Pakistan on Thursday appointed former intelligence chief Lieutenant General Syed Asim Munir as army chief in the South Asian country, ending weeks of speculation over an appointment that comes amid a heated debate over the military’s influence on public life.
In a tweet, Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb said that Munir’s appointment will be ratified once the head of state signs the summary sent by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
Munir, the former head of the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, will take over as army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who will retire on November 29 after six years in a normally three-year post.
Pakistan’s military is often accused of meddling in the politics of a country that has seen numerous coups and ruled by generals for long periods since its formation in 1947, so the appointment of new army leaders is often a highly politicized matter.
Monir’s appointment could be contentious with 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 mismanaged the economy.
Munir was removed from his office at the ISI during Khan’s tenure, and the former prime minister alleged – without evidence – that the Pakistani military and Sharif had conspired with the United States to remove him from power. After Khan was injured in an armed attack on a political rally in early November, he also accused a senior military intelligence officer – without evidence – of plotting his assassination.
Both Pakistani military and US officials denied Khan’s allegations.
Khan has not yet commented on Monir’s appointment, though his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said in a tweet on Thursday that it would “act in accordance with the constitution and laws”.
Khan aside, the new army chief will have a lot going for him, as he enters office at a time when Pakistan – in addition to an emerging economic crisis – is also facing the consequences of the worst floods in its history. He will also have to navigate the country’s strained relationship with neighboring India.
On Wednesday, outgoing army chief Bajwa said the army is often criticized despite being busy “serving the country”. He said the main reason for this was the military’s historic “interference” in Pakistani politics, which he called “unconstitutional”.
He said that in February of this year, the military had decided “not to interfere in politics” and was “insistent” on sticking to this position.
Pakistan, which has a population of 220 million, is governed by four military rulers and has seen three military coups since its formation. No prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term under the current constitution of 1973.
Uzair Yunus, director of the Pakistan Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said that the military “has lost a lot of its reputation,” and that the new president has many battles ahead of him.
“Historically, an army commander needs three months to assume office, and the new commander may not have this privilege,” Yunus said. “With continued political polarization, there may be a temptation to get involved again.”