Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has appointed Lt. Gen. Asim Munir as the new army chief, ending the days of uncertainty that engulfed the nation.
Munir, whose appointment was approved Thursday night by President Arif Alvi, takes over as head of the 600,000-strong nuclear army on November 29 when outgoing General Qamar Javed Bajwa retires after a six-year term.
Lieutenant General Sahir Shamshad has been appointed as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Honor Sword Winner
Munir joined the Pakistan Army through the Mangla Officers Training School (OTS) program where he earned the prestigious Sword of Honor, awarded to the most successful cadet.
He commanded a division that overlooks the northern regions of Pakistan, including the disputed region of Kashmir, where he worked in tandem with Bajwa, who then led the Pakistan Army’s elite X Corps.
Munir, who is currently quartermaster general at army headquarters in Rawalpindi, is considered an officer with an “impeccable reputation” in the Pakistani army.
He was appointed head of military intelligence (MI) in 2017, the unit responsible for looking after the army’s internal affairs. After his promotion to a three-star general the following year, he was put in charge of the country’s first spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
However, his eight-month tenure as head of the ISI remains one of the shortest in army history. Political commentators said he was removed from office after falling out with former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“Given his time as head of intelligence [ISI] was shortened by Prime Minister Khan, after the two reportedly fell out, PTI [Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party] believes, Munir might be tilted against them,” Muhammed Faisal Khan, an Islamabad-based security analyst, told Al Jazeera.
“The government was therefore concerned that Khan, through President Alvi, would try to undermine the process and make Munir’s selection controversial before it could actually take effect,” he said. Alvi is a founding member of the PTI.
A military source told Al Jazeera that Munir has a “clear line of thinking” and is seen as apolitical in his approach.
“He is a rare officer in the sense that he led both MI and ISI. He is the first army chief to have headed both intelligence agencies,” the source said.
“The MI experience will help him examine the internal dynamics of the military, while the ISI experience will be very useful for him for a global perspective in the future.”
Singapore-based Pakistani analyst Abdul Basit said unlike Khan’s PTI party reservations, Munir is a professional soldier who will keep the institution away from politics.
“It’s a fact that the military wants to leave politics, but whether politics will leave the military is a question to think about,” he told Al Jazeera.
Munir previously served in Saudi Arabia, one of Pakistan’s main allies, Basit added.
Munir was assigned to Saudi Arabia as part of the Pakistani military’s close defense cooperation.
“Being a familiar face in Riyadh may well have been one of the factors that may have influenced his appointment to the top job,” he said.
“He proved himself worthy”
Muhammed Zeeshan, a retired army official, said Munir was his senior in the army and had held important operational and instructional positions.
Zeeshan, currently managing director of the Center for Peace, Security and Developmental Studies think tank in Islamabad, said Munir’s career assignments show he has been groomed for leadership positions throughout his career.
“Based on his assignments and his course results, it’s pretty obvious he’s proven himself worthy of where he is today,” he told Al Jazeera.
Zeeshan said Munir was the head of MI when Bajwa was the army chief and he performed well.
“As head of the ISI, however, he was a little unhappy to be caught up in a changing political environment. But the fact that he left in such a gracious manner when asked to leave says a lot about his maturity,” Zeeshan said.
Regarding the challenges ahead for Munir, the retired brigadier said the country is going through a difficult time.
“In my view, his greatest challenge would be to restore the nation’s confidence in the military,” he said.