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A Bombing in Pakistan
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A Bombing in Pakistan

Plus: The Navy’s submarine shortage.

Happy Thursday! The Danish man who visited every country in the world without ever taking a plane recently returned home—by boat, of course—after 10 years of travel. On his journey, he withstood visa travails, a bout of malaria, and getting trapped in Hong Kong during the pandemic.

That’s cool and all, but we think his most impressive feat was living on $20 a day on perpetual vacation—teach us your ways.  

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories 

  • Former President Donald Trump will appear in federal court in Washington today to be arraigned following his indictment Tuesday over charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The Secret Service announced that “there may be short term traffic implications due to protectee movements” in the nation’s capital.
  • Liberal Wisconsin voting rights groups and law firms Wednesday filed a challenge to the state’s legislative districts, arguing they were unconstitutional and should be redrawn ahead of the 2024 election. The petition comes only a day after Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal judge elected in April, was sworn in as a justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, flipping the ideological balance from conservative to liberal. The filing, which does not address congressional districts, argued the state’s supreme court should take original jurisdiction of the case—heard by the high court immediately without being first directed to lower courts.  
  • The Republican National Committee is increasing its threshold for participation in the second Republican Primary debate at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California on Sept. 27, Politico reported. Candidates will have to average 3 percent in at least two national surveys and 3 percent in polls from two separate early nominating states—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Nevada. Contenders must also reach 50,000 unique donors, with at least 200 in 20 states or territories.
  • A federal jury recommended the death penalty Wednesday for the gunman who stormed Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue and killed 11 worshippers in 2018. The massacre represents the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history—the killer told a psychiatrist he thought the trial was effectively spreading his antisemitic message. 
  • The National Institutes of Health announced Wednesday Jeanne Marrazzo—the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham—will be the next head of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. She is replacing Dr. Anthony Fauci, who stepped down last year after leading the agency for almost 40 years. 
  • The Biden administration is reportedly recalling 1,100 active duty troops from the southern border after deploying 1,500 in May ahead of the end of Title 42—which many border enforcement officials expected to bring about a surge of migrants crossing the border. The 1,100 service members’ deployment will end by Aug. 8, with the remaining 400 to remain until Aug. 31.  
  • Russia launched a drone strike Wednesday against  Ukraine’s main inland port of Izmail, across the Danube River from Romania—another attempt by Moscow to keep Kyiv from exporting grain after Russia pulled out of the Black Sea grain agreement last month. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the attack destroyed roughly 40,000 tons of grain destined for Africa and Asia. 
  • The Biden administration announced this week the North Korean government called the U.N. Command at the demilitarized zone between the country and South Korea to “acknowledge” U.S. Army Private Second Class Travis King’s presence in the country after the soldier crossed into the country from South Korea last month. A State Department spokesperson said the call was not “substantive” and yielded no progress towards his release. 
  • U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Tuesday the U.S. would present a Security Council resolution authorizing Kenya to lead a multinational police force in Haiti in order to combat increasingly destabilizing gang violence on the island. The announcement comes after two U.S. citizens—an aid worker and her child—were kidnapped near the capital of Port-au-Prince. 
  • The State Department announced Wednesday it will partially evacuate U.S. embassy personnel from Niger but said the embassy would remain open, following similar moves earlier this week by European countries to pull their diplomatic staff out of the country. The Nigerien army staged a coup in the west African nation last week, prompting sanctions and the threat of military intervention by neighboring African countries. 

Pakistan in Crisis

Security personnel inspect the site of a suicide attack in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwestern Pakistan on July 31, 2023. (Photo by Str/Xinhua via Getty Images)
Security personnel inspect the site of a suicide attack in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwestern Pakistan on July 31, 2023. (Photo by Str/Xinhua via Getty Images)

More than 1,000 people gathered under a white canopy in northwestern Pakistan Sunday for a political rally with representatives of the ultra-conservative Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, (JUI-F), party. As the politicians took the stage, the crowd began to shout “Praise to God!” Then, there was an explosion. 

