Asim Munir, who was written off by his colleagues and watchers, was earlier last week appointed as Pakistan Army chief, succeeding General Qamar Javed Bjawa.
New Delhi: In January 2017, the present chief of the Pakistan Intelligence agency the Inter-State Intelligence (ISI), Nadeem Anjum, who was at the rank of Major General was at the 141st position in the hierarchy of the Pakistan army, while Faiz Hameed, the former DG of ISI, whom Nadeem replaced, was at the 130 position.
Hameed was appointed as the DG of ISI by the then Prime Minister, Imran Khan in June 2019 and the man whom he replaced was Asim Munir, who in January 2017, was at the 111 rank in the hierarchy. The tenure of Munir as the 23rd ISI chief of the country was about 210 days, among the shortest ever in the history of an organization that controls almost everything that happens in the country and is seen as the most powerful arm of the army.
After being shunted out by Khan in June 2019, it was assumed among the corridors in GHQ, Rawalpindi that Munir will quietly retire in the oblivion of history, like some of his predecessors have. However, life seems to have come full circle for someone who was to retire on 27 November.
The same Munir who was written off by his colleagues and watchers, was earlier last week appointed as the Chief of the Army Staff (CoAS) of the Pakistan army succeeding General Qamar Javed Bjawa. Munir, whose parent unit is 23 Frontier Force, had graduated from Officers Training School (Mangla) in 1986 where he won the Sword of Honour, which is given to the best candidate of the batch.
Munir, who also earned the title of “Hafiz-e-Quran” for his achievement of memorising the Quran when he was based in Saudi Arabia as a defence attache. Both these deeds, one which showed that he is a devoted Muslim and more importantly his stint in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, during which he developed and nurtured close ties with members of the Royal family have helped him in reaching the position of the CoAS.
People following the matter said that the fact that he had the backing of Saudi Arabia was perhaps the biggest deciding factor in this closely ‘fought’ contested where backroom pulls and pushes played a more important role in deciding the chief of the world’s sixth largest army which is trying hard to emerge as global armed force of the Islamic ummah. Munir, serving as QuarterMaster General, was the senior most among the six names that were shortlisted for the said post under the military rules- with the other five being Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza (Commander 10 Corps), Lt Gen Azhar Abbas (Chief of General Staff), Lt Gen Nauman Mehmood (National Defence University), Lt Gen Faiz Hamid (Commander Bahawalpur Corps), and Lt Gen Mohammad Amir (Commander Gujranwala Corps).
Munir, like most top Pakistan generals, have been closely associated with what the Pakistan army does as far as India is concerned. The 64-year-old Munir, who has commanded a division in Siachen, was the Chief of Military Intelligence (MI) when senior Taliban leader and its spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan was ‘arrested’ in an operation that was conducted by the MI. Later it emerged that Ehsan had surrendered to MI as a part of a deal that was forged by Munir and other senior Pakistan officers. Munir has also interrogated Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav multiple times, who was kidnapped by Pakistan army backed armed groups while he was in Iran. The groups then had handed him over to the Pakistan military in early 2016.
It was under his tenure of the Chief of Military Intelligence that the much-discussed Pakistan general elections of July 2018 took place in which Imran Khan came to power which many believe was “managed” in his favour by the army.
Similarly, Munir was the chief of the ISI when the Pulwama attack took place in February 2019, the preparation of which could not have missed the ears and eye of the ISI chief. Munir was also directly involved in acting as the messenger of India’s resolve to bomb critical Pakistan assets if the Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman was not returned safe and sound. The then chief of Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) Anil Dhasmana had reached out to Munir directly and conveyed the ultimatum to Munir, who then shared the same with army chief Bajwa and Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Munir, once he assumes the charge of the army chief, will have multiple challenges on his plate, most of which are internal and none of it, something which will come as a surprise to many, emanates from India. He will have to decide on what course of action he takes as far as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is concerned. The TTP and the army have been engaged in a bloody skirmish despite a cease fire being in effect. Bajwa, as reported by this newspaper, was tilting towards carrying out an all-out action against the group. Will Munir follow the same strategy or will he take a more nuanced stand is something that cannot be speculated upon with certainty right now.
The new chief will be pressed to reach out to the neighbouring Afghan Taliban who are now ruling Kabul in wake of the multiple violent actions that have happened at the international border between Pakistan army and Taliban fighters over long-standing border issues.
He will also have to take a call on how he handles the volatile situation that is developing in and around Islamabad with his most powerful foe Imran Khan carrying out a march and which, by all accounts, is likely to take a violent turn if not contained soon.
Munir will also be under intense pressure to ensure that no harm comes to Chinese nationals and assets that are in Pakistan. This month, the Chinese political leadership had expressed their extreme displeasure to the Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif led delegation on the failure of the Pakistan army to protect Chinese interest in a country where China has invested billions of dollars as a part of China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He will also be expected to move ahead on the path led down by his predecessor Bajwa as far as normalising ties with the United States are concerned. After Khan’s much talked about anti-US tirade, it was Bajwa who took the initiative to mend the ties, which are now in a much better place as the recent coordination between the ISI and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), shows.