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Pakistani PM appoints ex-spymaster as new army chief

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has named the country’s former spy chief as head of the military, the information minister said on Thursday, ending months of speculation over the new appointment.

The military has always wielded enormous political influence in Pakistan, ruling it for half of its 75-year history, and also oversees the country’s nuclear program. Like neighboring China and India, Pakistan has nuclear arsenals and a missile system, which mainly targets India.

Lieutenant General Syed Asim Munir replaces General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who ends his extended six-year term on November 29. Munir begins his new role amid a bitter feud between Sharif and former Prime Minister Imran Khan. Khan has publicly accused Bajwa of playing a role in his ousting, a charge the outgoing army chief has denied.

Khan wants early elections and Sharif to resign. Sharif, who replaced Khan with a no-confidence vote in parliament in April, rejected the request, saying the next polls will be held as scheduled in 2023.

There was no immediate comment from Khan about Munir, who was director general of Inter-Services Intelligence when Khan was in office. Khan fired Munir without explanation.

On Thursday, Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif told reporters that Munir’s appointment as army chief was “based on merit, the law and in accordance with the constitution”. He said he hoped Alvi would not make key appointments “controversial” and that he would approve Sharif’s decision without delay.

“It will also help our country and the economy to get back on track because right now everything is at a standstill,” he said.

Azim Chaudhry, a senior political analyst, told The Associated Press that Munir held key positions under Bajwa, including that of chief of military intelligence. He said he hoped the new army chief would steer the army away from politics, in line with Bajwa’s policy.

Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb also said Sharif had appointed Lt. Gen. Sahir Shamshad Mirza as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee to replace Gen. Nadeem Raza, who is retiring this week. .

It is unclear whether President Arif Alvi will immediately approve the nominations as he is a former member of Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party. On Thursday, Alvi and Khan met in Lahore to discuss Munir’s nomination. Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party did not comment on the meeting. Alvi was due to release a statement about his encounter later Thursday.

According to constitutional experts, Alvi was required to approve the appointments.

Aitzaz Ahsan, a senior constitutional expert, said Alvi could delay approving nominations for 25 days.

Also on Thursday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan said Sharif had promoted Munir to a four-star general and that Munir would not retire this week even if Alvi delays approval of his appointment as chief of staff. the army.

Khan extended Bajwa’s term in 2019 amid growing tension with India. But Khan later developed differences with Bajwa over the appointment of the country’s new spy chief in place of Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed. These differences continued until Khan was ousted.

Since then, Khan has accused Bajwa of conspiring with the United States to force his government’s ouster – a charge that Washington, Sharif and the military have repeatedly denied.

Bajwa, in a recent televised address at an army rally, called Khan’s allegations a “false narrative”.

“If there was an alien plot, would we sit in silence? It would be a big sin,” he said, without naming Khan.

Bajwa said on Wednesday the military had shown restraint so far, but issued what appeared to be a veiled warning to Khan.

“Keep in mind that there is a limit to patience,” Bajwa said.

Alvi arranged at least one meeting in the capital, Islamabad, between Khan and Bajwa as part of an effort to reconcile them. But government and military officials say Alvi’s efforts failed as Khan continued to level accusations against Bajwa.

The former cricketing hero launched a protest march from the eastern city of Lahore on October 28 before surviving a gun attack that killed a bystander and injured 13 others. Since then, Khan’s protest march has moved to Islamabad in convoys without him.

Khan is expected to lead the protest march from the town of Rawalpindi on November 26.

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