John Haltiwanger is a Senior Writer at GZERO Media, covering all things geopolitics. John previously reported for Business Insider and Newsweek. He's covered topics ranging from wars to US elections, reporting everywhere from Trump campaign rallies to the Poland-Ukraine border. John has a BA in History from St. Mary's College of Maryland and an MSc in International Relations from the University of Glasgow. When he's not writing about international politics, John is likely searching for the best slice of pizza in Brooklyn, playing/watching soccer, or hanging out with his hyperactive Goldendoodle named Indy.
On top of facing legitimacy questions following chaotic, violent elections tainted by widespread undemocratic practices, Pakistan’s new coalition government is inheriting an economy in crisis. These economic problems have been fueled by high energy costs, political dysfunction, flooding, and supply chain issues.
An economy in freefall. Pakistan inflation hovers around a whopping 30%, and its GDP fell 0.6% in 2023, per the World Bank. Meanwhile, Tabadlab, an Islamabad-based think tank, recently warned that the country’s debt is a “raging fire” that’s become unsustainable: Interest payments are eating up roughly 57% of government revenues.
“Unless there are sweeping reforms and dramatic changes to the status quo, Pakistan will continue to sink deeper, headed towards an inevitable default,” Tabadlab’s report said.
What can be done? Pakistan barely avoided debt default last year thanks to the help of a short-term IMF lending agreement, but that’s set to expire in April. The incoming government reportedly plans to pursue a $6 billion loan from the IMF to help it stay afloat. The IMF has signaled it’s open to discussing another arrangement with the new government, but we’ll be watching to see whether Pakistan’s political turmoil becomes an obstacle to securing more funds.
Former President Donald Trump was the first major candidate to launch his campaign for the 2024 presidential election cycle – on Nov. 15, 2022, roughly two years before Election Day. The US puts no limits on the length of campaigns, which leaves the door open for massive amounts of campaign spending and has the potential to leave voters exhausted by the time they head to the polls.
Many other countries have laws restricting how long candidates can campaign. In Japan, campaigns do not officially start until 12 days before the election. The longest election campaign ever in Canada lasted 78 days in 2015. The Great White North now limits campaigns to 50 days at most.
Should the US follow their lead? Do American voters really need more than a year of campaigning to make up their minds about who will be president for the next four years?
Hard numbers: Pro-Russia blogger commits suicide, UK nuclear missile test fails, Biden slashes student debt, China reaches US via Mexico
16,000: Andrey Morozov, a well-known pro-Russia military blogger, reportedly committed suicide after facing backlash from Russian propagandists for his Telegram post that said 16,000 Russian troops were killed in the battle for Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine. Moscow has gone to extreme lengths to obscure the scale of Russia’s losses in the war in Ukraine, and Morozov was accused of “slandering the Russian defense ministry.” Ukraine estimates that 17,000 Russian troops were killed fighting to take Avdiivka.
2: The UK’s Trident nuclear missile misfired and crashed into the sea during a test near Florida last month, reports on Wednesday said. This was the second time in a row that a Trident missile test failed, leading to uncomfortable questions about Britain’s nuclear deterrent. But Defence Sec. Grant Shapps, who witnessed the test aboard the HMS Vanguard, attributed it to an “event-specific” anomaly and said it had “no implications for the reliability of the wider Trident missile systems and stockpiles.”
153,000: The Biden administration on Wednesday announced it’s canceling $1.2 billion in student loan debt for 153,000 people enrolled in the Saving on a Valuable Education repayment plan who have been making payments for at least a decade and borrowed $12,000 or less.
881,000: You may recall that Mexico recently overtook China as the US’ largest trade partner. But new data suggests that a big chunk of that commerce could still involve goods coming from China: In the first three quarters of last year, China sent 881,000 20-foot shipping containers full of merchandise to Mexico, up more than 30% over the previous year, hitting a record high. Experts believe some Chinese companies are skirting Trump-era tariffs by routing exports through Mexico, which has a free trade deal with the US.
Israel on Tuesday ordered new evacuations in Gaza City as it prepares for a controversial ground offensive in Rafah, the enclave’s southernmost town.
The news is a reminder that roughly 300,000 Palestinians are still estimated to be in northern Gaza despite evacuations that pushed waves of people south after Oct. 7. It’s also indicative of the myriad challenges Palestinians face amid the Israel-Hamas war. It’s estimated that up to 1.9 million people in Gaza have been displaced since fighting began, and around 1.5 million are sheltering in Rafah.
Israel issued a March 10 deadline for Hamas to return the hostages or face a ground offensive in Rafah, but it hasn’t offered a plan for ensuring civilian safety. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested they could evacuate north, the direction many fled from. Though Cairo opposes accepting refugees, it’s bracing for the possibility that Israel’s operation could push thousands of Palestinians across its border.