“We came to the meeting with enthusiasm but ended up at the hospital seeing crying wounded people,” one attendee told Sky News. The death toll from the suicide bombing continues to grow, passing 60 Wednesday, with nearly 200 people—including children—reportedly injured. One of the local party leaders, Maulana Ziaullah, was reportedly killed in the blast, which some witnesses have suggested occurred close to the stage.

The attack on the political rally is only the latest example of the compounding crises in Pakistan—including increased terrorist activity, lingering discontent over former prime minister Imran Khan’s brief arrest in May, and a potential economic meltdown. Elections set for the fall—already on shaky ground because of controversy over voting districts—are more uncertain than ever. As insecurity grows, so does the possibility that the military establishment, frequently operating in the background of Pakistan’s politics, steps in to stymie free and fair elections.  

Sunday’s bombing took place in Khar, a city in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa near the border with Afghanistan. JUI-F, the target, is an ultra-conservative Islamist party based in the region and led by a Taliban-aligned cleric, Fazlur Rehman. Rehman was part of the loose coalition that ousted Khan last year and is an ally of the current prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif.   

ISIS affiliate Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, on Monday claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the bombing was part of its ongoing “war against democracy.” The bombing may also be motivated in part by JUI-F’s support for the Taliban, ISIS-K’s sworn enemy. ISIS-K believes the repressive Taliban government in Kabul hasn’t gone far enough, a complaint doubly lobbed at JUI-F, which operates within the democratic system. “The JUI-F has long been accused of appeasement for its support of various Pakistani governments and participation in elections.” Christopher Clary, an associate professor of political science at the University at Albany, tells TMD. “This accusation of appeasement seems to best explain why the JUI-F might be a priority target for the Islamic State.” It’s not the first time ISIS-K has taken aim at the party, claiming responsibility for the assassination of a local party leader in June. 

There’s been an uptick in terrorist attacks in Pakistan recently. The first half of 2023 saw militant attacks up by 79 percent from the same period last year, according to analysis by the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies. The Pakistan Taliban, or TTP—a terror group that wants to wrest the border region from Islamabad’s control and pledges allegiance to the Afghanistan Taliban in Kabul—has regained a foothold in Pakistan following the Taliban’s takeover of neighboring Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal two years ago this month. In November, TPP leaders announced they’d be ignoring a ceasefire with the Pakistani government. The group may have been behind a bombing in January at a mosque in Peshawar, also in northwest Pakistan, that killed more than 100 people—the TTP initially claimed responsibility before saying they had nothing to do with it. 

Political instability has been a feature of Pakistan’s system since its founding in 1948. No government has ever made it to the end of its five year mandate under the 1973 constitution, and Imran Khan was no exception. The cricket player turned populist political phenom was booted from office in a vote of no confidence in April of last year, which Khan blames the army for instigating. But it was the events of this past May that could be the most consequential for the political environment come election season. 

As we reported at the time, there were widespread protests across Pakistan after Khan was arrested in a dramatic courtroom raid by a paramilitary group. Following the demonstrations, the government and the military cracked down on Khan and his supporters. Khan—facing some 100 legal cases —is banned from television, and the defense minister floated banning the party in late May after pro-Khan protestors attacked military installations during demonstrations. “There is now an institutional clash between Imran Khan and the remnants of his party and the military,” Shuja Nawaz, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and former director of its South Asia Center, tells TMD. “And that will surely affect the formal elections as to how many people will run on his party ticket and how many will win—or be allowed to win.”

Dozens of members of Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), including his former defense minister, left the party in mid-July to form their own venture ahead of the elections. They said their former leader pursued “politics of hatred and confrontation” during the violence in May, which Khan considers a false flag operation.  

As if security woes and political trouble weren’t enough, the country is also facing an economic meltdown that prompted the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to step in with a $3 billion loan to manage the country’s balance of payments problem. Consumer prices are up almost 30 percent year-over-year in July and the country’s currency depreciated more than 20 percent against the dollar in the first half of 2023 after Pakistan devalued its currency in January. Before the bailout was approved last month, the country was poised to default on its debts, with barely enough foreign currency in reserve to pay for one month of imports. The IMF bailout is contingent on tight monetary policy and fiscal restraint by the government. 

