Pakistan on Thursday summoned former spy chief Lt. General Syed Asim Munir as the head of the army in the South Asian country, ending many weeks of speculation about the appointment that came amid intense debate about the military’s influence on public life.
Munir, the country’s senior-most general and former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief, will take over from Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who will retire on November 29 after six years in a three-year post.
His promotion, approved by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and approved by President Arif Alvi on Thursday, means Munir will now oversee Pakistan’s nuclear weapons operations.
Pakistan’s military has often been accused of meddling in the politics of a country that has experienced several coups and has been ruled by a general for a long time since its founding in 1947, so the appointment of a new army chief is often it’s really a political issue.
Munir’s appointment could be controversial among supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was ousted from office in April after losing the support of key political allies and the military. amid accusations that he had managed the economy.
The Election Commission of Pakistan last month disqualified Khan from holding political office for five years for being involved in “corrupt practices”.
Munir was removed from his post at the ISI during Khan’s tenure and the former prime minister claimed – without evidence – that the Pakistani military and Sharif had colluded with the US to remove him from the government. After Khan was wounded in a gun attack at a political demonstration in early November, he also accused a senior military officer – without evidence – of planning his assassination.
Both the Pakistani military and US officials have denied Khan’s claims.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party congratulated Munir on his appointment in a statement on Thursday that accused the military of playing a key role in the democratic process.
“The people of Pakistan hope that their armed forces, in the face of a series of external threats, will stay in the politics of internal affairs and that the rights of political parties will not be violated,” the statement said.
The statement also confirmed PTI’s demand for early elections. Khan is due to hold a rally on Saturday in the city of Rawalpindi to repeat that call in what could be his first public appearance since the shooting.
In addition to Khan, the new army chief will have a lot to do, taking office at a time – in addition to the looming economic crisis – facing the consequences of the worst floods in its history. in Pakistan. He will also have to navigate the country’s notoriously strained relationship with neighboring India.
On Wednesday, former army chief Bajwa said the army was often criticized even though it was busy “serving the country”. He said the main reason for this was the historic “military intervention” in Pakistan’s politics, which he called “unconstitutional”.
He said that in February this year, the military organization “decided not to interfere in politics” and “insisted” on sticking to that position.
Pakistan, a country of 220 million people, has been ruled by four different military leaders and has seen three military coups since its inception. No prime minister has served a full five-year term under the current 1973 constitution.
Uzair Younus, director of the Pakistan Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said that the military institution had “lost its prestige”, and that the new chief had many wars to come.
“Historically, it takes three months for the army chief to settle into his role, the army chief may not have that privilege,” Younus said. “With the ongoing political conflict, there may be a temptation to re-intervene in politics.”