Islamabad: General Asim Munir appointed new army chief
by Shafique Khokhar


President Alvi approved Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's proposal after weeks of uncertainty. Former director of two intelligence agencies, including Isi, Munir will now hold the real key role in Pakistani politics. His predecessor, General Bajwa, in recent days admitted the army's influence in political dynamics.


Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Pakistani President Arif Alvi has approved the appointment of General Asim Munir as army chief, proposed yesterday by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Munir will replace General Qamar Javed Bajwa who will retire after two three-year terms. 

Already head of two intelligence agencies, including the more powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (Isi) and a close ally of General Bajwa, the appointment of Munir, selected from a shortlist of six candidates, comes at a time of instability for Pakistan: former Prime Minister Imran Khan accuses the army of plotting against him and of even playing a role in the attack earlier this month in which he was wounded in the leg by gunfire.

Munir had been removed as Isi chief by Khan himself after a period of only eight months: some observers feared that President Alvi, from Khan's own party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf, might block the appointment process.

In recent weeks, PM Sharif travelled to London to seek advice on the appointment from his brother Nawaz, who some commentators say is preparing a return to politics after being ousted from Pakistan's Supreme Court in 2017 following the Panama Papers revelations.

Khan, a 70-year-old former cricket champion, has argued that a corrupt government should not choose the army chief, the real key figure in Pakistani politics, whether for internal affairs or foreign policy. Since gaining independence, the army has directly seized power at least three times in Pakistan. It is now taken for granted that Khan's rise and fall was facilitated by the armed forces.

Munir headed the Force Command Northern Areas troops - a division operating in the northern areas, including Kashmir - as a brigadier under the command of Bajwa, then commander of the elite X Corps squad. 

On the occasion of Defence and Martyrs' Day, which is celebrated every year on 23 November to remember those who died while serving, the outgoing army chief, while admitting to enjoying some influence, said that the Armed Forces did not intend to interfere in domestic political matters any longer. Alluding to Imran Khan's accusations, he went on to emphasise that 'the army is often the target of criticism, but remains committed day and night to serving the nation'.

In the meantime, the level of exports has declined while the prices of basic goods have risen and the southern provinces of Pakistan have not yet recovered from the consequences of the disastrous floods in August.

Shukar Lal, a human rights activist from Sindh province, told AsiaNews he expects 'a big change' from the new army chief of staff. "Our country is going through a difficult period, I expect positive actions from politics to create a more peaceful atmosphere," he said.

"First of all I would like to congratulate General Munir. I truly believe that now the unrest and political instability will be reduced and we will see a positive change in our politics," added Fr Khalid Rashid Asi. "The respect and dignity of institutions are very important and the Pakistani army is the most important institution in the country and should stay out of politics. I pray and wish them good luck for the country's development and prosperity."