Pakistan at the Polls

Happy Thursday! The New Yorker profiled our own Advisory Opinions podcast, concluding that, “in an era of aggrieved political discourse, [Sarah] Isgur is something unusual: a commentator who truly seems to love the government institution she covers.”

Jonah and Steve spent much of their time yesterday working the phones, desperately trying to get similar writeups of their own “flagship” podcasts. Maybe Egghead Monthly will bite.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected Hamas’ proposed ceasefire agreement and hostage-release proposal—drawn up at the request of Qatari and Egyptian mediators—dismissing the plan as “delusional.” Under the Hamas proposal presented to Israel on Tuesday, the terrorist organization would return all of the estimated 136 hostages held in Gaza—a fifth of whom are believed by Israeli officials to be dead—in a phased release. In exchange, Hamas demanded the freeing of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including senior members of the terrorist organization, and a permanent ceasefire to end the war—a provision which would have functionally allowed Hamas to remain in power in Gaza following an Israeli withdrawal from the enclave. Netanyahu promised Israel was on its way to “absolute victory” in its war against Hamas, but did not close the door on continued negotiations. 
  • U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced on Wednesday that the U.S. military had launched a unilateral drone strike on a vehicle in eastern Baghdad, Iraq, which killed a commander of Kata’ib Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia the U.S. intelligence community has said is responsible for the attack on Tower 22 in Jordan late last month that killed three U.S. service members and injured dozens of others. The commander, CENTCOM said, was “responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region,” adding that “there are no indications of collateral damage or civilian casualties at this time.” Kata’ib Hezbollah later reported that the blast had killed Abu Baqir Al-Saadi, the commander in charge of its Syria operations. 
  • More than 150 people have been arrested in Senegal since Monday as part of ongoing protests over President Macky Sall’s move to delay presidential elections originally set for later this month, with demonstrators raising concerns over alleged corruption in the candidate selection process. On Monday, the Senegalese parliament voted to postpone the election until December, functionally extending Sall’s second term as leader of the West African country generally considered a stable democracy in a turbulent region. Sall has said he will not seek a third term—from which he is constitutionally barred—but opponents have called the election maneuver a “constitutional coup.” 
  • U.S. and allied intelligence agencies released a statement on Wednesday warning of a Chinese hacking campaign against U.S. critical infrastructure and encouraging managers of those IT systems to attempt to mitigate the risk of an attack. Chinese state-sponsored hackers have had access to some U.S. infrastructure systems for as long as five years, the report said, in order “to pre-position themselves on IT networks for disruptive or destructive cyberattacks against U.S. critical infrastructure in the event of a major crisis or conflict with the United States.” 
  • The U.S. military’s North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said Tuesday that it had “detected and tracked four Russian military aircraft operating in the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ),” which stretches 150 miles off the Alaskan coastline. The Russian planes never entered U.S. or Canadian airspace, NORAD said, adding that there is often Russian activity in the region that is not considered threatening.
  • Five U.S. Marines are missing after the helicopter they were flying was found 35 miles east of San Diego, California, on Wednesday morning. The CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter the marines were in took off from Creech Air Force Base Tuesday night for a routine training flight but was reported “overdue” Tuesday night for its arrival at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California. Local authorities found the aircraft in rough terrain on Wednesday morning, though it’s not yet clear why the helicopter went down. Rescue teams are fighting rain and snow in the area, part of the storms generated by the atmospheric river pummeling southern California.   
  • The Congressional Budget Office released projections on Wednesday that show the U.S. deficit will likely hit $1.6 trillion by the end of this year and grow to $2.6 trillion in 2034, largely due to interest payments on the national debt and the costs of Social Security for an aging population. Despite ultimately growing, the projection is lower than last year’s thanks in part to budget caps negotiated by former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden as part of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
  • The Senate failed to advance its bipartisan immigration and foreign aid package on Wednesday with a vote of 49-50. Only four Republicans—Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, one of the bill’s authors, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—voted in favor of closing debate on the package in advance of a vote.* The procedural measure, called cloture, needed 60 votes to pass. It’s unclear whether a push to pass aid to Ukraine and Israel without border provisions attached will meet a similar fate.

Pakistan’s Election: No Ifs, Ands, or Bats

A Pakistani voter casts their ballot during polling for Pakistan’s general election at a polling station on February 8, 2024, in Wahgrian, Pakistan. (Photo by Rebecca Conway/Getty Images)

Two bomb explosions killed at least 28 people in the Balochistan province of Pakistan yesterday, just one day before citizens were set to head to the polls. The terrorist attack, claimed by the Islamic State, has become a familiar occurrence in the country. “In the lead-up to the vote, there have been no less than 24 reported instances in which armed groups have staged attacks against members of political parties,” said Elizabeth Throssell, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Terror attacks are just one of the myriad problems that have impacted Pakistan’s fraught election—one that many Pakistanis believe is already decided. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan is currently in jail and is prevented, along with his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, from running in the election. His closest competitor, Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN), is also a former prime minister who was thrown out of office and exiled. Increasing internal violence, political instability, and a stagnating economy plague the struggling democracy, and the military appears to hold more sway over the outcome of today’s vote than the Pakistani people. Democracies across the globe are anxiously watching not just who wins the election, but how it is carried out.

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