A Grave Affair.

Hello Everyone,

As the year 2012 winds down news comes out of Pakistan, that a graveyard belonging to the Ahmadi Muslim sect has been desecrated in the city of Lahore; news that I fear will come to be seen as a grim milestone in Pakistan’s descent into chaos.

This Grave Affair, (pardon the pun), is shocking in its audacity. The graveyard is located in the model town neighbourhood of Lahore, which is the provincial capital of Pakistan’s largest province, the Punjab, and is the second largest city in Pakistan. Model town is home to the Sharif brothers: the elder Brother Nawaz is a once and ( likely) future Prime Minister and his younger brother Shabbaz is the Chief Minister of the Punjab. A safer neighbourhood in the city would be hard to find, yet even there militants can strike at will.

An Aerial view of Model Town

The attack took place early Monday morning, a dozen or so armed attackers climbed over the walls of the cemetery and ambushed the on duty security guard and the caretaker. Thankfully the militants just imprisoned their captives in the caretakers house along with their families instead of killing them; perhaps they wanted to leave witnesses to spread the word of what they would do. The masked men openly identified themselves as members of banned militant groups and proceeded to desecrate 120 graves.

The aftermath of the Attack. Photo Courtesy of Dawn News.

A history lesson is in order. The Ahmadis are basically the Muslim equivalent of Mormons. The sect was founded in the late 19th century in India and embraces all the tenets and teachings of Islam save one; that Muhammad is the greatest and last of God’s Prophets. Ahmadis accept that Muhammad is the greatest of God’s Prophets but believe that the founder of their sect is in fact the last Prophet of God. It seems like a small quibble and one that could easily have been ignored in time; after all few Christians would nowadays deny the right of Mormons to identify as Christians.

But this being Pakistan, an opportunity to cynically exploit the mindless hate of the masses for political and personal gain is never passed up by the Puppet Masters of the land. Violence against Ahmadi’s flared in 1953 in Lahore and was only quelled when the Army was called in to restore order. Clerics and their right wing political supporters demanded that Ahmadi’s be declared non-Muslims; a demand that was granted in 1974 by the ostensibly secular Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

One of Bhutto’s (many) flaws was his belief that he could harness Islamic fundamentalism for his own gain.

Bhutto hoped to co-opt the religious right in order to shore up his faltering public support; the right re-payed his efforts by supporting Bhutto’s hanging at the hands of his former Army Chief and religious zealot Zia ul-Huq. Zia further oppressed Ahmadi’s, he banned Ahmadi’s from identifying as Muslims and unleashed the slow burning campaign of violence against them that continues to this day.

Perhaps the only ray of light in this affair is that the attackers only came in the wee hours of the morning; stealing into the graveyard like thieves in the night. I wonder though, how long it will take until attacks such as these take place in the full light of day with the attackers showing their faces to world, knowing that no one can stop them.

And as I’m writing this post news comes out of Lahore that 72 year old Swedish Nun Bargeeta Almby was shot in the chest by gunmen on motorcycles in broad daylight outside her home in Model town. Almby had lived in Pakistan for 38 years and ran an orphanage, a  school, and a women’s health centre that focused on preventing deaths in childbirth. An attack on a elderly woman is cowardly and rarely occurs even in Pakistan. Almby is fighting for her life in a Lahore Hospital but regardless of whether she lives or dies her charity work is likely to be severely curtailed; which will result in greater hardship for Pakistan’s poor.

Bargeeta Almby the Swedish Nun whose only crime was helping those in need.

Most disturbing was that the attack took place next to a prominent provincial politicians home but the police on duty there claimed not to have witnessed the attack. This special blend of indifference and incompetence is a trademark of Pakistani officials. Indeed the attacks on the graveyard and the Nun both show a level of careful planning and co-ordination that is rarely seen by State officials. The Puppet Master’s have achieved much this week: they successfully desecrated an Ahmadi grave thereby proving that not even death can keep one safe in Pakistan, they gunned down an elderly Nun in broad daylight which will severely curtail what little aid the poor of Pakistan get, leaving them desperate enough to turn to the Puppet Masters for protection, and most importantly they have set precedents for more audacious atrocities down the road. All in all a good week’s work.

Cyrus Durant.

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A Puppet’s Life Ends on a String.

