ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday telephoned and congratulated Pakistan’s newly appointed army chief, General Asim Munir, and promised him the government’s “full cooperation” in the areas of defense and security.
Earlier in the day, former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa retired after completing a six-year extended term, passing on the baton to Munir during a ceremony at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi.
“The prime minister said commanding the excellent force of Pakistan Army was a great honor and expressed confidence that General Asim Munir would further contribute toward strengthening the defense of the country,” state-run APP reported.
Sharif wished the new chief success in dealing with security and counterterrorism challenges and promised him the “full cooperation” of his government in areas relating to Pakistan’s defense and security.
One of the key challenges faced by the country’s new army chief will be how to deal with latest threats from the Pakistani Taliban, known as TTP, which on Monday called off a cease-fire with the government and ordered its fighters to resume attacks across the country.
Munir also takes over amid a deepening political rift between the government and the popular opposition leader, Imran Khan, who has been holding rallies across the country since April when he was ousted from the PM’s office through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence.
Khan has blamed his ouster on a conspiracy by the United States, the country’s military and his political opponents. American and Pakistani officials deny the accusations but they have resonated in recent months with young, social-media-savvy Pakistanis and the older generation alike, who have come out in fierce criticism of what they deem entrenched corruption and the ever-present even if the invisible hand of the army in the country’s political system.
Munir, who has held some of the top positions in the military in a career spanning over three decades, has been described as a “clear-headed” general by the media.
He grew up in the garrison city of Rawalpindi and is the son of a school principal. He received a prestigious award for officers known as the ‘sword of honor’ at the military academy.
Munir previously served as chief of Pakistan’s Military Intelligence in 2017 and the Inter-Services Intelligence in 2018. He was abruptly removed as ISI chief after just eight months on what is widely believed to be the request of then-prime minister Khan. No reason was given for his removal.
Before becoming army chief, Munir served as the army’s quartermaster general.
Domestically, his appointment could impact Pakistan’s fragile democracy at a time of street protests and amid widespread calls for early elections. He will also most certainly lead the path of Pakistan’s ties with neighbors India and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and choreograph the delicate dance of Islamabad’s relationship with Beijing and Washington.