Of rhymes and ‘gawky’ reasons: Pakistani rap group traces journey back to Riyadh years

Aqeel Sarfraz, Mohad Ali, M.ZHE, and Hashim Nawaz in a photo posted on Gawky Gang's Instagram account on February 11, 2021 (Hashim Nawaz)
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Updated 14 June 2021

Of rhymes and ‘gawky’ reasons: Pakistani rap group traces journey back to Riyadh years

  • Gawky Gang’s three members met in Riyadh and became known as the only three Pakistani rappers in the Saudi capital
  • Though they are now based in Pakistan, they hope to take their music back to Saudi Arabia soon “on a bigger scale, Insha’Allah!”

RAWALPINDI: Mohad Ali, the only Pakistani in a group of Arab rappers in Riyadh, was instantly drawn to compatriots Muzammil Wahid and Raamis Ali when he met them in 2009 at a time the hip-hop and rap music scene was evolving among locals and expatriates alike in the Kingdom’s small but talent-packed community.
Thus was born Gawky Gang, a rap band that was initially influenced by the members’ experience of growing up as Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia but whose repertoire has since expanded to include much broader themes like social justice and women empowerment. 
“Luckily, M.ZHE [Muzammil’s stage name] and I were living in the same neighborhood and started to meet more regularly after realizing we were the only three Pakistani rappers in Riyadh,” Mohad, 23, told Arab News. 
“We’d see people rapping in the streets [of Riyadh] and making graffiti art on random walls [as a way to express themselves],” M.ZHE, 24, who hails from the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, said. 
Inspired, the group launched the Riyadh City Cypher Series on YouTube, garnering “thousands of likes” for their online videos.
“The Riyadh City Cypher series ... became well known among Riyadh’s Pakistani community... and received love from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh too,” M.ZHE said.

Mohad Ali, Hashim Nawaz, M.ZHE, Raamis, and Aqeel Sarfraz in a photo shared by Sarfaraz on his Instagram account on October 28, 2018 (Aqeel Sarfaraz)

But the initial years were not easy, especially when it came to holding live performances in Saudi Arabia. 
But Mohad said the “struggles and difficulties” the rappers faced “influenced us to do more in terms of our music and write about our different experiences growing up in Saudi Arabia.” It also brought the band a loyal fan following among Arab musicians. 
“We’ve been appreciated by many Arab rappers, including Faris Albalad … we still receive appreciation messages from him,” Mohad added, saying that support was priceless since it was a response to music produced in a language many Arabs did not understand.
While living in the kingdom, the band members said they mostly performed in English or Arabic, not Urdu or Punjabi, which was their preference. 
It was the language barrier that eventually pushed them to return to Pakistan in 2016, they said, and launch the Gawky Records label, an extension of their stage name.
“It is not easy to leave a place where you have spent your entire life, especially your childhood,” Raamis said. “Pakistan is a very welcoming country and full of opportunities, but it was difficult to opt for a completely different lifestyle from which we were used to in Riyadh.”
Also, the hip-hop and rap scene was still in its teething stages in Pakistan in 2016, with many “misconceptions” about the genre. 
“It’s a little difficult for our culture to accept,” Hashim Nawaz Malik, one of the artists working with Gawky Records, told Arab News.
But things are taking a turn for the better for the rap scene. A recent edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) – the largest domestic T-20 cricket tournament in the country – included rap performances in the series’ official theme song.
“When we first started, there were maybe 100 desi rappers in total,” M.ZHE said. Raamis added: “Now there’s 100 in each street of Karachi.”
Raamis said the Gawky Gang was supportive of local talent too, using earnings from music streams such as Spotify to provide recording, mixing and mastering services to other artists.
“[We are] signing new talent on our label, sponsoring music videos... just for the sake of Pakistani hip hop,” Raamis said.
“We are trying to push everyone who’s with us since day one; this is how we have been since the Saudi Arabian days,” Mohad added.
But even as the band makes more and more music in and about Pakistan, its members still reminisce about Saudi Arabia, especially the food and the early years of producing music.
“Sometimes, when we are sitting in the studio, I get flashbacks from when we were in Saudi Arabia … and now ten years later we are in Pakistan,” M.ZHE said. “Maybe after ten years, we will be in a different country and a different setting but for the sake of music.”
Maybe back in Riyadh, where it all started?
“Exactly! Take the music back to Saudi Arabia,” he said, “back from where it started, but on a bigger scale, Insha’Allah!”

