Pakistan appoints new army chief as row with Imran Khan deepens

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Asim Munir will replace General Qamar Javed Bajwa

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif named General Asim Munir as Pakistan’s next army chief, a move that could further deepen the nation’s political crisis and worsen former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s high-voltage clash with the powerful military.

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb announced the appointment on Twitter. Munir replaces General Qamar Javed Bajwa, whose six-year term ends on November 29.

The appointment has been sent for approval to President Arif Alvi, who belongs to Khan’s party, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told reporters. Asif said he does not expect any delays and the President’s approval will come later on Thursday.

But the new appointment is likely to be a setback for Khan, who had removed Munir as head of the military’s elite spy wing, Inter-Services Intelligence, within eight months of his appointment. Khan replaced him with an officer who was considered too close to him.

Munir currently serves at Army Headquarters as Quartermaster General and oversees supplies to all military units. Apart from the ISI, he has also headed the military intelligence department. He has served under Bajwa’s direct command in the often restive northern areas bordering Afghanistan, China and India.

The appointment of Pakistan’s army chief is closely watched because the institution has a large influence on the country’s politics – especially its foreign and defense policy. The army has also directly ruled the nuclear-armed nation for about half of its history since its creation in 1947.

This time, the announcement has gained even more attention as tensions between the military and Khan have risen. The former leader has accused Sharif of colluding with the US to manipulate his exit from office through a no-confidence vote in April. Meanwhile, Khan accused the army of not doing enough to save his government. It is a charge that all three have denied.

The former cricket star has also named Sharif and a powerful general from the military’s spy wing as responsible for a shooting attack earlier this month that left him wounded in the leg.

Khan has led his supporters in large rallies and marches demanding Sharif hold a snap election – which he is confident of winning after the success he has seen in recent by-elections. He has also previously said that the new army chief should be appointed by the new government – giving him a chance to make the decisive appointment.

The new chief and the core military leadership “are likely to struggle to manage Khan’s populism and popularity because it could bring him back to power in the 2023 elections next year,” according to Kamran Bokhari, director of analytical development at the Washington-based New Lines Institution. for Strategy and Policy.

Markets reacted cautiously to the announcement. The KSE-100 index rose as much as 0.3% to 42,994.2. Pakistan’s 7.375% 2031 dollar bond was quoted up 0.2 cent to trade at 32.6 cents on the dollar, while the rupee traded flat.

Investors are a little worried about potential delays in the appointment to get presidential approval, said Adnan Khan, head of international sales at Intermarket Securities Ltd., in Karachi.

Khan’s attempts to control military promotions have been at the root of Pakistan’s recent political tensions. Late last year, he publicly opposed Bajwa’s pick to head the nation’s spy agency and voiced support for one of his own allies to stay in the role. The army chief eventually got his way, but the incident sowed the seeds for Khan’s ouster some six months later.

The new military leader will also have to deal with a revived debate about the institution’s role in a nation with a history of civilian rulers toppled by the army.

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