Pakistan appoints new army chief as dispute with Imran Khan Deepens

Then he appoints a new army chief, the political crisis could deepen

Asim Munir will replace General Qamar Javed Bajwa

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has appointed General Asim Munir as Pakistan’s new army chief, a move that could further deepen the country’s political crisis and worsen former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s high-profile clash with the powerful military.

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb announced the appointment on Twitter. Munir will replace General Qamar Javed Bajwa, whose six-year tenure ends on November 29.

The appointment has been sent to President Arif Alvi, who belongs to Khan’s party, for his approval, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told reporters. Asif said he did not expect any delay and the President’s approval would come later on Thursday.

But the new appointment is likely to be a setback for Khan, who removed Munir as head of the elite military spy wing Inter-Services Intelligence within eight months of his appointment. Khan replaced him with an officer considered close to him.

Munir currently serves at Army Headquarters as the General Quartermaster, overseeing supplies for all military units. Apart from the ISI, he also headed the Military Intelligence Department. He served under Bajwa’s direct command in the often-restless northern regions that border Afghanistan, China, and India.

The appointment of Pakistan’s army chief is closely watched because the institution wields inordinate influence over the country’s politics — especially its foreign and defense policies. The military has also directly ruled the nuclear-armed nation for roughly half of its history since its inception in 1947.

This time the announcement attracted even more attention as tensions between the military and Khan soared. The former leader accused Sharif of colluding with the US to rig him out of office through a no-confidence vote in April. Meanwhile, Khan accused the military of not doing enough to save his government. It’s an allegation that all three have denied.

The former cricket star also named Sharif and a powerful general from the military’s espionage wing as responsible for a shooting attack earlier this month in which he was wounded in the leg.

Khan has led his supporters in large rallies and marches demanding that Sharif hold early elections – and is confident he will win after his success in recent by-elections. He has also said earlier that the new army chief should be appointed by the new government – giving him a chance to make a key appointment.

The new chief and the senior military leadership “are likely to have difficulty dealing with Khan’s populism and popularity, as it could return him to power in the 2023 elections next year,” says Kamran Bokhari, director of analytical development at Washington’s New Lines Institution. for strategy and policy.

Markets reacted cautiously to the announcement. The KSE-100 index strengthened by up to 0.3% to 42,994.2. Pakistan’s 7.375% dollar bond due 2031 was up 0.2 cents at 32.6 cents against the greenback, while the rupee traded steady.

Investors are a bit worried about the possible delay in the appointment getting the President’s approval, said Adnan Khan, head of international sales at Intermarket Securities Ltd., in Karachi.

Khan’s attempts to control military propaganda have been at the root of recent political tensions in Pakistan. Late last year, he publicly opposed Bajwa’s choice to head the national spy agency and expressed support for one of his own allies to remain in the role. The army chief eventually got his way, but the incident planted the seeds for Khan’s ouster some six months later.

The new military leader will also have to deal with a revived debate about the institution’s role in a nation with a history of civilian rulers toppled by the military.

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