Hello Everyone,

I took the title for this blog post from a Times of India article on the execution of Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab who was hanged this Wednesday for the killings he committed during the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in 2008 which left 166 people dead. His life and death reveal much of what is wrong in Pakistan.

1)Pakistani’s are in a state of denial: In the days after the attack on Mumbai when it became clear that the attackers were all Pakistani and that the attack had been masterminded by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist organization that was founded by the Pakistani Army to fight India, the government of Pakistan denied all responsibility and claimed that the lone surviving gunman, Ajmal Kasab, could not have been Pakistani. The government issued this denial right as Pakistani TV stations were interviewing Kasab’s parents in the village of  Faridkot  in the Pakistani Punjab.

Despite Kasab’s full confession and the surveillance footage capturing him coldly gunning down passersby in a train station, elements of the Pakistani media claimed that the whole 26/11 attacks were a conspiracy staged by India in order to give it a pretext to invade Pakistan. Others tried to justify the attacks by claiming they were retaliation for civilians killed by the Indian army in Kashmir, or by American drones in Pakistan’s tribal areas. and Pakistan’s Urdu language press even claimed that Kasab hadn’t been hanged; instead he died of dengue fever in 2008. And to top it all off people in Faridkot claimed that Kasab and his family had never lived there, that they were in fact from the Faridkot in the Indian Punjab!

Such lies and rhetorical tricks are easily dismissed as ridiculous when seen from Western eyes. For most Pakistani’s though these lies are taken as the gospel truth. Less than half of the population is literate and even those who can read are often only literate up to an elementary school level. Local preachers and private media peddle hate speech with impunity and school text-books are full of bigotry, distortions, and lies. The government rarely does anything to stop such propaganda and the peddlers of hate continue knowing that they have the covert support of the Army and the overt support of much of the populace.

2) There are plenty of men like Kasab within Pakistan: Ajmal Kasab could have been the poster-boy for the average Pakistani male. He was born in a poor rural village and received only a basic education. He would have witnessed violence on a regular basis: his father beating his mother, his parents beating Ajmal and his three siblings, his neighbours beating their farm animals when they wouldn’t obey, the local landowners thugs beating poor farmers who couldn’t make rent, the police beating shop-owners who wouldn’t give them bribes. Occasionally there would have been horror stories from other villages, a Christian Church burnt down, a Shi’ite Muslim being shot simply for being Shi’ite, a girl killed by her parents for the crime of speaking to a boy. Kasab and his fellow villagers might not have approved of these acts but they certainly didn’t condemn them. Every Friday they would attend their Mosque and hear their local Mullah, who probably couldn’t read in Urdu let alone the Arabic of the Koran, preach against infidels and apostates who wanted to destroy Islam.

This slow burning violence and indoctrination would have left it’s mark on Kasab, who as a young man left his village with his brother to find work. They went to Rawalpindi, a large city adjacent to the Capital city of Islamabad, that is home to the General headquarters of the Pakistan army. They soon realized they were not qualified for any good jobs, not that there were any to be had. So they decided to do what any country boys struggling in the big city would do; turn to crime. The brothers Kasab cased out some promising houses to rob but there was a small hitch, neither of them knew how to use a gun. They went to a major Rawalpindi market-place looking for someone to teach them how to shoot when they came across the stall of the ”banned” terrorist militia Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Imagine if the Bloods and the Crips set up booths at a farmers market down the street from LAPD headquarters; that’s how jarring seeing an LEJ stall right near the Army GHQ is. But this being Pakistan laws are considered more as guidelines than rules so no matter if the LEJ is banned, no ones going to shut them down. The LEJ offered food and money to the brothers Kasab and later sent them for weapons training at their open training camps scattered throughout Pakistan. Soon Ajmal would be thoroughly converted to an extremist strain of Islam and he and his nine fellow terrorists would be sent on to Mumbai.

Of course Ajmal Kasab expected to die a martyr not hang like a common criminal. Although I don’t personally support the death penalty, I find its use hard to condemn when men like Kasab can be found fanning the flames of the fires that are burning across Pakistan and will one day consume it completely. It’s true that terrorists like Kasab are prepared to die for their causes but they wish to go down in a blaze of glory; they don’t want to be captured, tried, kept in solitary confinement for four years, hanged in the night, and then buried in a unmarked prison yard grave far from home. A running theme throughout Pakistan’s 65 year history is that people are not made to pay for their crimes. If Pakistan had sent men like Kasab to the gallows in the past it might have kept the fires raging across the land from ever have being set.

