After much tumult and controversy over who should become the next Army chief of Pakistan, Lt General Asim Munir has been named to the post, arguably the most powerful in the country. He will take charge on November 29 when the incumbent, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, leaves office at the scheduled end of his six-year tenure, which included a single three-year extension.
Who is Asim Munir, Pakistan’s next Army Chief?
Lt Gen Asim Munir is at present the Quarter Master General at GHQ. He is said to be close to General Bajwa. As a Brigadier, he was a commander in the Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA), at a time that Bajwa was commander of the X Corps. The FCNA falls under the command of the X Corps.
Lt Gen Munir is a graduate of the Officers Training School, Mangla, and the senior most of the present crop of two-star generals, who are all from the same batch of the Pakistan Military Academy, Abbottabad.
By all accounts, Munir is an “outstanding officer” and was recently described by Shuja Nawaz, the author of ‘Crossed Swords’, a detailed account of the Pakistan Army’s internal role, as “a straight arrow”.
Wasn’t Asim Munir head of Pakistan’s ISI?
Yes. Munir has served both as head of Military Intelligence, and as the head of ISI, a rare combination in the Pakistan Army. He was made director-general of Pakistan’s Military Intelligence in early 2017, and served in the position for a period of 21 months.
In October 2018, he became director-general of ISI. However, Munir’s tenure as Director ISI was the shortest ever. He was removed from the post by Bajwa at the asking of then Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Khan was said to be furious with Munir after he reportedly brought to the Prime Minister’s notice that the family of Khan’s wife, Bushra Bibi, was involved in corrupt practices.
After taking him off the ISI, Gen Bajwa posted Munir as Corps Commander Gujranwala, from where he moved to his present posting at GHQ, Rawalpindi.
So how will Asim Munir’s appointment as Pak Army chief go down with Imran Khan?
This was one of the reasons why the appointment of the new chief had become so contentious and politically charged. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and his brother and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (who is living in self-exile in London and is consulted frequently on the work of the government) had declared that the seniority principle will be followed strictly in the appointment.
This meant Munir. This month’s ongoing long march by Khan from Lahore is ostensibly aimed at pressuring the government to declare an early election, which Khan and his party are certain they will sweep. But it was also meant to bring pressure on the government into agreeing on a “consensus” chief of the Pakistan Army.
Can Imran Khan prevent the appointment of Asim Munir as Pakistan Army chief?
He could make a last ditch attempt through President Arif Alvi, a member of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. While the Shehbaz Sharif cabinet has cleared Asim Munir’s name, President Alvi has to sign off on it, which is usually a formality.
But if he chooses to sit on it, it would cut close to Munir’s retirement date on November 27, when his four-year tenure as a Lieutenant General is due to end. By becoming COAS, who has a three year tenure, Munir’s service would get automatically extended.
Whether Khan would like to go this route, or if President Alvi would want to play ball on this all important matter, is uncertain.