Pakistani artist who draws portraits of Arab leaders wants to prove disability not a burden

Umar Jarral, a 33-year-old artist suffering from Cerebral Palsy, poses for a picture with portraits of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 16, 2023. (AN Photo)
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Updated 18 March 2023

Pakistani artist who draws portraits of Arab leaders wants to prove disability not a burden

  • Umar Jarral suffers from cerebral palsy and has painted portraits of several Middle Eastern leaders
  • The artist, who uses computer to communicate, wants to create a shelter home for disabled children

LAHORE: Despite suffering from an incurable neurological disorder all his life that has hampered his ability to communicate, a young artist from Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore has created portraits of Muslim leaders from around the world, including the Saudi crown prince, to prove that disability is not a burden.

Umar Jarral, 33, suffers from cerebral palsy (CP), a permanent movement disorder that can impact a person’s coordination, lead to compromised muscle strength, and produce tremors due to the irregular development of certain parts of the brain that control balance and posture. There is no known cure for CP, but people with it can live a rich and active life with therapy, supportive treatment, and medicine.

Jarral uses computers to communicate as he lost the ability to speak when he was 15. According to his sister, even though his motor skills are deteriorating with age, his passion for painting is still thriving.

His latest work includes a portrait of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which took him three months to finish. He is currently working on a painting of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. The artist has also created images of United Arab Emirates Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Umar is making paintings of all Muslim leaders, and he also made [a portrait of] Prince [Mohammed bin] Salman, as he wants to meet him. He wants all leaders of Muslim countries to unite and do something for the betterment of Muslims,” Sumera Khurram, the artist’s sister, told Arab News while informing Jarral wanted to create a shelter home for children suffering from CP.

The picture shared on March 16, 2023, shows Umar Jarral posing for a picture with the portrait of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Lahore, Pakistan. (@umerjarral15/Twitter) 

“Umar aims to make a shelter home for children with a disability like him who depend on others. He wants to [create] an institute for those parents who have children with disabilities, parents who get old, die, or their normal siblings get married,” she said.

“To do that, it is necessary that he [holds] an exhibition,” she continued. “People know him internationally, and he wants to set an example for those who consider their disabled siblings and children a burden.”

The pictures show portraits of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (center), Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum (left), Dubai Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 16, 2023. (AN Photo)

Khurram believes that her brother’s ability to paint despite his disability was “nothing short of a miracle.” Jarral has been painting for almost 20 years, and his treasure trove is an upsize green plastic bag, which holds years of his hard work.

Earlier this month, Jarral also had the chance to meet Shaheen Shah Afridi, Pakistani pacer and captain of Pakistan Super League franchise Lahore Qalandars.

Jarral also met ex-prime minister Imran Khan, who gave him the title of an artist, shortly before the fall of his administration.

“He [Imran Khan] said, ‘Umar, you are our artist,’ while promising to hold [his] exhibition at an international level, but his government was sent home 15 days later,” Ahmed added.

Pakistan presents prestigious gallantry award to Saudi defense attaché

Updated 24 March 2023

Pakistan presents prestigious gallantry award to Saudi defense attaché

  • Major General Awad Bin Abdullah Al-Zahrani was given Hilal-e-Imtiaz for strengthening security ties between the two countries
  • Commander of Bahrain National Guards Shaikh Mohammed Bin Salman Al-Khalifa also received Nishan-i-Imtiaz from the president

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has given the second highest civilian award to Major General Awad Bin Abdullah Al-Zahrani, the Saudi defense attaché in the country, to acknowledge his services in promoting and strengthening security ties between the two countries.

The Hilal-e-Imtiaz or Crescent of Excellence is bestowed upon both civilian and military officials, and is open to Pakistani nationals and foreign citizens who have made significant contributions to the country’s security or national interests, world peace, cultural or other public endeavors.

The award is given to prominent individuals on Pakistan Day, celebrated annually on March 23 to commemorate the adoption of the Lahore Resolution in 1940, which called for the creation of an independent sovereign state for the Muslims of the Subcontinent.

“Heartiest felicitations to Maj Gen (Pilot) Staff Awad Bin Abdullah Al-Zahrani, the Defense Attache of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on being awarded Hilal-e-Imtiaz (Military) by the President of Pakistan,” Senator Sehar Kamran, a former Pakistani parliamentarian, wrote in a Twitter post.


Al-Zahrani also received the award for his personal efforts in facilitating the early supply of relief goods during the unprecedented floods in Pakistan last year, which claimed 1,700 lives and affected over 33 million people.

In addition to the Saudi official, Shaikh Mohammed Bin Salman Al-Khalifa, the commander of Bahrain National Guards, was also awarded the Nishan-i-Imtiaz or Order of Excellence award.

During Thursday’s ceremony, President Dr. Arif Alvi presented awards to 135 citizens and foreign nationals in recognition of their contributions to their respective fields.

Among the recipients were 49 officers and soldiers of Pakistan’s army, navy, and air force, including the families of four martyred troops.

