Can Pakistan's Long-Struggling Film Industry Finally Stand Up to Bollywood?

Last week, the Pakistani Academy Selection Committee announced that it was nominating the film Zinda Bhaag, a drama/comedy about three young Pakistani men who dream of living abroad, as Pakistan's first Oscar submission in five decades. It's a development some are heralding as a sign of the revival of Pakistani cinema -- and a particularly noteworthy one given the country's fondness for Indian entertainment and the movie's emphatic departure from the copycat Bollywood genre that has defined Pakistan's movies in recent years. So, is Pakistani cinema really poised to take on India's world-famous movie industry?

In the mid-20th century, "Lollywood," as Pakistan's Lahore-based film business is known, thrived under such legendary actors and directors as Waheed Murad and Nazir Ahmed Khan. But in the decades that followed, several factors combined to strangle movie production in the country. In 1979, Pakistan's president, Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, launched an Islamization agenda that included banning all films made in the preceding three years and promulgating the Motion Pictures Ordinance of 1979, which subjected films to a rigid censorship code. Zia-ul-Haq also banned Indian movies -- films often infused with nationalist, even anti-Pakistani, themes -- from the country, which simply encouraged a blossoming of VHS smuggling and DVD pirating that essentially rendered meaningless Gen. Pervez Musharraf's lifting of the ban in 2008. According to the U.S. government, Pakistan is now one of the worst violators of intellectual property rights in the world. As the nation's film infrastructure crumbled (the Pakistani Taliban has repeatedly targeted cinema houses), financing for movies dried up.

Now, however, there are indications that the quality and quantity of Pakistani films are improving. Zinda Bhaag, for instance, couldn't debut on time because there was too large a bottleneck of unreleased Pakistani films scheduled before it. Still, it's worth noting that the film had a mostly Indian crew and post-production was done in Mumbai. Lollywood, in other words, hasn't broken free of Bollywood's grip just yet. Here's a trailer of the movie, which comes out on Sept. 20:



Here's How the Navy Yard Killer Managed to Keep His Security Clearance

Officials probing Aaron Alexis's background and possible motivation for killing 12 Navy Yard employees are facing the very real possibility that the massacre isn't a the result of a troubled man slipping through cracks in the system so much as an example of a flawed system working exactly as designed.

Early reports suggest that Alexis was a heavy drinker with anger issues and a history of run-ins with both the military and the law, including eight instances where Navy superiors cited him for misconduct and three occasions when he was arrested on a variety of charges, including possible gun crimes.

A military official familiar with the case, however, said that none of that would have been enough to raise the types of red flags that would have prevented Alexis from obtaining the badge that allowed him to walk into the secure Navy Yard compound without being searched.

The official's account may be part of the military's early attempts to avoid blame for the shooting, but it nevertheless offers a detailed look into the reasons Alexis may have been able to carry out his rampage.

The official said the Navy did a background check on Alexis when he enlisted in May 2007, but it turned up no irregularities. He received a "secret" clearance in March 2008 after completing an SF-86, the lengthy government-wide form that requires applicants to disclose if they have criminal convictions, financial problems, or ongoing treatment for mental issues unrelated to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alexis didn't have any of those issues to disclose.

On the surface, that seems hard to square with the fact that Alexis was arrested in 2004 after walking out of his home and using a Glock handgun to fire two bullets into the rear wheels of a car belonging to a construction worker who Alexis claimed had disrespected him. Alexis admitted to shooting out the tires, but told police he had acted while in an anger-induced "blackout." He was arrested, but ultimately did not face charges.

That, the official said, is one of the keys to understanding how Alexis received and maintained his security clearance. The official said a service member would normally need to be convicted of a crime, not simply arrested, to lose his or her clearance. Alexis, for all of his troubles with the law, was never tried or convicted.

Alexis's misconduct during the four years he spent in the Navy also failed to raise red flags. He had one citation for disorderly conduct, but most of the rest were for relatively minor offenses like showing up late to work. Fox News reported that Alexis was demoted in 2008, for instance, as punishment for a daylong "unauthorized absence" from his post. He successfully appealed the move and won back his old rank, however. A Navy official said none of the misconduct rose to the level where superior officers would have tried to court-martial him or take away his clearance.

Alexis kept his security clearance when he left the military in January 2011. In September 2012, he got a new job with The Experts, a Hewlett-Packard subcontractor working on an IT project for the Navy. The company's CEO, Thomas Hoshko, told the Washington Post that he confirmed Alexis' security clearance with the Pentagon when Alexis was first hired and did so again this past June.

Hoshko told the paper that he wouldn't have hired Alexis if he had known about his prior arrests and that he relied on the military to ensure that people like Alexis deserved their clearances. The military official, by contrast, said the firm had the option of requesting and paying for the government to conduct a new background check on Alexis or any other potential employee, but that there was no indication that the company had chosen to do so. Hoshko and others from The Experts didn't respond to repeated emails and calls.

It's unclear if a new check would have uncovered anything that would have prompted military officials to give Alexis additional scrutiny to revoke his security clearance altogether, but that may have been one of the final opportunities to prevent the Navy Yard massacre.

"That's the 'what if,'" the military official said. "That's the big question mark."