Outcry after suspect in Noor Mukadam murder taken to Islamabad hospital after headache complaint

Updated 9 min 22 sec ago

Outcry after suspect in Noor Mukadam murder taken to Islamabad hospital after headache complaint

  • Doctors at PIMS say Zahir Jaffer was brought in on Wednesday afternoon for brief checkup, blood pressure and temperature were normal
  • Social media erupts in outcry over “special treatment” given to Jaffer because he came from a wealthy family and was a US national

ISLAMABAD: Zahir Zakir Jaffer, the key suspect in the grisly July 20 murder of Noor Mukadam, was taken to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad on Wednesday afternoon after he complained he had a headache, doctors at the hospital said, as social media erupted in outcry over special privileges for the wealthy US national.

Mukadam, the daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat, was found beheaded at a residence in Islamabad's upscale F-7/4 sector on July 20 in a case that has sparked public outrage and grabbed media attention unlike any other recent case.

Waseem Khawaja, a doctor at PIMS, confirmed to Arab News that Jaffer was brought to the hospital on Wednesday but discharged after a brief checkup.

"Zahir Jaffer was brought to the PIMS emergency room today afternoon for a checkup," Khawaja said. "He was checked for a headache and his blood pressure and temperature were also noted, which were found to be normal.”

The doctor added: “Nothing to be worried about, he was found to be in good health.”

Another doctor at the hospital, who declined to be named, also confirmed the news.

Pakistan’s local media first reported on the incident quoting unnamed sources, unleashing widespread condemnation from social media users who said Jaffer was being given special treatment because he belonged to the privileged elite society of Pakistan and was a US national.

“Unless every single prisoner in the Pakistani penal system goes to PIMS when they have a headache, this is a sick abuse of power,” author Fatima Bhutto wrote on Twitter. “Zahir Jaffer getting all the privileges of his wealth and influence in jail after his heinous crime is outrageous.”



“Is this facility available to the rest of the accused and prisoners as well or is it available only to rich accused?” digital and women’s rights activist Nighat Dad asked.



“Jail authorities will conveniently allow disadvantaged, under trial prisoners die in Jail when suffering from an ailment. You need to have deep pockets to get VIP treatment in jail. Let that sink in,” wrote Khadija Siddiqui, a young Pakistani law student who was stabbed 23 times in broad daylight by a former friend, who was later convicted for the crime.



Jaffer was arrested on the day he murdered Mukadam last month, on the eve of Eid Al-Aha, and remained in police custody on physical remand until this Monday, when he was sent on 14-day judicial remand to Adiala Jail in Islamabad's twin city of Rawalpindi. He will next be presented before a judicial magistrate on August 16.

Jeffer's parents — Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee — and two members of their household staff were arrested by Islamabad police on July 24 for "hiding evidence and being complicit in the crime."

The parents, sent to jail on judicial remand till August 9, have moved a bail petition against their detention. A district and sessions court in Islamabad on Wednesday reserved until tomorrow, Thursday, its decision on the bail plea.

"Today was the hearing for the bail of Zahir’s parents. Each parent was represented by a separate lawyer. Arguments were heard at length. The decision will be announced tomorrow morning," Mukadam's legal team said on an official Twitter account used to share case updates.



During Wednesday's hearing today, the parents' counsel, Raja Rizwan Abbasi, said Jaffer's parents had "publicly condemned the murder."

"We stand with the affected party, we don't stand with our son," local media quoted the counsel as telling the court.

He said the parents had not known what was happening in their house when Mukadam was there.

Within two weeks since Monday, police are bound by law to file a charge sheet (challan) in the court asking for Jaffer's trial to commence.

The gruesome murder has sent shockwaves across the country, stirring outrage over femicides and demands for justice. Many activists and social media users have repeatedly raised concerns that Jaffer might get a lenient sentence because of his wealthy background and US nationality.

In a July 27 Twitter post, the US Embassy in Islamabad clarified that US citizens in a foreign country were subject to local laws and while the embassy could check on their well-being and provide a list of lawyers if they were arrested abroad, it couldn’t provide legal advice, participate in court proceedings or effect their release.

On Sunday night, during a live Q&A session with the nation, Prime Minister Imran Khan assured the public: “If someone thinks he is a dual national and has US citizenship and will escape, let me tell you all that no one will be spared.”