3) Beware the Puppet Masters: In the end Ajmal Kasab was just a puppet. The Masters pulling the strings are the true danger. They are the men who send lads like Kasab to kill and to die for them. They recruit amongst the poor and downtrodden and give them all they could never dreamed of having: respect, money, land, and women.  The Puppet Masters have many banners but it doesn’t matter if they command fundamentalist terrorists, sectarian killers, separatist insurgents, tribal militias, political storm-troopers, mafia thugs, or the State’s own soldiers; they are all after one thing, power. They are wolves who cloak themselves in wool and gather a flock around them before they bare their fangs. Violence begets violence and one of the many tragedies of Pakistan is that only violence can stop the Puppet Masters and halt Pakistan’s fall. An Indian newspaper , the Hindu, interviewed an old man in Faridkot after Kasab was hanged, this is what he said,  ”He met his fate. As you sow so shall you reap”. As Kasab reaped a bloody harvest; so shall Pakistan.

I’ll leave you now with Ajmal Kasab’s final words, spoken as he faced the hangman’s noose; ”Tell my Mother”.

Cyrus Durant.

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World War Zzzzz

Hello Everyone!

I’ve just watched the trailer for the long awaited movie adaptation of World War Z and I am thoroughly unimpressed. If the trailer is accurate than the movie will be awful. I expected a lot more from a movie that has been in development for so long, has a star studded cast, and is based off such rich material as the World War Z novel, unfortunately it seems to miss all that made the book good. There’s no real spoilers below but I will go into detail for some of the World War Z novels most interesting stories.

Why did the film makers need to give Brad Pitt’s character (Gerry Lane) a family? His character in the novel had no family. Clearly the film makers are going for a separation arc which will culminate in a tear jerking family reunion after Gerry survives many dangerous tribulations. What benefit will the movie gain from introducing a wife and kids if the only role they will play will be to narrowly survive a zombie apocalypse before being reunited with their hero husband/father? I hope that the filmmakers aren’t trying to turn World War Z into some kind of family friendly film because that will be a disastrous move.

A huge red flag for me when watching the trailer is that it sets the movie at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse and then follows Gerry throughout the worst of the Apocalypse; when the book takes place 10 years after humanity has won World War Z. I realize that setting the movie during the war will add a bit of suspense as to whether humanity will be able to survive, but my fear is that the movie is focusing on the war in order to set up Gerry Lane as the hero who will find a way to save humanity and win the war. There’s no problem with having an action thriller set during a zombie apocalypse but World War Z is not based off of an action thriller book.

The book was an in depth look into the various ways the War affected different nations across the world, there was no hero who swooped in to save the day. Humanity came perilously close to extinction and was only saved by a series of incremental advancements in strategy that took years to work. If they focus on a single hero the movie will have to abandon many interesting story-lines.

The Russian story-line was a chilling, it focused on an army mutiny that was brutally crushed by dividing soldiers into groups of 10 and ordering them to select and shoot one of their own. If the unit refused they would all be killed. This is the definition of decimating, killing one in ten. Imagine what a powerful scene that could be, watching a close knit unit having to decide which one of them would get to die. And we also get the perspective of an Orthodox Russian priest who worked as an army chaplain and realized that it was sinful to force infected soldiers to kill themselves. His solution? Priests would kill them as an act of mercy and take the sin of murder upon themselves. How cool would that look on screen? As we later learn from the priest, his order was co-opted by an increasingly authoritarian Russian leader who now rules the State with an iron fist. No need to make him up, just show us a few posters of Vladimir Putin and we’ll get the idea.

And I’m sure they’ll cut the South African story-line. Facing complete disaster the ANC government is forced to turn towards a former apartheid official who advocated completely cutting off white population centres from blacks in order to prolong apartheid rule. The government is forced to adopt the plan after Nelson Mandela intervenes, an intervention which stuns the racist official.  Certain areas of South Africa are converted into safe zones while the rest of the country is left to fend for itself. And they’ve cast Morgan Freeman to play America’s first black President, why not have him reprise his Mandela role from Invictus instead!

