Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif nominated Lieutenant General Asim Munir as the new army chief, putting an end to the uncertainty surrounding the nation.
Munir, whose nomination was confirmed by President Arif Alvi on Thursday evening, will lead the 600,000-strong nuclear-armed army when incumbent General Qamar Javed Bajwa steps down on November 29 after six years in the job.
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 Pakistan Army through the Officers Training School (OTS) program at Mangla, where he earned the prestigious Sword of Honor awarded to the top performing cadets.
He commanded a unit that looked after Pakistan’s northern regions, including the disputed region of Kashmir, where he worked alongside Bajwa, who led the Pakistani army’s elite X Corps.
Munir, currently serving as a rank-and-file general at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, is considered an officer with an “impeccable reputation” in the Pakistani army.
In 2017, he was appointed the head of the Military Intelligence (MI), which is supposed to look after the internal affairs of the army. After being promoted to the rank of three-star general the following year, he was assigned to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the country’s top spy agency.
However, his eight-month tenure as ISI chief 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.
“Considering that he works as the head of intelligence [ISI] Shortened by Prime Minister Khan, PTI after both of them left [Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party] He believes that Munir could be turned against them,” Mohammad Faisal Khan, a security analyst based in Islamabad, told Al Jazeera.
“The government thus feared that Khan, through President Alvi, would try to jeopardize the process and make Munir’s selection moot before it actually took effect,” he said. Alvi is a founding member of PTI.
A military source told Al Jazeera that Munir has a “clear line of thinking” and is considered apolitical in his approach.
“He is a rare officer in the sense that he heads both MI and ISI. He is the first army chief to head both intelligence agencies,” the source said.
“The MI experience will help him look at the internal dynamics of the military, and the ISI experience will serve him well for his global outlook in the future.”
Abdul Basit, a Singapore-based Pakistani analyst, said that contrary to the reservations of Khan’s PTI party, Munir was a professional soldier who would keep the organization away from politics.
“It is true that the military wants to leave politics, but whether politics will leave the military is a question that needs to be pondered,” he told Al Jazeera.
Munir previously served in Saudi Arabia, one of Pakistan’s key allies, Basit added.
Munir was a deputy in Saudi Arabia within the framework of close defense cooperation of the Pakistani army.
“Being a familiar face in Riyadh may be one of the factors influencing his appointment to the top post,” he said.
‘He proved himself worthy’
Muhammed Zeeshan, a retired army official, said Munir was a senior in his army and served in distinguished operational and instructional assignments.
Zeeshan, who is currently director-general of the Center for Peace, Security and Development Studies in Islamabad, said Munir’s career announcements show that he has been groomed for senior positions throughout his career.
“Based on his writing and the results of his courses, he has proven that he deserves to be where he is today,” he told Al Jazeera.
Zeeshan said Munir Bajwa served as the MI chief when he was the army chief and performed well.
“However, as head of the ISI, he was somewhat unfortunate as he was caught in the evolving political environment. But the fact that he walked away gracefully when asked to leave shows his maturity,” Zeeshan said.
Referring to the tasks facing Munir, the retired brigadier said that these are difficult days in the country.
“I think his biggest challenge would be to restore the nation’s confidence and trust in the military,” he said.