ISLAMABAD: Former ISI head Lt General Asim Munir will be Pakistan’s next army chief, PM Shehbaz Sharif announced Thursday and ended weeks of speculation about who succeeds Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in a position considered the most powerful in the country.
The appointment was ratified by President Dr Arif Alvi, whose approval came amid conjectures that he may not sign it or may delay the process as he belongs to the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), headed by former PM Imran Khan.
Defence minister Khwaja Muhammad Asif said: “The president has signed the summary (sent by the government).” Calling the presidential nod a good omen, he said: “The process of the army chief’s appointment had caused unrest in the country, but the matter is now settled.”
Munir takes over after Bajwa’s retirement on November 29. Bajwa headed the army for six years—double the tenure typically reserved for the post.
Munir’s stint as chief of army staff begins at a time when Pakistan is facing a crippling economy and other challenges. His appointment coincides with a dispute between the military and former PM Khan, who blames the army and the US for having a role in his ouster this April.
Khan had removed Munir as ISI chief when he was PM. Munir is currently posted at the army HQ in Rawalpindi as quartermaster general in charge of supplies for the entire military.
Khan had accused the government of trying to choose a favourite. His supporters had alleged that three-time PM Nawaz Sharif, brother of the current premier, was calling the shots in picking a new army chief. The government countered that Khan was trying to milk political mileage out of the appointment.
PM Sharif picked Munir from a list of six senior generals sent Wednesday by the defence ministry. He also named Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza, the second senior-most general, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC), an inter-services forum that coordinates between the three armed forces.
However, both appointments rested on President Alvi’s approval. He landed in Lahore for a meeting with his party chief Khan after receiving the government’s summary on both nominations for two foremost military posts.
The party said briefly that Khan and Alvi had discussed the army chief’s appointment and everything will be done in accordance with the law and the Constitution.
The Constitution allows the President to delay the appointment of a new army chief for 25 days.
In such a scenario, the government had planned to appoint Munir as the vice chief of army staff. Alvi’s approval won’t have been required to do this. The government also thought of promoting the Lt Gen to a full-fledged General for extending the tenure of the officer whose retirement is round the corner. Munir’s retirement is due on November 27, two days before Bajwa’s.
The military has been historically known as a prime driver of Pakistan’s domestic politics and foreign policies. Political experts said Munir’s appointment could have a bearing on Pakistan’s fragile democracy, its relations with neighbouring India and Taliban-governed Afghanistan, as well as policies and engagements with China and the US.