It seems that Gerry will be working for the American military as some kind of troubleshooter. Which again is different from the book where Gerry is a journalist working for the UN a decade after the war is over, charged with interviewing various key players. What skills will Gerry Lane have that make him so important to the military? It doesn’t look like he’s going to be some kind of biologist or medical doctor which are really the only professions that could possibly be of any use in discovering a cure for a zombie virus. What the hell is Gerry supposed to do? Interview his way to a cure? How is he supposed to travel all around the world collecting stories when the world as we know it is violently collapsing?

Keep in mind that in the book almost every world government has lost control over most of it’s territory. Iran and Pakistan have destroyed themselves in a nuclear war, and China has a civil war that is ended by a massive nuclear strike! This is why the book is set 10 years after the end of the war, when it is finally safe again to travel.

The biggest flaw of the movie trailer is it’s stupid zombies. The movie can’t possibly be good if it’s antagonists look like and act like angry sprinters. In the book it is specifically mentioned that zombies are slow moving. Yet in the trailer they charge with the speed of a long distance sprinter. I think it’s a very troubling sign that the filmmakers believe that we won’t be afraid of the zombies unless they move as fast if not faster than we do. Have they not seen the Walking Dead, one of the most popular shows on television? The zombies on the walking dead are as slow-moving as can be, what’s scary about them isn’t their speed, but the fact that they are undead killing machines that feed on human flesh. That’s all the movie needs to do to scare us; show the zombies eating some poor souls.

All that being said, I still will end up seeing World War Z in theatres when it eventually comes out. I hope that my fears are misplaced but I have a feeling that i’ll just be able to copy and paste my complaints from this trailer review to the actual movie review.

Cyrus Durant.

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The Price of Power.

Hello Everyone,

This post will just be a brief list of the men (and one woman) who ruled Pakistan and their fates. My list won’t include all of the people who held high office just those who were the dominant figure of their time. Not all of these leaders will get a Good, the Bad, and the Ugly biography but I think it’s important to show the terrible price so many of them paid to wield power and expose some of the recurring themes of Pakistani history.

Also I’d just like to mention as an aside that I welcome all constructive comments on my blog posts and encourage readers to comment and ask questions about anything they read on this blog.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah: The founder of Pakistan. He served as Governor-General (head of State) for Pakistan from Independence in August 1947 until his death on September 11th 1948. He had been suffering from Tuberculosis for many years and it is believed that the great stress he endured while trying to create Pakistan contributed to his death. His last words were reputed to be, ”Pakistan was my greatest blunder”.

Liaquat Ali Khan: Jinnah’s right hand man, Liaquat Ali Khan served as Pakistan’s first Prime Minster (head of Government) from 1947 to 1951; after Jinnah’s death Khan emerged as the undisputed ruler of Pakistan. Liaquat was gunned down by an assassin in 1951 while addressing a public rally in the city of Rawalpindi. The gunman was killed by security forces moments later and Liaquat’s assassination remains unsolved to this day.

Iskander Mirza: served as Pakistan’s last governor general from 1955 -56 and as Pakistan’s first President from 1956-58. Mirza used his power to dismiss Prime Ministers quite often and increasingly involved the military in politics. In 1958 Mirza declared martial law but was deposed shortly afterwards by his co-conspirator Ayub Khan who was the Chief of Staff of the Army. Mirza was arrested and exiled to Britain where he struggled financially until his death in 1969. He was denied a burial in Pakistan.

Ayub Khan: Khan was Pakistan’s first dictator and ruled from 1958 to 1969. Khan faced increasing dissent within the then East Pakistan (modern Bangladesh), a disastrous and self-made war with India as well as rising inequality. Ayub was forced from power by mass public protests amid rumours of a coup by lower ranking officers that were secretly being orchestrated by Ayub’s right hand man Yahya Khan (no relation to Ayub). Khan resigned in 1969 and handed over power to his Army Chief Yahya Khan. Ayub Khan died in disgrace in 1974.

