Islamabad, Pakistan – That is what Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said appointed Lieutenant General Asim Munir as the new army chief, ending days of uncertainty that swept the nation.

Munir, whose appointment was approved by President Arif Alvi on Thursday evening, will take charge of the 600,000-strong nuclear-armed army on Nov. 29 when incumbent General Qamar Javed Bajwa retires after six years.

Lieutenant General Sahir Shamshad was nominated for the post of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

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Winner ‘Sword of Honor’

Munir joined the Pakistan Army through the Mangla Officers Training School (OTS) program where he won the prestigious Sword of Honor awarded to the top performing cadet.

He commanded a division overlooking the northern areas of Pakistan, including the disputed region of Kashmir, where he worked alongside Bajwa, who then commanded the Pakistan Army’s elite X Corps.

Pakistan military chief
General Qamar Javed Bajwa will retire as Pakistan’s army chief next week [File: Farooq Naeem/AFP]

Munir, who currently serves as the Quartermaster General at the Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi, is regarded as an officer of “impeccable reputation” within the Pakistan Army.

In 2017 he became head of the Military Intelligence Service (MI), the unit responsible for the internal affairs of the army. After his promotion to three-star general the following year, he was put in charge of the country’s main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

However, his eight-month stint as head of the ISI remains one of the shortest in the army’s history. Political commentators said he was removed after falling out with former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“Considering his stint as head of intelligence [ISI] was cut short by Prime Minister Khan, after both reportedly fell out, PTI [Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party] believes that Munir can be tilted against them,” Muhammed Faisal Khan, a security analyst from Islamabad, told Al Jazeera.

“So the government feared that Khan, through President Alvi, would try to jeopardize the process and make Munir’s selection controversial before it could actually take effect,” he said. Alvi is one of the founders of the PTI.

A military source told Al Jazeera that Munir has a “clear mind” and is considered apolitical in his approach.

“He is a rare officer in the sense that he has headed both the MI and the ISI. He is the first army chief to have led both intelligence agencies,” the source said.

“The MI experience will help him look at the internal dynamics of the military, while the ISI experience will serve him well for a global view into the future.”

Singapore-based Pakistani analyst Abdul Basit, contrary to the reservations of Khan’s PTI party, said Munir is a professional soldier who will keep the institution away from politics.

“It is a fact that the military wants to leave politics, but whether politics will leave the military is a question to consider,” he told Al Jazeera.

Munir has previously served in Saudi Arabia, one of Pakistan’s main allies, Basit added.

Munir was deputed to Saudi Arabia as part of the Pakistan Army’s close defense cooperation.

“Being a familiar face in Riyadh may well have been one of the factors that influenced his appointment to the top job,” he said.

‘Proved herself worthy’

Retired army official Muhammed Zeeshan said Munir was his senior in the army and held prominent operational and instructional positions.

Zeeshan, currently the director general of the Islamabad Center for Peace, Security and Development Studies think tank, said Munir’s job postings show that he had been groomed for senior positions throughout his career.

“Based on his postings and the results of his courses, it’s pretty clear he’s proven himself worthy of where he is today,” he told Al Jazeera.

Zeeshan said Munir served as MI chief when Bajwa was the army chief and performed well.

“As head of ISI, however, he was a bit unlucky to be caught up in a changing political environment. But the fact that he left in such a gracious manner when asked to leave speaks volumes about his maturity,” Zeeshan said.

Speaking of the challenges ahead for Munir, the retired brigadier said times are tough in the country.

“In my opinion, his biggest challenge would be to restore the nation’s confidence in the military,” he said.



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