Asif Nawaz was born in the village of Chakri of Jhelum District into Janjua Rajput family. He was educated at St Mary's Cambridge School Murree Road, a mission school in Rawalpindi, about which he later said that two Irish teachers, Fr Burns and Miss May Flanagan, had most influence in teaching him the values for his future career. He was the third generation of his family to join the Punjab Regiment (5th Battalion, also known as Sherdils) and as an outstanding cadet went on a scholarship to Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
Nawaz was commissioned in the Punjab Regiment on 31 March 1957 in the 15th PMA Long Course and received his initial training from Pakistan Military Academy and later Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He was known as a soldier's soldier with no political ambition. He spent most of his career in the field, holding command positions during the 1965 and 1971 wars with India. During 1971 he was in Dhaka as a Brigade commander. From 1982 to 1985 he commanded a division in Peshawar and then headed the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul until 1988. From April 1988 to March 1991 he was Corps Commander, Karachi, in charge of three army divisions. In April 1991 he became Chief of General Staff and was appointed Chief of Army Staff in August 1991 with a tenure of three years.
He took over the command from the retiring General Mirza Aslam Beg at a time when Pakistan's relations with the United States were at an all-time low because of Washington's suspicions about Islamabad's nuclear weapons program.
At the completion of three-year term of General Mirza Aslam Beg, four generals were in the race to replace him: Lt Gen Shamim Alam Khan, commander XXXI Corps, Bahawalpur; Lt Gen Asif Nawaz, chief of general staff (CGS); Lt Gen Zulfiqar Akhtar Naz commander I Corps, Mangla ; and Lt Gen Hamid Gul, commander II Corps, Multan. The senior two were promoted as four-star generals, with Shamim Alam Khan being named as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and Lt Gen Asif Nawaz, who also came recommended by Gen Rahimuddin Khan, was appointed the Chief of Army Staff to replace Mirza Aslam Beg on 11 June 1991 by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.
Shortly after being named to the post, General Nawaz said the army had no role in politics other than to defend the civilian government and the country. The army's image had been tarnished and its officers corrupted in Pakistan's 25 years of martial law, he said. Nawaz, whose views tended to be pro-Western, spent much of his brief tenure as COAS trying to improve ties between Pakistan and the United States, the two formerly staunch allies. As a strong believer in liberal values, he was trying to improve the military's relations with India and take Pakistan out of what he saw as the dead-end legacy of Islamic fundamentalist rhetoric left by his two predecessors, General Zia ul-Haq and General Aslam Beg. During Nawaz's tenure, the army took on the surprising role of becoming a protector of a free press and liberal values of criticism.
One of his Achievement's as a Chief of Pakistan Army is an anti-dacoit operation in Sindh, where he deployed his best officers and direct orders were given to them to eliminate those dacoits from Dadu district. Indus Rangers were in charge of those series of operations which resulted in a massive decline in the instability of that area.
Asif Nawaz died on 8 January 1993, while he was jogging near his home in Rawalpindi. The death was ruled a heart attack, but his family commissioned a private test on hair from his brush, which was conducted in the United States. The test registered high levels of arsenic. As a result, his body was exhumed, and an autopsy was conducted by French, British, and American doctors. No poison was found in his body, and the cause of death was determined to be a heart attack.
Nawaz was succeeded by General Abdul Waheed Kakar as the next Army Chief.
Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister, then described Nawaz as "a true professional soldier," and further stated that "he did what he said he would do – he kept the army out of politics." Unlike many of his predecessors, Nawaz was incorruptible and often talked of how he would relax when he retired, unlike other generals who plunged into politics.