Yahya Khan: Served as Army Chief under Ayub before being appointed President after Ayub left office to avoid facing a coup that was unbeknownst to him being organized by Yahya himself. His martial law regime held Pakistan’s first free and fair elections Khan then refused to hand over power to the elections winner, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who was a prominent Bengali leader. This led to Rahman declaring the independence of Bangladesh in March 1971 shortly before Khan launched a brutal military crackdown against the Bengali people. The atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army combined with the huge flow of refugees, spurred India to invade East Pakistan. With the Pakistan Army soundly defeated, Khan was forced to hand over power to foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who promptly placed Khan under house arrest where he was to die in 1980.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto: Bhutto was a prominent politician who had worked with Iskander Mirza and both Ayub and Yahya Khan. Bhutto founded the socialist Pakistan People’s Party and assumed power in December 1971. Bhutto served first as President and then as Prime Minister from 1971-1977. Bhutto proved increasingly authoritarian and his economic policies were disastrous for Pakistan; after Bhutto rigged the 1977 elections mass protests erupted against his regime. Bhutto’s handpicked Army Chief Zia ul Haq then overthrew Bhutto and had him convicted of murder after a sham trial. Zia sent Bhutto to the Gallows in 1979.

*Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: Rahman won the 1971 elections but never served as prime minister of Pakistan.  After declaring the independence of Bangladesh in March 1971, Rahman was arrested by the army and flown to West Pakistan (modern Pakistan) where he was sentenced to death by a military court. Yahya Khan held this sentence in abeyance and after Khan’s fall Bhutto released Rahman who flew to Bangladesh as it’s first President. Had Pakistan defeated the Bengali’s, Rahman would have been killed and had he been allowed to serve as Prime Minister it is likely that he would have faced assassination during his term. As it turned out though, Rahman proved, like Bhutto, to be increasingly authoritarian and was murdered by the Bangladesh Army in 1975.

Zia ul Haq: Zia was Bhutto’s handpicked Army Chief who betrayed Bhutto and later killed him. Zia ruled from 1977-1988. Zia was a religious zealot who sowed the seeds of the bloody harvest that Pakistan is now reaping. Zia was assassinated in an act of plane sabotage in 1988; sabotage that was most likely orchestrated by his vice chief of army staff General Beg.

Benazir Bhutto: Benazir Bhutto was Zulfikar Bhutto’s daughter and heir. She led the Pakistan People’s party to victory in the 1988 elections and served as Prime minister from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993-96. Benazir was campaigning for a third term as Prime minister in December 2007 when she was assassinated in a suicide bombing and gun attack in the same Rawalpindi park as Liaquat Ali Khan had been killed in. Her murder remains unsolved, but was likely carried out by members of the Pakistani Taliban who were backed by elements of the Army.

Nawaz Sharif: Nawaz Sharif was a former Zia loyalist who served as Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1990-93, and 1997-99. In 1999 Sharif was overthrown by his handpicked Army Chief Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf was going to have Sharif hanged but relented because of intense U.S. pressure and instead sent Sharif into exile in 2000. Sharif returned in 2007 and is currently leader of the opposition and stands a good chance of becoming Prime Minister after the 2013 elections.

Pervez Musharraf: Pervez Musharraf was the handpicked Army Chief of Nawaz Sharif who went on to betray Sharif. Musharraf ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008. Musharraf attempted to fire Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, which resulted in massive protests that brought down his regime. Although initially protected by the Army, Musharraf left Pakistan in late 2008 and has not returned. He faces arrest in numerous court cases if he does return and it is probable that he will die in exile.

Asif Ali Zardari: Asif Ali Zardari is Benazir Bhutto’s widower and has been the President of Pakistan from 2008-present. His nickname is ”Mr.10%”, which signifies the cut of government contracts he took while his wife was Prime Minister. He has immunity from criminal charges for as long as he is President. If he fails to secure re-election next year then Zardari will surely go into exile before being arrested in Pakistan.

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Paranormal Activity 4 Review (Spoilers Ahead)

Hello Everyone!

I hope you had a wonderful All Hallows Eve. I just saw Paranormal Activity 4 and below will be my review of it. There be Spoilers Ahead!

Paranormal Activity 4 (henceforth referred to as PNA4) was a good movie; but by far the weakest of the series. PNA4 will very likely be the last movie in the series that I will pay to see in theatres. PNA4 still did a good job of scaring me, I was jumping in my seat quite often. I found the reveal that ”Dwayne” was actually the kidnapped Hunter from the first movie was quite interesting. And the kinect light show was pretty cool.

