Pakistan on Thursday named the former chief of intelligence, a lieutenant. Gene. Syed Asim Munir, as chief of the South Asian nation’s army, ended weeks of speculation over the appointment, which came amid intense debate about the military’s impact on public life.
In a tweet, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said that Munir’s appointment would be ratified after the country’s president signed a summary sent by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
Munir, the former head of the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, will succeed him. The commander-in-chief of the army, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwawho will retire on November 29 after six years of service, which is usually three years.
The Pakistani military is often accused of meddling in the politics of a country that has survived numerous upheavals and has long been ruled by generals since its inception in 1947, so the appointment of new army commanders is often a highly politicized issue.
Munir’s appointment could spark controversy among former prime minister’s supporters Imran Khanwho was pushed out left office in April after losing the support of key political and military allies amid accusations of economic mismanagement.
Munir was removed from his position in the ISI during Khan’s rule, and the former prime minister has previously claimed – without evidence – that the Pakistani military and Sharif conspired with the United States to remove him from power. After Khan was wounded in the shootout. at a political rally in early November, he also accused a senior military intelligence officer of plotting his assassination without evidence.
Both the Pakistani military and US officials denied Khan’s claims.
Khan has yet to comment on Munir’s appointment, although his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said in a tweet Thursday that he “will act in accordance with the constitution and laws.”
Aside from Khan, the new army commander will have a lot to worry about as he takes office at a time when, in addition to the mounting economic crisis, Pakistan is facing the fallout worst floods in history. It will also have to contend with the country’s notoriously rocky relationship with neighboring India.
On Wednesday, outgoing army commander Bajwa said the army is often criticized despite being busy “serving the nation.” He said that the main reason for this was the army’s historic “interference” in Pakistani politics, which he called “unconstitutional”.
He said that in February of this year, the military establishment “decided not to get involved in politics” and “staunchly” adhered to this position.
Pakistan, a country of 220 million people, has been ruled by four different military rulers and has experienced three military coups since its inception. Under the current 1973 constitution, no prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term.
Uzair Yunus, director of the Pakistan Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said the military institute has “lost much of its reputation” and there are still many battles to be fought for the new leader.
“By historical standards, it takes three months for an army commander to get used to his role, a new commander may not have such a privilege,” Yunus said. “With ongoing political polarization, there may be a temptation to intervene politically again.”