- Samira Hussein
- BBC News, Islamabad
The Pakistani government has appointed a new army chief, ending months of speculation over who will take what many see as the most powerful post in the country.
Major General Asim Munir, the former chief of intelligence, replaces General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is retiring on November 29.
General Munir, the army’s top general, is a close ally.
The appointment comes at a precarious time for a country where the military has always wielded significant influence in politics and foreign policy.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was ousted by his opponents in April, has been at odds with the new government and the army over the appointment of an army chief.
Pakistan is also facing an economic crisis: exports are declining, while food prices are rising. It is also trying to recover from devastating floods earlier this year.
When General Munir takes office at the end of the month, he will direct future relations with nuclear-armed rival India on the one hand, and the new Taliban government in Afghanistan on the other.
“It’s not a political position, but if you look at the position, this position had a political role,” says Fahd Hussain, special advisor to the prime minister.
Since the creation of Pakistan 75 years ago, the military has seized power three times and has ruled the country directly for nearly four decades.
“Our democracy is weak. The army has always tried to exploit that,” says Talaat Masoud, a former first lieutenant in the army.
General Munir’s name was chosen from a list of six potential candidates. The final decision on who becomes the next army chief usually rests with the prime minister alone.
But the process often becomes a struggle between the outgoing army chief and the prime minister, as both try to lobby for someone sympathetic to their interests.
This time, it was more difficult. Current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has asked to consult his elder brother, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is said to be preparing a political comeback.
Their political opponent, Khan, has spoken out about the appointment, saying the current leadership is corrupt and should not be allowed to decide.
It is widely acknowledged that Khan came to power in the 2018 elections, with the help of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, although the former prime minister and the military deny this.
He was then fired from his job in April of this year over an alleged dispute with the army.
Since then, Khan has publicly condemned the army and its outsized role in the country’s politics, accusing members of the military of playing a role in an attack on him earlier this month when he was shot in the leg.
The allegations were denied, but Khan built a narrative among his many supporters that the army had harmed him and those who supported him directly.
General Bajwa, who served two three-year terms as army chief, this week acknowledged the military’s role in politics over the past 70 years.
General Bajwa, speaking in memory of those who died in the line of duty, indicated that that would change.
“That is why the army decided, after much consideration, not to interfere in any political affairs,” he said, adding, “I can assure you that we will strictly adhere to this and will follow it up in the future.”
Similar views were echoed by outgoing army chiefs in Pakistan, to no avail.
For his part, Fahad Hussain says that the army, under the command of General Bajwa, has become more involved in politics.
He added, “The government and opposition parties cannot sit in the same room. There is no indication of any political dialogue. There is no movement to find a political solution.”
Given this, Hussein believes that the army will end up taking back control of the country.
Masood was more optimistic, believing that this might be the moment when Pakistan could strike a better balance between military and civilian rule.
He says, “It is a great opportunity for the next leader to really change the character of the army, in the sense of not interfering in politics and limiting himself to matters related to his (main) role only.”
“But that may just be wishful thinking,” he adds.