Elections are currently expected in October—they are required to take place within 60 days of the national assembly’s dissolution, likely in mid-August. Even before the date has been set or a single vote cast, some Pakistanis are already questioning the polls’ legitimacy after Sharif’s government chose to ignore the most recent census data that should have been used to reapportion representative districts. Instead, the elections are set to be held on the basis of the 2017 delimitations. “It’s quite possible that a sort of national election will take place, but it will be a contested idea,” Nawaz tells TMD

But with the multiple simmering crises, whether elections will happen at all is an open question. The military, which would prefer a weak government over which it can exert more control, could use both the security and economic concerns as a pretense to delay, Nawaz tells TMD. “If there’s an economic crisis, then all bets are off,” he says. “If there’s a heightened level of terrorism within the country, that could also be used as an excuse to delay the elections and to maintain a temporary government.”

The Submarine Fleet’s Sunk Costs

In October 2021, a submarine called the USS Connecticut ran into an underwater mountain.

While this was not among the Navy’s more glorious episodes, neither was it catastrophic. The vessel made it back to Guam under its own power with 11 sailors injured, none seriously. The sub was in need of some $80 million in repairs—Pentagon pocket change. Yet the Navy estimates the Connecticut won’t be ready to return to service until 2026 at the earliest.

The United States’ nuclear-powered submarines perform various security missions, but an aging fleet and maintenance infrastructure—plus slow construction of new submarines—has kept more submarines out of action than the Navy would prefer. Noting the need to deter Chinese aggression, some lawmakers fret we can’t afford to sell any to Australia as agreed in the AUKUS pact.

Submarines may be out of sight, out of mind for the average civilian, but attack submarines—as opposed to the ballistic missile subs carrying nuclear weapons—perform a range of functions, from surveillance to transporting special forces. They’d also play a critical role in any conflict with China—while the PRC has a numerically larger navy and capabilities to counter U.S. planes and surface vessels, it’s outmatched on submarines. “Nuclear submarines could be the determinant of how a conflict over Taiwan between the United States and China comes out,” Daniel Goure, an analyst with the Lexington Institute, tells TMD. Used strategically, Goure says, submarines could prevent China from landing troops on Taiwan, blockade Chinese ports, and even conduct strikes on the Chinese mainland.

But that only works if the submarines are in working order—and in recent years, many haven’t been. The Navy currently has 49 attack submarines—it dreams of operating 66—and a recent report by the Congressional Research Service revealed nearly 40 percent were undergoing or awaiting maintenance, about double the Navy’s target of 20 percent in maintenance and none sitting idle waiting for repairs.

Some of the backlog is due to higher-than-expected maintenance needs. “We said, ‘We’ll figure this out, or these parts that we built will last forever, so you’ll never need to replace them,’” Rear Adm. Kenneth Epps, commander of Naval Supply Systems Command Weapon Systems Support, said in April. “And then we took the boats out and we broke them and now we have to replace them.”

Aging ships need more maintenance—and often-complex updates with the latest technological advances—to continue operating at high pressure. “[A nuclear-powered submarine is] as complicated as a space shuttle,” Admiral James Foggo, dean of the Center for Maritime Strategy and former commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, tells TMD. “A lot of times when we take those ships into a shipyard, we don’t anticipate all of the things that are wrong because we don’t know until you actually get in and break open a system.” 

It’s expensive to keep everything you could possibly need on hand—Walmart doesn’t offer nuclear reactors. “You don’t want to have $10 million parts lying around,” Goure says. Still, the Navy is trying to improve, ordering ahead parts likely to be worn out. The Navy also sometimes resorts to cannibalizing parts from other vessels. Numbers have improved, but in 2021 Bloomberg reported the Navy had swapped more than 1,600 parts amid just one class of submarines since 2013.

Other maintenance bottlenecks are still harder to fix. The Navy’s $21 billion, Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan (SIOP) is intended to update centuries-old shipyards that have fallen behind modern fleet needs. But improvements take time—the plan spans 20 years—and can slow things down in the meantime. After a SIOP assessment determined that four dry docks on a fault line could be sucked into a sinkhole during a big earthquake, the Navy closed them for mitigation. 

