Former ISI head Asim Munir is new chief of Pakistan Army


ENDING SPECULATION, Pakistan on Thursday appointed Lt Gen Asim Munir as its next Army chief. He will replace Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who retires on November 29 after two consecutive three-year terms.

Munir has served as chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Military Intelligence (MI) – his stint at the ISI was the shortest ever as he was replaced by Lt Gen Faiz Hamid within eight months on the insistence of then Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2019.

Meanwhile, Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza has been appointed as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC).

A senior Pakistan Army official told The Indian Express that “absolute seniority” has been followed in the appointments as the most senior officer has been named Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and the second in seniority has been appointed CJCSC. He said the two senior officers were “absolute apolitical” and “hardcore professional soldiers”.

Officials in Delhi, who have been keenly watching the selection process, view the new Army chief as more hardline than Bajwa, who was more nuanced in his approach towards India.

Unlike the last three Army chiefs — Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Raheel Sharif and Bajwa, Munir has not graduated from senior staff courses at American and British military colleges. How he negotiates the lack of proximity to Washington will be an important factor to watch, since being schooled in military institutions in the West has been an important part of the Pakistan Army’s military diplomacy as well as the institution’s colonial legacy.

Munir is viewed in Delhi as being close to the Saudis, having served in Saudi Arabia. He is also known for his ability to recite the entire Quran.

His experience in intelligence, having headed the Military Intelligence and ISI, can open communication channels with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, and help in taking forward the behind-the-scenes conversations. Seen as Nawaz Sharif’s pick, Delhi believes Munir’s appointment may hold an opening between the two sides.

For Delhi, Bajwa’s stint had offered a window of opportunity for engagement after the two militaries struck a deal on adhering to the ceasefire in February last year. The ceasefire, which has held for the most part, had given hope for a possible engagement between the two countries. But the turn of events in August last year – the fall of Kabul to the Taliban and a proactive Pakistan Army in Kabul – was a major setback, and the two sides were not able to capitalise on the momentum generated due to the relative calm along the Line of Control.

Munir, who entered the service via the Officers Training School programme in Mangla, is not a graduate of the Pakistan Military Academy. But officials said he is a “Sword of Honour” topper from one of the Army’s feeder schools.

Lt Gen Mirza is considered by Delhi as a tactical genius, based on his experience as chief of military operations. He has served in the most important staff and command posts, including Commander of the X Corps — the largest formation with almost 250,000 men under his command. He has also been deployed in multiple UN peacekeeping missions. Less controversial than Munir, Mirza is believed to have the support of the rank and file.

After being approved by Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan President Arif Alvi signed on the names for final ratification on Thursday evening.

Delhi believes the two top Pakistan Army appointments reflect that they are acceptable among senior commanders, and the Army chief’s three-year-tenure will ensure a sense of stability in the establishment.

The Pakistan Army chief is seen as the most significant job in the country. “The closest analogy one can think of is that it is like the change of the Prime Minister in India after the general elections,” said a top Indian official.





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