And perhaps the strongest aspect of PNA4, and indeed the whole series, is the many scary scenes set during the day. The daughters daytime exploration of Kate and Robbie’s house was terrifying and that quick shot of the mysterious padlocked door certainly whetted my curiosity. It’s incredibly easy to scare us during the night for the night is dark and full of terror. Something that sticks out about many classic horror films: Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm street etc. is that most of the action takes place during the day and many of the scariest scenes occur when it is bright and sunny. Now that I’m done with the good let’s delve into the bad.

One of the things that made the first 3 PNA movies good was their strong and realistic family dynamics. PNA3 did a particularly good job of this, especially impressive considering that it was a prequel. In all 3 movies the families portrayed all seemed real, every member was fleshed out and the way the families interacted with each other, their neighbours, and their friends felt real. PNA4 completely failed to replicate a real family; the family members just felt like crude stereotypes.

A moment that really stuck out at me was when, quite a ways into the movie, we see the family cat move about the house. I played close attention for the rest of the movie and not once did anyone in that house pet the cat, play with it, call it by name, or even acknowledge its presence. I saw no litter-box  scratching post, or water bowl, there was no banter about being careful to not let the cat out of the house. This was a huge missed opportunity to humanize the family more. I can easily imagine a scene where the boyfriend gives catnip to the cat then making a joke about drug use or how much he loves ”pussy”. Or the daughter taking photos of her cat to turn into a meme! The German Shepard in one of the earlier movies was an important part of the family and the brutal attack it suffered at the hands of Toby the demon was a turning point in our perception of Toby; what he did to the dog clearly established that he was extremely dangerous in a way his previous shenanigans never had. A similar scene with the family cat might have increased the tension and raised the stakes for the family.

All of the first 3 PNA movies had nice little comedic scenes that lightened the tension and made us like and care about the characters. PNA3 did a very good job of mixing in funny moments with the increasing terror. PNA4 barely attempted to add a little levity, the daughters boyfriend was supposed to be the comedic relief but he fell flat (if only they had him interact with the cat!).

A friend of mine made a great point when he said that the movie did not look like it was found footage; something that the first 3 movies did a much better job of doing. This hurt the movie as much of the terror of the first 3 movies was the conceit that these horrible hauntings had actually happened to real people.

As I’ve mentioned I liked the twist that ”Dwayne” was actually Hunter. Still it should have been explained why exactly his Aunt Kate, who murdered his parents, gave Hunter up for adoption only to movie in across the street from him 6 years later and then eventually take him back. Did it have something to do with Hunter needing to kill a virgin before Toby could take full possession of him? If so why doesn’t Kate just raise Hunter and then kidnap some virgin when Hunter is old enough to be possessed by Toby? And why was Kate pretending Robbie was her son? Why use Robbie to get close to Hunter when she could have easily just kidnapped him?

Which brings us to the biggest enigma of PNA4, Robbie. I had assumed Robbie was Hunter until we found out that ”Dwayne” was actually Hunter. So who was Robbie? He clearly wasn’t a normal socks and sandals wearing boy. He is never seen again after Kate retakes Hunter so a theory I have is that Robbie was just a manifestation of Toby, or a subordinate helper demon, whose job was to prepare Hunter for his demonic destiny. Or was Robbie another child who Kate had kidnapped? One who was also promised to Toby by the coven? Or was he being groomed by the coven as a future husband of one of their members? Perhaps they needed a sure supply of future male children to appease Toby.

It’s a shame that this series wasn’t planned from the beginning. The triangle in the circle symbol would have been a great thread connecting all of the movies. The reveal of Toby as an ancient Hittite fertility demon was a good choice. Most people have probably never heard of the Hittites but they can guess that they lived a long time ago in a faraway place. Which is true, the Hittites lived over 3000 years ago in modern day Turkey. This reveal could have been better handled though. There’s nothing scary about reading an internet page on ancient symbols. Why not have them take a trip to the local library and find a creepy old book that reveals some of the truth? Or find an old book in the attic that has the symbol but some pages have been mysteriously torn out, or even better find the charred remains of an old book with the triangle within a circle symbol the only thing left legible.

Indeed a great subplot would have been learning Toby’s history and finding out how he managed to survive the fall of the Hittite empire. I would also like to know why the coven is all white when Toby is from ancient Turkey; wouldn’t it be more likely that the coven was mostly Turkic or Arabic? I’ll be posting on this ”ancient evil” type of story later.

