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Who is Asim Munir, the new Pakistan Army chief?

As GoC of PoK before the February 2021 ceasefire, he was responsible for pushing terrorists across the border and is unlikely to change the traditional Pak army stance against India.

November 24, 2022 / 09:43 PM IST
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In keeping with the tradition of appointing former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chiefs as the head of the Pakistan Army, Lt Gen Asim Munir was crowned the successor to General Qamar Bajwa today.

Munir, who was to retire on November 27, two days before Bajwa completed an extended tenure of almost six years, was among six generals in the race for the top post — a cause for much uncertainty and speculation till this week.

People familiar with the matter in Pakistan said Munir’s reputation as a straight military officer who played by the book helped him clinch the post.

Former Indian envoy to Pakistan G Parthasarathy said that as a protege of outgoing chief Bajwa, Munir was expected not to escalate matters with India. ``His ouster as ISI chief by former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had led to resentment within the military. Hence, his comeback should be considered natural,” Parthsarathy told Moneycontrol.

Munir will be Pakistan’s 17th Chief of Army Staff (COAS) since 1947, compared to 30 prime ministers who have come and gone since. Pakistan’s military has directly ruled the country of 220 million people for nearly half its 75-year history.

Munir, who belongs to the Frontier Force Regiment, has headed both the ISI (in 2019) and Pakistan’s Military Intelligence (2016-2018).

Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad will take charge as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Pakistani media reported that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif held a cabinet meeting earlier on Thursday, where he selected Munir from a list of six nominees for the top military post.

The military in Pakistan has often been at loggerheads with the civilian leadership. The names of Munir and Shamshad have been sent for approval to President Arif Alvi, who is also the supreme commander of Pakistan’s armed forces.

Alvi belongs to the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, headed by Imran Khan, who had earlier accused the government of trying to pick a favourite as the army chief. That has led to speculation that the president may delay his approval, with former PM Khan saying that he expected to be consulted on the appointment of the new army chief.

Lt Gen (Retd) RK Sharma, former Adjutant General of India, and currently Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), told Moneycontrol that to expect the new man to be different from his predecessors, as far as India was concerned, would be to expect the Pakistan army to give up the fantastic privileges it enjoys.

"Pakistan’s identity is anti-India, centred around Kashmir. As GoC (General Officer Commanding), Munir was earlier in-charge of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), Gilgit-Baltistan, and Siachen areas, reporting to Bajwa. He knows the region very well. Before the ceasefire on the LoC came into effect (in February 2021), he was responsible for keeping the PoK border alive with terrorist infiltration, among other actions,” Sharma said.

Further, Sharma pointed to the unstinted Chinese support for Pakistan as a relatively inexpensive way to keep India off balance. The ceasefire, Sharma said, is a tactical withdrawal because Pakistan was on the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) grey list and because its economy is in shambles.

"There is assuredly no change of heart,” Sharma asserted.

Outgoing army chief Bajwa was at the centre of a controversy during his last week of service when a Pakistani journalist, using tax records, reported that his family had accumulated disproportionate wealth in the past six years.

Writing for the website Fact Focus, journalist Ahmad Noorani said that Qamar Javed Bajwa's immediate and extended family members started a business, bought the property in prominent cities of Pakistan as well as abroad, and Bajwa’s daughter-in-law had become a billionaire just nine days before her wedding.

The government has ordered a probe against the journalist.
Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.