These problems stack up. “It’s sort of the cascading effect where if one submarine’s late, then the next submarine is delayed,” Bryan Clark, a former special assistant to the chief of naval operations and current naval analyst with the Hudson Institute, tells TMD. In 2022, the Government Accountability Office estimated the Navy had lost more than 28 years’ worth of operational days from 2008 to 2018 purely on delays getting vessels into and out of shipyards. 

The Navy can’t just build a bunch more submarines, either. The industry is slowly adjusting to higher demand after a post-Cold War lull, but pandemic delays haven’t helped. Congress has asked for two of the new Virginia-class attack submarines per year, but in March, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told a House Appropriations subcommittee construction was behind schedule, languishing at 1.4 subs a year.

All this has made some members of Congress nervous about the Biden administration’s plan to sell at least three submarines to Australia through the AUKUS pact in the 2030s. Last Wednesday, 22 Senators and three House members wrote to the White House calling for a multiyear expansion of submarine industrial base spending. The planned sub sales, “would unacceptably weaken the U.S. fleet even as China seeks to expand its military power and influence,” they wrote. “To make up for the sale of at least three attack submarines to Australia, the U.S. would have to produce somewhere between 2.3 to 2.5 submarines per year to avoid further shrinking our fleet’s operational capacity.”

Military analysts tell TMD it’s not quite the zero-sum game lawmakers may worry about—Australia, after all, is a close partner and also deeply invested in deterring China. And with maintenance capacity available in Australia through AUKUS, U.S. submarines deployed near China and in need of repair could head to the comparatively close Aussies instead of all the way back to San Diego or elsewhere in the U.S.

But Brent Sadler, a retired Navy submariner and naval warfare analyst at the Heritage Foundation, argues Congress is right to have an eye on our submarine fleet. He notes that efforts to improve building and maintenance capacity take time, even if the outbreak of war were to add urgency. “You can only speed that up so much in a fight,” he tells TMD. “So we really need to get serious about it in peacetime.”

Worth Your Time 

  • Yuval Levin says polarization is our fault. “Congress, the presidency, and the courts have all become arenas and objects of culture-war enmity, so that frustration with the constitutional system’s assorted dysfunctions is rampant,” Levin writes in Law & Liberty. “Too many Americans are therefore persuaded that our Constitution is unsuited to our contemporary circumstances—that it assumes a more unified society than we now have, makes it too difficult to adapt to changing times, and so in this divided era can only make our problems worse. But what if we are divided less because our constitution is failing us than because we are failing the Constitution? What if the framework of our democratic republic could offer us a guide to the hard work of fostering cohesion and forging common ground? Americans will never stop disagreeing, yet they should never give up on living as one nation. Unity is achievable provided we do not expect it to mean unanimity.”

Presented Without Comment

Politico: Ramaswamy: I ‘Don’t Believe’ the 9/11 Commission Report

Also Presented Without Comment

Washington Free Beacon: Energy Secretary Granholm Takes Fifth Trip to Puerto Rico After Republicans Question Travel Spending

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Sarah and Mike break down the politics and the legalities of the new Trump indictment, Nick says this indictment changes everything once and for all, the Dispatch Politics crew covers the search for a GOP Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Scott pans (🔒) the Biden administration’s new merger guidelines, and Jonah argues the 1973 movie Soylent Green isn’t prophetic. 
  • On the podcasts: Sarah and David issued an emergency pod explaining everything you need to know about the latest Trump indictment, which means unfortunately the Dispatch Book Club will have to wait until next week. The indictment also foiled Sarah and Jonah’s hopes for an easy-breezy conversation on today’s Remnant, but they conclude with a discussion of the challenges facing men today and how to address them. 
  • On the site: Kevin says even radicals like Greta Thunberg have to follow the rules, Harvest cuts through the intrigue of the North Carolina legislator who changed parties to give Republicans the supermajority, and Peter explains who is entitled to Secret Service protection. 

Let Us Know

Do you agree with members of Congress that selling subs to Australia is too risky? Should we be preparing for war in the Pacific now? 

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

Jacob Wendler is an intern for The Dispatch.