If you have already seen the first 3 PNA movies then I would definitely recommend seeing PNA4. If this is your first time coming to the series you might as well wait for its arrival on netflix rather than spending money in a theatre. Personally I hope that they end the series rather than pumping out more sequels in an increasingly cynical cash grab. Thanks for reading, and check back for more regular blog posts!

Cyrus Durant.

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3 Things the U.S. should be doing in Pakistan.

Hello Everyone!

I just finished watching the 3rd and final presidential debate of 2012 and am happy to report that President Obama gave Romney a good thrashing. Hopefully this will help the President ensure his re-election come November 6th. But I digress; this post isn’t about the 2012 elections, rather I want to focus on what the US should be doing in Pakistan, regardless of who wins. Romney differed little from President Obama’s position which has been to work with Pakistan but also go around it with the use of drones, which has proven to be a very effective strategy to wipe out the Afghan/Pakistani Taliban leadership.

There’s nothing wrong with this policy but a better policy would be one that gets at the root causes of the violence raging across much of Pakistan. Here are 3 ideas that the US could easily implement, that would help Pakistan survive as a nation-state and make US foreign policy goals in that region much easier to achieve.

1)Invest in Education; particularly for Girls: Pakistan has one of the worst educational systems on the planet. Only 50% (and this might be a charitable estimation) of the population is literate in either Urdu or vernacular languages; literacy in English is far lower. Thousands of ”Ghost Schools” exist; these are schools that exist only on paper and all the funds that are supposed to go into them are siphoned off by corrupt officials. Female literacy is depressingly low and in some parts of the country literacy rates among women rival those of the poorest African nations. 25 million Elementary school age children are not in classes. Elementary school enrollment is 74% (girls and boys combined) but Secondary School enrollment is only 34% (girls and boys combined). Billions of dollars are needed to fix this system and if the US were to provide it and ensure safeguards for the promotion of female literacy it might very well save Pakistan from eventual collapse.

2)Invest in the Justice System: The judiciary in Pakistan has made tremendous strides since 2007 under the leadership of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The judiciary is Independent for the first time in Pakistan’s history and is doing it’s best to protect the peoples rights and ensure justice for all. But there is a huge backlog of cases, not nearly enough judges, prosecutors, or attorneys, the police are poorly trained and understaffed, and Pakistani Prisons are overcrowded and dangerous. Corruption plagues the entire system at its lower levels, although great progress has been made in cleaning out corruption from the High Courts.

Justice delayed is Justice denied, and the cry for speedy justice has often fueled support for the Taliban and their brutal, but quick, Sharia Law. US aid to the justice system in the form of training programs for judicial officials, and money for the hiring of staff and the building of new courts and prisons would go a long way to remove the injustices that plague Pakistan. An efficient  fair legal system based on secular Common law along with a thriving Education system are absolute necessities if Pakistani society is to be de-radicalized.

3)Ensure that the 2013 Elections are free and fair and keep the Army away from Politics: The 2013 Pakistani elections will be critical in determining Pakistan’s future. The election must be free and fair and the US can help ensure this by providing poll monitors, technical support to election workers, and announcing that there will be severe sanctions against any groups or institutions (ie. the Army) that attempt to disrupt, delay, or rig the elections. If these elections go off without a hitch it will mark the first time in Pakistan’s history that a democratic government has completed its 5 year term, and the first time in which there was a transfer of power from one civilian government to another.

After the elections the US can focus on providing civilian aid for Pakistan, particularly  focusing on education, justice and health. The US can also grant favoured status to Pakistani imports a move that will greatly help Pakistan’s faltering economy. The US can also help weaken the power of the Army by imposing sanctions on its vast business ventures which include: banking, real estate, factories, bakeries, and farming. Finally the US can pressure foreign banks to refuse to do business with corrupt Pakistani officials, this will lessen the corruption that blights Pakistan’s government and military.

These 3 steps would cost billions but would be much cheaper than dealing with the fallout of a collapsing Pakistan, an outcome which grows ever more likely with each year that passes. US aid and pressure could be crucial in kicking off the reforms that Pakistan desperately needs. I hope that who ever wins come November 6th, a new US policy that focuses on helping Pakistan towards a brighter future emerges.

Cyrus Durant.

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Love finds a way; even in Pakistan.

