Lt Gen Asim Munir, former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, was on Thursday appointed as the new chief of the Pakistan Army by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, as a successor to General Qamar Bajwa. Munir, who was set to retire on Nov 27, two days before Bajwa completes an extended tenure of almost six years was among the six generals who were in the race for the top post.
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People familiar with the matter said Munir’s reputation as a no-nonsense military officer known for his by-the-books approach to all matters helped clinch the post for him.
Pakistan’s information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb made the announcement on Twitter. “Pakistan PM Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif has decided to appoint Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [Committee] and Lt Gen Syed Asim Munir as the Chief of the Army Staff using the constitutional authority,” she wrote on Twitter in Urdu.
Further, a summary of the formal proposal regarding the appointment was sent to President Arif Alvi.
Alvi was appointed by former premier Imran Khan and belongs to Imran Khand-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
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After receiving the proposal, the PTI in a tweet wrote the president will act “according to the Constitution and laws” in the matter of the army chief’s appointment. Former PM Khan also claimed on Wednesday that the president will “definitely consult him” on the appointment of the next army chief.
Munir, who belongs to the Frontier Force Regiment, has had stints heading both the ISI (in 2019) and Pakistan’s Military Intelligence (2016-2018). He was removed as ISI chief by the former prime minister after a brief stint as his no-nonsense attitude and by-the-books approach did not go down well with Imran Khan.
A section of the ruling PML-N party favoured his elevation to the post of army chief as it believes Munir can stand up to Khan, the people cited above said.
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Munir headed the ISI when India and Pakistan came close to hostilities following the Pulwama suicide bombing in February 2019. The people familiar with the matter said Munir was among the military decision-makers involved in shaping Pakistan’s response and security policies at that time.
During a crucial meeting at the time, Munir reportedly angered Imran Khan by saying that the government needed to take the leader of the opposition into confidence so that there was unity among political parties, the people added.
Mirza, who had been tipped for the post of chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee even while his name was considered for the post of the army chief, has considerable expertise in dealing with matters related to India following his stints as director general of military operations during 2015-18 and chief of general staff during 2019-21, and his current stint as commander of X Corps, the Rawalpindi-based formation that oversees operations in parts of Kashmir.
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The appointment of the army chief had been the source of intense speculation in Pakistan’s political circles for months, especially after the souring of relations between the Pakistan military and Imran Khan, who only recently backed down from his calls that the next army chief should be appointed by the government formed after the next election in 2023.
Munir will replace Bajwa, who was given a three-year extension and is currently making farewell calls at various formations.