Good news for Pakistan: Foreigners vaccinated with Chinese jabs can enter Saudi Arabia

Updated 04 August 2021

Good news for Pakistan: Foreigners vaccinated with Chinese jabs can enter Saudi Arabia

  • International travelers will still require a booster shot of one of four approved Western vaccines
  • Saudi authorities say there is no quarantine requirement for vaccinated people arriving in the country

ISLAMABAD: Foreign visitors who have taken two doses of China's Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines will be allowed into Saudi Arabia, it announced on its e-visa portal, though these international travelers will still require a booster shot of one of four Western coronavirus vaccines approved by the kingdom.
This is good news for Pakistan where a majority of people have been vaccinated using Chinese jabs, and from where thousands travel to the kingdom each year for work and for the Umrah and Hajj pilgrimages. 
Saudi Arabia decided to reopen its tourism sector to international travelers from August 1 after specifying its vaccine preferences.
"All visitors arriving in the country with a valid tourism visa must provide evidence of a full course of one the four vaccines currently recognized: two doses of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of the vaccine produced by Johnson and Johnson," the e-visa portal said, adding:
"Guests who have completed two doses of the Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines will be accepted if they have received an additional dose of one of the four vaccines approved in the Kingdom." 
Foreign nationals who seek to travel to Saudi Arabia are still required to provide a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before their departure to the kingdom along with a proper vaccination certificate.
"There is no quarantine requirement for vaccinated travelers to Saudi," the notification on the official website said.
The e-visa portal also announced travelers entering on a previously issued tourism visa "will be required to pay an additional fee of SAR 40 at the airport ... to cover insurance for any COVID-19 related medical expenses."

OIC commission to assess Indian rights violations in Kashmir this week

Updated 04 August 2021

OIC commission to assess Indian rights violations in Kashmir this week

  • As India didn’t allow its fact-finding visit, OIC decided to assess the situation on the Indian side of the border from Pakistan-administered Kashmir 
  • Rights commission’s visit coincides with the second anniversary of New Delhi’s decision abrogate Kashmir’s special autonomous status

ISLAMABAD: A delegation from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has arrived in Islamabad to monitor and assess the humanitarian and human rights situation in Indian-administered Kashmir, the Pakistani foreign office said on Wednesday.

The OIC's the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) has been urging India since September 2019 to allow its fact-finding mission to Kashmir, but New Delhi has not responded until now. The commission decided to make a visit to Pakistan-administered Kashmir and assess the situation from there.

Twelve members of the IPHRC started their six-day visit on Wednesday.
“A 12-member delegation of the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will be visiting Islamabad and Azad Jammu & Kashmir from 4-9 August 2021, as part of its mandate to monitor the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK),” the foreign office said in a statement.
“During the visit, the IPHRC delegation will travel to Muzaffarabad and the Line of Control, and interact with Kashmiri leadership, refugees from IIOJK and victims of Indian atrocities.”
The Line of Control is the de facto border that divides Kashmiri territory between India and Pakistan, which both claim it in full and rule it in part. The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought two of their three wars over control of the region.
The rights commission’s visit coincides with the second anniversary of New Delhi’s decision to scrap Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution that granted special autonomous status to the region, and divided the state into two federally administered units.
The move on Aug. 5, 2019 was followed by a crackdown on political activity, arrests of hundreds of political leaders and a series of administrative measures that raised concerns over attempts at engineering a demographic change in India’s only Muslim-majority region.
During the 47th session of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) in Niamey, Niger, in November last year, the group adopted a new resolution categorically rejecting “unilateral” and “illegal” actions taken by India in Kashmir since Aug. 5, 2019 and its “continued violation of human rights of the Kashmiri people.”
“The visit would be significant in drawing international attention toward the urgent need to address the egregious human rights situation in IIOJK and for a peaceful resolution in accordance with the UNSC resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people,” the foreign office said.
With 57 member states and a collective population of approximately 1.68 billion people, the OIC is the world’s second largest intergovernmental body after the UN.

Ruling party nominee becomes new PM of Pakistan's Azad Kashmir region

Updated 04 August 2021

Ruling party nominee becomes new PM of Pakistan's Azad Kashmir region

  • PTI leader Abdul Qayyum Niazi secured 33 votes in the 53-member legislative assembly
  • Niazi described as a ‘vibrant and genuine political worker’ by Pakistan’s information minister

ISLAMABAD: Abdul Qayyum Niazi, a politician belonging to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of Prime Minister Imran Khan, was on Wednesday elected as the premier of Pakistan's Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) region.
AJK is administered by Pakistan as a nominally self-governing entity and constitutes the western portion of the larger Kashmir region, which has been the subject of a dispute between India and Pakistan since 1947.
Over 3.2 million voters were registered to elect a 53-member assembly in the region for a five-year term. Out of 53 seats, 45 are general, while eight are reserved for women, technocrats and religious scholars.
Niazi secured 33 votes in the legislative assembly polls, Pakistan’s state-run media reported. His rival and a joint opposition candidate Chaudhry Latif Akbar only got 15 votes.
“He [Abdul Qayyum Niazi] is a vibrant and genuine political worker whose heart beats with the [party] workers,” Pakistan's information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said in a Twitter post.