Meanwhile, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. Washington is pushing for a separate resolution that calls for a cease-fire “as soon as practicable” and urges Israel to scrap its plan to invade Rafah.
Hard Numbers: Missiles hit Russian border city, ex-FBI informant in Biden bribe case faces charges, Gaza needs new ‘Marshall Plan,’ UK slips into recession, Bangkok’s air becomes unbreathable
7: At least seven people, including a one-year-old girl, were reportedly killed on Thursday by an apparent Ukrainian missile strike in Belgorod, the closest major Russian city to Ukraine. This is not the first time Belgorod has been targeted amid the Russia-Ukraine war – dozens were killed in a strike there last December, as Ukraine seeks to show that it can still strike Russia, even as Moscow’s forces slowly push forward the front lines in the Donbas. Meanwhile, the US warned that the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, which has seen some of the worst fighting recently, is at risk of falling into Russian control.
25: Alexander Smirnov, a former FBI informant, has been charged with lying about President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden accepting payments from Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings. The US Justice Department said Smirnov gave the false statements because he disliked Biden. If convicted, Smirnov faces up to 25 years in jail.
20 billion: The damage from the war in Gaza so far is estimated to be roughly $20 billion, according to a UN trade body official. The estimate is based on satellite images, but for an exact number, there will need to be an on-the-ground investigation. The official said that the Las Vegas-sized Gaza strip will need a “Marshall Plan” of its own after the Israel-Hamas war, in reference to the US-led effort to rebuild Europe after World War II.
0.3: The UK economy fell into a recession at the end of 2023, dealing yet another blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as he hopes for reelection in a vote widely expected later this year. Data released Thursday showed GDP fell 0.3% in the final three months of last year, after shrinking 0.1% in the previous quarter.
156: The air in Bangkok was so polluted on Thursday that city employees were ordered to work from home for two days, and private sector workers were strongly encouraged to do the same. How bad was it? The Thai capital’s Air Quality Index hit 156. When levels go above 100, it’s considered to be unhealthy for sensitive groups, while levels above 150 are dangerous for everyone.
“Egypt remains quite opposed” to housing refugees, says senior Eurasia Group analyst Omar Monieb. It worries that opening the door would undermine security and cause domestic political headaches. Israel’s desire to control the Philadelphi corridor, a narrow buffer zone along the Egypt-Gaza border, also makes Cairo nervous.
Reports suggest an offensive in Rafah could see Cairo abandon its 1979 treaty with Israel, which has helped maintain stability between the countries for decades. Egypt’s foreign minister denies the treaty is at risk, but that doesn’t mean the relationship with Israel will remain unscathed.
“Egypt wouldn’t abandon the treaty but will take measures to voice displeasure,” says Monieb, like recalling its ambassador and “freezing security cooperation and information sharing.”
Israel launched airstrikes in Lebanon on Wednesday, killing at least 10 civilians, in response to a suspected Hezbollah rocket attack that killed an Israeli soldier. Hezbollah on Thursday said Israel would "pay the price for these crimes."
The US raised alarm about the potential for escalation and pushed for a diplomatic resolution to the tensions.
Israel and Hezbollah — a powerful Iran-backed militia group that collaborates with Hamas — have traded fire for months as the war in Gaza fuels wider tensions, raising concerns that Israel could end up in a two-front war.
Israel's recent airstrikes “reflect domestic political and social pressures to respond more forcefully to Hezbollah,” says Sofia Meranto, a Middle East analyst at Eurasia Group.
And there’s likely to be more where that came from. Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah warned Tuesday that attacks on Israel end only “when the shooting stops in Gaza.” However, he has previously signaled reluctance to face a full-scale war with Israel, which could inflict huge pain on Lebanon more broadly.Meanwhile, as Israel prepares to invade the southern Gaza town of Rafah, where 1.4 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering, the US, Egypt, and Qatar are scrambling to establish a new truce. So far, both Hamas and Israel have rejected the terms.
Candidates affiliated with imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan won the most votes in last week’s election in Pakistan, but no single party won a clear majority, so a coalition government had to be formed.
On Tuesday, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, aka PLMN, and the Pakistan People’s Party, or PPP, announced that they had agreed to form a coalition government with two smaller, regional parties.
And Khan? Having been removed from office in 2022 after losing the support of Pakistan’s military, Khan knows all too well how much the country’s army has worked to sideline him in this election.
While independent candidates largely aligned with his party won the most seats, the newly formed coalition means Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is shut out.
Who will lead? The new coalition said that PLMN President Shahbaz Sharif – an ex-prime minister and the younger brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – will be the nominee for prime minister. The presidency is expected to go to the PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari.
Buckle up. While the military is likely to wield its considerable influence to help ensure the governing coalition doesn’t collapse, the parties involved are generally considered rivals, so it may be difficult to keep them unified.
Pakistani politics are notoriously volatile — the country has never seen a prime minister complete a full five-year term in its 77-year history as an independent nation.