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Pakistan appoints new head of powerful intelligence agency

Lieutenant-General Asim Munir will take over from outgoing ISI chief Lieutenant-General Naveed Mukhtar, says military.

Pakistan has appointed a new chief for its powerful intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as the previous appointee completed his term, the military said.

Lieutenant-General Asim Munir will take over from the outgoing ISI chief Lieutenant-General Naveed Mukhtar, the military's press wing said in a brief statement released on Wednesday.

Munir, who was promoted late last month, previously served as the head of Military Intelligence.

A decorated army officer, Munir has previously commanded Pakistani forces in the northern district of Gilgit-Baltistan.

The Pakistani military and ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service tasked with external operations, has long been accused by the United States and regional rival India of only taking selective action against armed groups, a charge Pakistan has consistently denied.

The US has accused the ISI of backing the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network in the war against Afghan and NATO forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

In 2011, then US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen termed the Haqqani Network "a veritable arm" of the ISI. 

In 2016, Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone attack while travelling in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan.

Relations between the erstwhile allies have been rocky since US President Trump cut more than $1.1bn in security assistance to the country, accusing Pakistan of "[having] given us nothing but lies & deceit".

In July, Prime Minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party took the reins of power in the country after a general election, vowing to renegotiate its relationships with regional and international powers based on "mutual respect".

Since then, top Pakistani and US officials have met several times. Last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pakistan for talks both sides said were fruitful. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reciprocated the visit earlier this month.

On Tuesday, Qureshi met newly appointed US envoy on Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad.

"[Khalilzad] consulted with Pakistani leaders on how best to achieve a durable political settlement in Afghanistan," said a US statement. "Special Representative Khalilzad reiterated that peace in Afghanistan is vital to the long-term stability of Pakistan and the wider region."

Pakistan has repeatedly stressed its desire for a politically negotiated settlement to hostilities in Afghanistan, where the Afghan Taliban and its allies have been battling US-led NATO forces for more than 17 years.

Lieutenant-General Munir, as the new chief of the ISI, will be expected to play an active role in facilitating that process.

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