Hello Everyone,

I know it’s been quite a long absence but sloth is one of the seven deadly sins for a reason. I’ll be jumping back into the blogging game and I think it would be best to start off with a rare good news story from Pakistan.

An Afghan couple Hewad and Mariam eloped to Pakistan. Mariam’s family wanted her to marry her sister’s widower but Mariam had been secretly seeing Hewad for years. With the help of a Pakistani friend they were able to flee to Pakistan.

Mariam’s family tracked the couple to the Pakistani city of Abbottabad where the couple had married. Mariam’s family with the aid of a local Jirga (Council of Elders) registered a case of kidnapping against Hewad who was promptly arrested while Mariam was detained at an Orphanage. Just a few years ago the only way for this story to end would have been with Hewad’s deportation and subsequent murder and Mariam being forced to marry her brother in law or killed for her defiance.

Yet the couple are still alive and well in Pakistan thanks to the efforts of the newly free media and the newly independent courts. Several newspapers and T.V. stations ran stories detailing the couples plight and the certain death that awaited them in Afghanistan. Dost Muhammad Khan the Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court took notice of the couples arrest and ordered the police to produce them in his court. After hearing the couples stories he ordered the government to give full protection to the couple as they were now under the Court’s protection.

Several important points stand out in this story and should be explored further.

1) The Pakistani State can enforce it’s will and provide protection to vulnerable members of society; this power is not exercised nearly enough but it can still be exercised.

2) A failed State Pakistan is not, at least not yet. A country in which the Police can catch illegal immigrants and deport them, where the media exposes injustices, and the Courts can  force the Government and other State institutions to fulfill their end of the Social contract is still a viable state; for now.

3) Only the common law can provide equal justice to all in Pakistan Had the Jirga in Abbottabad been able to decide the case using Pashtun customs Hewad and Miriam would have been killed. Had the Peshawar High Court been a Sharia (Islamic) law court the couple would have been killed. Had Hewad and Miriam been tried according to Hindu or Sikh law or Punjabi, Sindhi, Baloch , or any other local customs they would have been killed.

Only the common law of Pakistan, based off British common law, was able to protect Hewad and Miriam’s life from the age old customs both cultural and religious that have tried for thousands of years to prevent such Romeo and Juliet stories.

4)Why wasn’t Bin Laden caught in Abbottabad? You might have recognized Abbottabad the city where Hewad and Mariam were caught as the same city in which Osama Bin Laden lived for years before Seal Team 6 paid him a visit. It’s disturbing that the Police can catch an Afghan couple on the run yet they never once thought to investigate the large house full of ”gold merchants” from Waziristan ie. the Taliban controlled part of Pakistan, who lived in the shadow of Pakistan’s elite military training academy.

5) Pakistan is in Big Trouble. Pakistan isn’t a failed State it’s a failing state. As much as Hewad and Mariam’s story shows all that is going right in Pakistan, it also shows much of what is going wrong. The Jirga in Abbottabad that nearly succeeded in having the couple deported to death was illegal. All Jirgas in Pakistan are illegal but they exist in all areas of Pakistan and continue to enforce an oppressive, highly conservative, and patriarchal social order; oftentimes at the point of a gun. Hewad and Mariam just got lucky that their story got out before they were killed. Countless other Hewads and Mariams across Pakistan will never get such a lucky break.

That they were able to flee to Pakistan showcases Pakistan’s non-existent control over it’s own borders. Although in this case this lack of control proved to be a blessing for a pair of innocent lovers it also proves a blessing for those wishing to smuggle guns, drugs, and militants into Pakistan.

Finally the complete apathy of the government and it’s functionaries is appalling  Not a single government official or politician spoke out about this story. Not a single politician tried to gain political favour or media attention by speaking out in favour of the Afghan couple. Not a single government official thought to use the couple’s case as a pretext to launch a crackdown on illegal Jirgas. And the police were fully complicit in almost sending Hewad and Miriam to their deaths. That this apathy can still be turned into action when prodded by an outside force, in this case the Peshawar High Court, is a sign that all is not lost in Pakistan.

As I mentioned in my first point the State of Pakistan can still enforce its will. This power is rapidly slipping away though and drastic action will be required to salvage it. The day when the State and it’s institutions can no longer enforce it’s will, will be the day Pakistan is finished.

Cyrus Durant.

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