Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has appointed Lt. Gen. Asim Munir as the new army chief, ending days of uncertainty that have engulfed the nation.
Munir, whose nomination was approved by President Arif Alvi on Thursday night, will take over the 600,000-strong nuclear-armed army on November 29 when acting General Qamar Javed Bajwa retires after a six-year term.
Lieutenant General Sahir Shamshad was nominated for the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.
‘Sword of Honor’ Winner
Munir joined the Pakistani Army through the Mangla Officer Training School (OTS) program where he earned the prestigious Sword of Honour, awarded to the best performing cadet.
He has commanded a division that oversees areas of northern Pakistan, including the disputed Kashmir region, where he worked in conjunction with Bajwa, who later led the Pakistan Army’s elite X Corps.
Munir, who currently serves as the quartermaster general at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, is considered an officer with an “impeccable reputation” within the Pakistani army.
He was appointed head of Military Intelligence (MI) in 2017, the unit in charge of taking care of the internal affairs of the army. After his promotion to three-star general the following year, he was assigned the position of the country’s main spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
However, his eight-month stint at the helm of the ISI remains one of the shortest in the army’s history. Political commentators said he was ousted after falling out with former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“Given his time as head of intelligence [ISI] was shortened by PM Khan, after the two fell out, PTI [Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party] he thinks that Munir might lean against them,” Muhammed Faisal Khan, an Islamabad-based security analyst, told Al Jazeera.
“The government therefore feared that Khan, through Chairman Alvi, would try to jeopardize the process and make the selection of Munir controversial before it could really take effect,” he said. Alvi is a founding member of the PTI.
A military source told Al Jazeera that Munir has a “clear line of thought” and considers himself apolitical in his approach.
“He is a rare officer in the sense that he has led both the MI and the ISI. He is the first army chief to have headed both intelligence agencies,” the source said.
“The MI experience will help you see the internal dynamics of the army, while the ISI experience will give you a global perspective going forward.”
Abdul Basit, a Singapore-based Pakistan analyst, said that contrary to the reservations of Khan’s PTI party, Munir is a professional soldier who will keep the institution out of politics.
“It is a fact that the military wants to leave politics, but whether politics will leave the military is a question to ponder,” he told Al Jazeera.
Munir previously served in Saudi Arabia, one of Pakistan’s main allies, Basit added.
Munir was sent to Saudi Arabia as part of Pakistan’s military’s close defense cooperation.
“Being a familiar face in Riyadh could well be one of the factors that may have influenced his appointment to the top job,” he said.
‘He proved himself worthy’
Retired army officer Muhammed Zeeshan said Munir was his superior in the army and has served in prominent operational and training appointments.
Zeeshan, currently director general of the Center for Peace, Security and Development Studies think tank in Islamabad, said Munir’s career postings show he was groomed for high-level positions throughout his career.
“Based on his publications and the results of his courses, it is quite evident that he has proven himself worthy of where he is today,” he told Al Jazeera.
Zeeshan said that Munir served as the head of MI when Bajwa was the head of the army and he performed well.
“However, as head of ISI, it was a bit unfortunate to find yourself caught up in an evolving political environment. But the fact that he departed in such a graceful way when he was asked to leave says a lot about his maturity,” Zeeshan said.
Regarding the challenges that Munir faces, the retired brigadier said that these are difficult times in the country.
“In my opinion, their biggest challenge would be to restore the nation’s confidence in the military,” he said.