An American hip-hop ensemble touring here as part of a U.S. embassy cultural diplomacy program got an additional publicity bounce on Wednesday — but not the kind likely to win Pakistani hearts and minds.
The FEW Collective, a Chicago-based group that just began two weeks’ worth of gigs in major cities finished a show at a university when it was briefly detained by the Pakistani military.
The accusation: One member took photos of “sensitive installations” in the city of Rawalpindi, a garrison city home to the powerful army’s headquarters.
The episode underscored the challenge for the U.S. diplomatic efforts to win love in Pakistan, a major aid recipient where the military and an intensely anti-American public view U.S. programs with skepticism. Television cameras turned up, and networks later showed trucks surrounding three sport-utility vehicles. Pakistani news Web sites promptly reported that security forces had rounded up unidentified Americans acting suspiciously, a loaded charge in a country where many believe American spies are legion.
In a statement, the U.S. embassy — which has also sponsored recent tours of Pakistan by American jazz and country artists — said one FEW performer “may have taken a photograph” while riding in an embassy vehicle on a public road. But embassy officials insisted no sensitive site was in view and that the entertainer was unaware of photography restrictions. The group was released, and an embassy spokesman said it will continue its tour.
Here’s a taste of the hip-hop diplomacy, from the FEW Collective performing in 2008: