Pakistan on Thursday appointed former spy chief Lt. Gen. Syed Asim Munir as the South Asian country’s army chief, ending weeks of speculation about the appointment, which comes amid an intense debate over the military’s influence on public life.
Munir, the country’s top 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. annual allowance.
His promotion, which was ratified by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday and approved by President Arif Alvi, means Munir will now oversee Pakistan’s nuclear weapons operations.
Pakistan’s military is often accused of meddling in the politics of the country, which has experienced numerous coups since its creation in 1947 and has long been ruled by generals, so the appointment of new army chiefs is often a highly politicized affair.
Munir’s appointment could prove controversial 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 over allegations he mismanaged 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 has previously claimed — without evidence — that Pakistan’s military and Sharif conspired with the United States to oust him from power. After Khan was wounded in a shooting attack at a political rally in early November, he also accused a senior military intelligence officer – without evidence – of plotting his murder.
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, which also accused the military of playing too much of a role in the democratic process.
“The people of Pakistan expect that their armed forces will stay out of the politics of internal affairs and that the rights of political parties will not be infringed upon in dealing with a range of external threats,” the statement said.
The statement also reiterated PTI’s demand for early elections. Khan is expected to hold a rally in the city of Rawalpindi on Saturday to reiterate the call, in what would be his first public appearance since the shooting.
Khan aside, the new army chief will have a lot on his plate, taking office at a time when – in addition to a growing economic crisis – Pakistan is facing the worst floods in its history. He will also have to navigate the country’s notoriously rocky relationship with neighboring India.
Outgoing army chief Bajwa said on Wednesday that the army is often criticized despite being busy “serving the nation”. He said the main reason for this was the military’s historical “interference” in Pakistan’s politics, which he described as “unconstitutional”.
He said that in February this year, the military establishment “decided not to interfere in politics” and was “unyielding” on that stance.
Pakistan, a nation of 220 million people, has been ruled by four different military rulers and has experienced three military coups since its inception. No prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term under the current 1973 constitution.
Uzair Younus, director of the Pakistan Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said the military establishment had “lost so much of its reputation” and the new chief faced many battles.
“Historically, an army chief needs three months to settle into his role, a new chief may not have that privilege,” Younus said. “With continued political polarization, it may be tempting to intervene politically again.”