The PTI won the recent elections in the region which were held on July 25.
Kashmir is an internationally recognized disputed region between India and Pakistan. The two South Asian nuclear neighbors claim its territory in full but only control it in part.
Over the years, Kashmir has witnessed border skirmishes between the two countries along the Line of Control and violence has severely limited tourism in the area.

Pakistan military says it has fenced 90 percent of border with Afghanistan

Updated 04 August 2021

Pakistan military says it has fenced 90 percent of border with Afghanistan

  • The announcement comes at a time when the Taliban have stepped up military offensive in neighboring Afghanistan
  • Pakistani security officials say fencing has reduced over 80 percent illegal cross-border movement between the two countries

TORKHAM: The Pakistan military said on Tuesday it had fenced 90 percent of its border with Afghanistan to prevent cross-border movement that have caused security problems in the past, saying it was resolved to complete the project before winter sets in.
The military’s media wing, ISPR, took a group of journalists to the region at a time when the Taliban have stepped up their military offensive in Afghanistan ahead of a complete withdrawal of US forces from the war-battered country.
The Afghan administration in Kabul has frequently accused Pakistan of supporting the insurgent group, though Pakistani officials deny the allegation and say they will stand with an inclusive political government in the neighboring state in the aftermath of the US withdrawal.
“We have completed 90 percent of the fence on this difficult terrain,” Col. Rizwan Nazir, a Pakistani military official, said while briefing journalists at the Big Bang military post along the key Torkham border crossing.
“The remaining 10 percent of the fence at the western border, which was left due to heavy snowfall, will be completed this summer.” 

Col. Rizwan Nazir, a Pakistani military officer, briefs a group of journalists about border management at Torkham in Pakistan’s Khyber district on August 3, 2021. (AN Photo)

Pakistan started fencing 2,611 kilometers of its border with Afghanistan in 2017 when militants launched several attacks on its country’s military posts.
Nazir said the fence was erected in a diverse terrain that included lowlands, high peaks and glaciers.
“The border has also been covered by live feed of surveillance cameras,” he said, adding that the mechanism had already brought down about 80 percent of illegal cross-border movement.
“There was a total of 78 notified formal and informal crossings along the porous [Pak-Afghan] border before fencing began,” the officer. “It was a persistent threat and allowed unrestricted and unchecked movement. Now we have only five formal crossing points between the two countries due to the fence.”
The barrier which now meanders between the two countries consists of two sets of chain-linked fences separated by about two meters of distance which has been filled with concertina wire. The double fence is about 4 meters tall, and the military has installed surveillance cameras to check any movement along the border.

Pakistani troops patrol a fence along the Pak-Afghan border near Torkham in Khyber district on August 3, 2021. (AN Photo)

Afghanistan has never recognized the porous border that cuts through the Pashtun heartland, diluting the political influence and power of its country’s largest ethnic group that lives on its both sides.
“In 2007, a total of 72 percent area bordering Afghanistan was controlled by miscreants,” Nazir said. “After that, the country’s security forces launched 17 major operations to clear the area and re-establish the state’s writ.”
He said the government was in the process of installing an integrated transit trade management system at the border which would be firmly in place in 2023.
“There are five crossing points along the border, but Torkham is the busiest and most historic,” Nazir added. “About 65 percent of trade between two countries take place from this border crossing.”

 Journalists attend a media briefing during their visit to a hilltop Big Bang military post near the Torkham border crossing in Khyber district on August 3, 2021 (AN Photo)

Asked about the recent closure of the border due to the pandemic, he said it did not have much of an impact on the movement of cargo vehicles between the two countries.
“The transit trade is proceeding but with standard COVID-19 precautions,” he continued, adding that only the entry of visitors had been closed due to the rising number of coronavirus cases in Afghanistan.

Pakistani and Afghan troops seen on their respective sides of the Torkham border between Pakistan and Afghanistan on August 3, 2021. (AN Photo)