U.S. tries "hip hop" diplomacy in Pakistan

Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:01pm EST
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By Chris Allbritton

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Considered by many Pakistanis to be public enemy number one, the United States on Monday turned to the musical descendents of rap group Public Enemy in an attempt to counter its highly unpopular image in the south Asian nation.

As part of its cultural diplomacy program, the U.S. embassy brought the FEW Collective, a hip-hop troupe from Chicago, to Islamabad, where they danced, rapped and recited poetry to a Westernized, educated elite audience of young Pakistanis.

The group's 10-day trip is the latest by a number of musical acts sponsored by the State Department as part of its American Festival of the Arts, a cultural program designed to promote exchanges between the people of the two countries.

"It gives a good impression," said Atroz Abro, 20, who attended the show. "You rarely find such events in Pakistan... to pump up the youth by bringing something new."

But FEW Collective has its work cut out. Only 12 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable opinion of the United States, according to a July poll by the Pew Research Center, while 73 percent have an unfavorable opinion and 16 percent don't know.

These strong negative perceptions are often cited by the Pakistani military as one reason why Pakistan won't tackle militants in its wild border regions where Taliban groups plan attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Rampant anti-Americanism in Pakistan also allows the government to avoid making needed -- but unpopular -- economic reforms demanded by international lending agencies, which are widely seen as aligned with the United States.

The goal, said U.S. assistant cultural attache Jamie Martin, is to show "that there's another layer to the relationship. It's not just government to government and military to military. It's people to people."   Continued...

<p>Alsarah, a member of the hip-hop troupe FEW Collective, performs during a concert organized by the U.S. embassy in Islamabad November 14, 2011. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood</p>