After over a month of speculation, the government finally announced on Thursday that the most senior candidate, Lt General Asim Munir would be taking over the mantle of the next Chief of Army Staff (COAS) from General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza will be appointed as the new Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. This should end the continuous speculation around this position.
The new COAS comes with a wealth of experience like his predecessor, and noteworthy career experiences for Lt General Asim Munir include very effective spells in furthering Pakistan’s nuclear security objectives in addition to being at the helm of both the MI and ISI. This is important considering there are threats, both internal and external, that require focus in the months to come.
After reports of considering the summary sent by the Prime Minister, the President signed off on the new appointments in a few hours. But his actions on Thursday following the Prime Minister’s summary are questionable. As President, Arif Alvi is not supposed to have any political affiliations or favour one side over the other, yet we saw him travel from the federal capital to Zaman Park in Lahore to ‘consult’ PTI chairman Imran Khan over the next step. The President’s signature is procedural, so it is unclear what next steps the two needed to discuss. In any case, even if we were to ignore the President’s affiliations, the decision on the selection of the army chief is the sole purview of the Prime Minister, and for Imran Khan to try and insert himself in the picture is highly disappointing. Undoubtedly, PTI wanted to remain part of the process without having a say, so this might be a bit of a face-saving move from the former Prime Minister.
The outgoing COAS, with an unprecedented public address in a farewell gathering, also set the tone for civil-military relations going forward. His statements on separating politics and institutions such as the army are key and will determine the civil-military relationship for years to come. The openness with which the political events since 2018 were elaborated upon were certainly refreshing. But to move past the acrimony and mistrust, both political parties and the army have a role to play in depoliticizing and untethering issues of national security with other political spheres such as the economy, foreign relations, development, and most critically, domestic politics.