistan on Thursday named former intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Syed Asim Munir as South Asian Army chief, ending weeks of speculation about an appointment that comes amid intense debate over the military’s influence on public life.

In a Twitter post, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said Munir’s appointment would be confirmed once a summary issued by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif was signed by the country’s president.

Munir, a former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, will succeed Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who will retire on November 29 after six years in what is normally a three-year tenure.

The Pakistani military is often accused of meddling in the politics of a country that has experienced a number of coups and been ruled by generals for a long time since its establishment in 1947, so the appointment of new commanders is often a highly political matter.

Munir’s appointment could prove controversial among supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan, who was ousted from office in April after losing support from political allies and the military over allegations of economic mismanagement.

Munir was removed from his office at the ISI during Khan’s term, and the former prime minister has previously claimed – without evidence – that the Pakistani military and Sharif conspired with the US to oust him. After Khan was wounded in a gun attack at a political rally in early November, he also accused a senior military intelligence officer – without evidence – of planning his assassination.

Both the Pakistani military and US officials have denied Khan’s claims.

Khan is yet to comment on Munir’s appointment, although his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), said in a tweet on Thursday that he would “act according to the constitution and the law”.

Khan aside, the new commander will have plenty on his plate, arriving at a time when Pakistan is facing the aftermath of the worst floods in its history, as well as a growing economic crisis. He will also have to navigate the country’s notoriously rocky relationship with neighboring India.

On Wednesday, outgoing General Bajwa said the army was often criticized despite being busy “serving the nation”. He said the main reason for this was the military’s historical “interference” in Pakistani politics, which he called “unconstitutional”.

He said that in February this year, the military establishment had “decided not to get involved in politics” and was “confident” in sticking to this position.

Pakistan, a nation of 220 million, has been ruled by four different military commanders and has seen three military coups since its founding. No prime minister has ever completed a five-year term under the current 1973 constitution.

Uzair Younus, director of the Pakistan Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said the military establishment “has lost so much of its reputation,” and the new commander has plenty of battles ahead.

“Historically, a military commander needs three months to settle into his role, the new commander may not have that privilege,” Younus said. “With continued political polarization, there may be a temptation to intervene politically again.”

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