Pakistan will appoint a former intelligence chief as the new army chief CNN

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Islamabad, Pakistan
CNN

Pakistan on Thursday named former spy chief Lt. Gen. Syed Asim Munir as the South Asian country’s army chief, ending weeks of speculation over an appointment amid intense debate over the military’s influence in public life.

In a Twitter post, Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb said Munir’s appointment would be approved only after the country’s president signed the brief sent by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

Munir, the former head of the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), will take over from Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who will retire on November 29 after six years in a normally three-year post.

The Pakistani military is often accused of meddling in the politics of a country that has experienced numerous coups and has long been ruled by generals since its formation in 1947, so the appointment of new army chiefs is often a highly political matter.

Munir’s appointment could prove controversial with supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan, who was ousted in April after losing the support of key political allies and the military amid accusations of mismanagement of the economy.

Munir was removed from his office in the ISI during Khan’s tenure and the former prime minister has previously claimed – without evidence – that the Pakistani military and Sharif conspired with the US to remove him from power. After Khan was wounded in a gun attack at a political rally in early November, he accused a senior military intelligence officer – without evidence – of plotting his assassination.

Both Pakistani military and US officials have denied Khan’s claims.

Khan has yet to comment on Munir’s appointment, although his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said in a tweet on Thursday that he would “act according to the constitution and the law.”

Aside from Khan, the new army chief will have plenty on his plate, entering office at a time when – in addition to a growing economic crisis – Pakistan faces the aftermath of the worst floods in its history. He also has to navigate the country’s notoriously rocky relationship with neighboring India.

On Wednesday, outgoing army chief Bajwa said the army was often criticized despite being busy “serving the nation”. A major reason for this, he said, was the army’s historic “interference” in Pakistan’s politics, which he called “unconstitutional”.

He said that in February this year, the military establishment “decided not to interfere in politics” and remained steadfast in this position.

Pakistan, a country of 220 million, has been ruled by four different military rulers and has seen three military coups since its formation. No prime minister has served a full five-year term under the current 1973 constitution.

Uzair Yunus, director of the Pakistan Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said the military establishment had “lost a lot of its reputation” and the new chief had many battles ahead.

Yunus said, “Historically it takes three months for an army chief to settle into his role, the new chief may not have that opportunity. “With ongoing political polarization there may be a temptation to intervene politically again.”

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