General Asim Munir, Pakistan’s former spymaster, on Tuesday assumed charge as the country’s new Army chief, replacing General Qamar Javed Bajwa who retired after two consecutive three-year terms.
Munir assumed charge at an impressive ceremony at the General Headquarters (GHQ), becoming the 17th Chief of the Army Staff. The ceremony was attended by senior officers, diplomats and politicians.
In his brief address on the occasion, General Bajwa said: “I am happy that I am leaving the command of the Army in safe hands.” Later, Bajwa passed the baton of command to General Munir.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on November 24 nominated Munir to the most powerful position in the coup-prone country, where the military wields considerable power in matters of security and foreign policy.
He is the first Army chief who has headed both powerful intelligence agencies – the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Military Intelligence (MI). His stint as the spy chief at the ISI was the shortest ever as he was replaced by Lt Gen Faiz Hamid within eight months on the insistence of then-Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2019.
The powerful Army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 75-plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in matters of security and foreign policy.
General Munir was commissioned into the Frontier Force Regiment and has been a close aide of Bajwa ever since he commanded troops in the Force Command Northern Areas as a brigadier under him, who was then the Commander X Corps.
Munir was later appointed chief of Military Intelligence in early 2017, and in October next year was made the ISI chief. But he was removed from the position after a short stint as head of the spy agency.
It was said at the time that then-prime minister Khan was not happy with him since he was believed to have brought the alleged corruption of his wife to his notice. Khan was also thought to have been irked by Munir’s resolve to go by the book.
He was then posted as Gujranwala Corps commander, a position he held for two years, before being moved to the GHQ as Quartermaster General. He is the first army chief to be awarded the Sword of Honour.
The new Army chief would have to tackle a host of problems, including the threat of militants.
His inauguration coincided with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan militants announcing to resume attacks across the country.
But his key test would be how to remain steadfast on the decision by his predecessor that the Army would stay away from politics.
General Bajwa recently said that it was decided in February last year that the Army would not interfere in politics but only play its constitutional role.