Pakistan has appointed a former spy chief as its new army chief

Pakistan’s government on Thursday nominated a former spy chief to be its next military chief, long seen as the de facto power in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation of 220 million people.

Syed Asim Munir, currently the quartermaster general, will replace General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is due to retire this month after serving as the chief of army staff since November 2016.

“The process has been completed in accordance with the law and the Constitution,” Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif told reporters, adding that the nomination had been sent to the president for approval.

Pakistan’s armed forces, the sixth-largest in the world, wield excessive influence over the nation and have staged three coups since independence in 1947, ruling for more than three decades.

Even during the period of civilian rule, the commander of the army was long considered the real ruler, and this appointment had enormous political significance.

The army chief also has to deal with multiple internal security threats as well as the balance of power with arch-rival India, against whom Pakistan has fought three wars.

Munir, the most senior of the six officers being considered for the top job, previously served as chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency.

He takes office at a time when Pakistan is torn by political strife, with former Prime Minister Imran Khan rallying supporters in mass protests, forcing the government to call early elections.

Khan was ousted by a vote of no confidence in April after the economy tanked and he lost the support of the top military leadership.

Earlier this month, he was shot dead at a rally in the eastern province of Punjab; the assassination attempt, he claims, was ordered by his successor, Shehbaz Sharif, in conjunction with a senior officer.

Munir served as the ISI chief under Khan, but his job ended in June 2019 after just eight months after a reported spat with the former cricket star.

Defense Minister Khawaja said Munir’s name had been sent to President Arif Alvi – a strong Khan ally – for approval.

But, he warned, Alvi “should not act under political influence” when discussing the candidacy.

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