South Asia

Former spy chief takes over Pakistan’s armed forces

Pakistan’s new military chief, Gen. Asim Munir took command of the country’s armed forces on Tuesday amid ongoing political turmoil and a renewed threat from a key militant group.

Outgoing Chief of Army Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who retired from the post after a six-year term, handed over the reins Tuesday to Munir who now faces dealing with the renewed threat by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) after the group called off a months-long truce on Monday night.

Pakistan’s army has historically wielded huge influence in the country, but has also been fighting local and foreign militants since 2001 when Pakistan became an ally of the United States in the war on terror.

The TTP are allies of the Afghanistan Taliban and analysts have said the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in August last year emboldened TTP, whose top leaders and fighters are reportedly hiding in Afghanistan.

During Bajwa’s tenure, he repeatedly carried out operations against the militant group. Bajwa also opened peace talks with the TTP earlier this year – talks that were held in Kabul. In May, the group and military officials agreed to an indefinite truce.

However, the TTP issued a statement on Monday, ending the ceasefire and ordering its fighters to carry out attacks across Pakistan.

Associated Press reported Tuesday that this move has increased fears of violence in Pakistan, which has witnessed scores of deadly attacks, mostly claimed by the TTP, over the years.

Tuesday’s change in military command comes days after Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif named Munir to replace Bajwa, who handed over his traditional “baton of command” to Munir at a ceremony amid tight security in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, AP reported.

Munir was promoted to four-star general by Sharif last week to replace Bajwa, who retired at the height of his unpopularity. AP reported that Bajwa had emerged as one of the most controversial army chiefs this year when opposition leader and former prime minister Imran Khan accused him of ousting his government under a US plot, a charge Sharif, the United States and the military have denied.

Khan, a former cricket star turned politician, was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament and he wants new military leadership to end the political turmoil. The army chief is widely seen as the de facto ruler in Pakistan.

Khan was also shot in the leg in early November while marching to Islamabad from Lahore as part of his protest action calling for snap elections.