Pakistan picks former spy agency chief Asim Munir as new head of its powerful army

People watch a news television broadcast of the nomination of the next Pakistan's army Chief General Syed Asim Munir at a market in Karachi  (AFP via Getty Images)
People watch a news television broadcast of the nomination of the next Pakistan's army Chief General Syed Asim Munir at a market in Karachi (AFP via Getty Images)

The Pakistan government has picked former intelligence agency chief Asim Munir as its new head of the army, a post that has significantly dictated the governance of the South Asian, nuclear-armed country in the past.

Lieutenant general Sahir Shamshad Mirza was named as the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff on Thursday.

Mr Munir has previously served as the chief of Pakistan’s intelligence agency and was among the top three faces in the race for the seat. He is also the successor of the outgoing general Qamar Javed Bajwa who is set to retire later this month after serving a six-year term, officials from Pakistan’s defence ministry said.

The names of the candidates for the top army roles selected by Islamabad are now awaiting the approval from the country’s president.

Defence minister Khawaja Asif has called the naming of Gen Munir and Gen Mirza as a selection based on “merit, law and as per constitution”.

This comes at a time Pakistan is witnessing a rift  between the military and former prime minister Imran Khan, who has accused the army of playing a part in his removal from the top office earlier this year.

Gen Munir has been a close aide of his predecessor and has served as a brigadier under Gen Bajwa, along with helming some of the critical Pakistan army missions against India as the intelligence agency’s chief.

But his tenure as the chief intelligence officer was cut short by Mr Khan who replaced him within eight months with his pick Lieutenant general Faiz Hamid, reported the Dawn newspaper.

He secured the rank of a three-star general in September 2018.

Pakistan is among the few nations in south Asia where the national army has played a significant role in domestic and foreign affairs — to the extent of having involvement in critical matters.

Gen Munir’s elevation to the key role is now expected to impact Pakistan’s fragile democracy, its bilateral ties with neighbouring India and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, as well as its increasing proximity towards China or the United States.

However, outgoing army chief Gen Bajwa shrugged off the involvement of the military’s interference in Pakistan’s national politics which is witnessing turbulence due to Mr Khan’s renewed bid to enter the prime ministerial office.

Gen Bajwa called the claims of a US-backed conspiracy levelled by Mr Khan, leading to the collapse of his government in April this year, as “fake and false”.