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Lieutenant General Asim Munir replaces General Qamar Javed Bajwa as the new Chief of Army Staff (COAS) who retires after a long tenure of six years. He will also be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC). He is considered an officer with an impeccable reputation within the Pakistani military. 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. The COAS is the most powerful man in the military enjoying the key powers including mobilisation of troops, appointments and transfers. The appointment of new Pakistan army chief has come at a time when the country finds itself embroiled in an intense political crisis between ousted PM Imran Khan and the government. While the appointment of a new army chief to succeed Qamar Javed Bajwa is expected to bring a degree of calm to Pakistan’s deeply divided polity, much will depend upon how Munir conducts himself, particularly in dealing with the polarised political situation.

Lt Gen Munir, a Sword of Honour of the Mangla Officers Training School (OTS) joined the Frontier Force Regiment. He has led the nation’s elite spy agencies- the Inter-Services Intelligence that focuses on security and military intelligence. He has served under Bajwa’s direct command in the often-troubled northern areas that border Afghanistan, China and India. Shuja Nawaz, an expert commentator and strategist on Pakistan and its military, described Asim Munir as a straight arrow to tame Imran Khan and has a reputation of ‘taking on corruption’.. Munir is the only senior general in the present crop of three-star officers who has headed both Military Intelligence (MI) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to be employed as Pakistan’s army chief. However, he was removed as ISI chief at the request of former Prime Minister Imran Khan following warnings about the alleged corruption by his wife and her relatives. Munir becomes new chief as per established procedure and is to the likings of Bajwa and PM Sharif and against wishes of Imran. As far as loyalty goes, Asim Munir is being projected by Pakistani media as a protégé of his predecessor, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The incoming army chief could potentially play a key role in lowering the political temperature as Pakistan attempts to survive an economic crisis and recover from historic floods. His core focus will be on reducing political instability at home, as well as dealing with the economic crisis and the resurgent terror threat posed by the Pakistani Taliban.

Implications for India. For India, the appointment of Asim Munir as Pakistan’s new army chief will not make much difference in near future as he is likely to follow his predecessor’s line on India. However, in the long run a hardliner Munir, keen to restore public support for the military, and knowing how the army’s legitimacy has often been advanced by pitching itself as Pakistan’s protector from the threat of India, could well recognise the benefits of the Pakistani State resuming its sharp rhetoric and hard line on India. He does not have any experience at military training academies in US or Britain, unlike three of his immediate predecessorsGeneral Kayani, General Sharif and General Bajwa. It is widely believed that Pakistani military officials who graduate from colleges in the West have a more holistic worldview compared to those who received their training entirely on home soil. Munir, on the other hand, has served and seen close to conservative Saudi Arabia regime. He has been chief of a spy organization ISI, which is intrinsically inimical towards India and has been at the helm of affairs when the Pulwama attack took place in February 2019 and he was also directly involved in returning the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to India safe and sound. The new Pak Army Chief who is a religiously oriented man may be more inclined towards China and Arab Countries than West and this definitely impinges on Indian interests in the region. The recent statement by Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi, Army Commander Northern Command on POK that as far as the Indian Army is concerned, it will carry out any order given by the Government of India. Whenever such orders are given, we will always be ready for it,” To this response by Pak Army has been a routine tweet “unwarranted statement of a high-ranking Indian Army officer concerning Azad Jammu and Kashmir is an apt manifestation of Indian Armed Forces’ delusional mindset.” India can only afford to remain watchful and cautious because it has always been the “religiously oriented” generals that have hurt India the most. Can the new army chief of Pakistan reverse this trend? Let’s wait and watch!


COL RAJESH BHUKAR  The author is a Post Graduate in International Studies, Alumni of Defense Services Staff College, Wellington and College of Combat, Mhow

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