For Tasha Jessen, the long journey from Pakistan to ‘The Voice’

Updated 24 March 2023

For Tasha Jessen, the long journey from Pakistan to ‘The Voice’

  • Jessen this month became the first Pakistani to be chosen to compete on the super hit American singing show
  • Hailing from Faisalabad, Jessen moved from Pakistan with her family at the age of 12, currently lives in the US

KARACHI: Tasha Jessen this month became the first singer from Pakistan to be chosen to compete in the American singing competition ‘The Voice’ after her successful debut at the ‘Blind Auditions’ stage of the contest. 

Jessen, originally named Sitaaish Ayub, grew up in Pakistan’s Faisalabad city where she described herself as the only Christian girl in her all-Muslim class. According to widely published media reports, Jessen left Pakistan with her family when she was 12 to escape religious persecution and immigrated to Thailand and onwards to Ontario, Canada. The 21-year-old finally moved to the US a few years ago where she currently lives with her husband, also a singer and guitarist, in Colorado Springs. Her family is still based in Canada. 

Jessen’s performance of Leon Bridges’ ‘River’ at the Blind Auditions of Season 23 of The Voice moved the judges, including Chance the Rapper, country superstar Blake Shelton and former One Direction member Niall Horan, who all turned their chairs during her soulful rendition. 

Jessen will next appear during battle rounds, which begin March 27. The show airs at 7pm Mondays and 8pm Tuesdays on NBC. 

“I was the first Pakistani to ever go on that stage and that was a big thing on its own, and that was a really proud moment for me, for my country,” Jessen told Arab News in a Zoom interview from Colorado Springs on Thursday. 

“I really hope that everybody watching at home and everybody in Pakistan is really proud as well because it’s a big deal for all of us.” 


Recalling her journey to The Voice, Jessen said she searched online on how to audition for the show and then did a virtual audition after which she heard back "pretty quickly." 

“All of a sudden, I was in LA” she said. “I was standing on stage and I was shaky because I couldn’t believe I was standing there with all these big celebrities talking to me. It was a really fast journey. Like, I blinked and it happened. It took me months and months to prepare and get ready and now it is all done.” 

“Your voice is hard to define,” Blake Shelton, who Jessen chose as her coach on The Voice, said after her audition. “Which is the best thing you could have going for you … Tasha looks like a star. Nobody else sounds like Tasha, and she’s on Team Blake.” 

Growing up, music was always “the most important part of life” for Jessen. Most of the members of her immediate family are recording artists and musicians and she recalled nights throughout her childhood spent singing with her mother and siblings while her father played the harmonium. She also participated in almost every competition at the Beaconhouse International School System in Faisalabad where she used to study when she lived in Pakistan. 

Jessen dropped out after high school and never went to college, which she said really disappointed her mother who wanted her to pursue medicine. 

“I did a lot of gigs and did a lot of worship [groups] in church and stuff like that,” Jessen said, speaking about her journey after dropping out of school. “And so, it’s always just been music and sports, to be honest.” 

Jessen put music on hold when she moved to the US in September 2021 to spend time with her husband and try to find a job, which she did, as a showings agent for a property management company. 

But seeing The Voice was a “wake-up call,” she said, and propelled her back into the world of music. 

Today, Jessen says she has overcome all her fears: “Being a woman and then a Pakistani woman and then having a completely different faith [Christian] as well.” 

“I just had to be where the music was, it’s all that carried me through,” she said. 

And indeed, music did get her through it all: 

“When I actually made it onto the stage [of The Voice], it was just this picture of, okay, if I can do it, if a little brown Pakistani girl can do it, then anybody can do it.” 

Looking forward, Jessen said she was writing songs with her husband and hoped to release an album and go on tour one day. 

“The goal is to someday … spread the same love that we have for music with everybody else, share a bit of our story with everybody else,” Jessen said. “That’s the ultimate goal.” 

Pakistani defense minister rules out martial law, says ‘no room’ for army to abrogate constitution

Updated 19 min 30 sec ago

Pakistani defense minister rules out martial law, says ‘no room’ for army to abrogate constitution

  • Pakistan has been ruled by all-powerful military for nearly half of its 75-year history
  • Khawaja Asif’s statement comes amid rising political instability and economic turmoil

ISLAMABAD: Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif on Friday ruled out the possibility of a military intervention in Pakistan amid growing political instability, saying there was “no room”for the army to abrogate the constitution by carrying out a coup against a civilian government.

The South Asian country has been ruled by the military for nearly half of its 75-year history and even when the army is not directly in power, it retains an outsized role in political affairs and national security. The last time the military toppled a Pakistani government was in 1999, launching an era of direct and indirect army rule that ended in 2008. Incidentally, the civilian government that was overthrown in 1999 was headed by Nawaz Sharif, who is the elder brother of the current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Since then, three general elections have seen three different parties make the government at the center and despite widespread speculation, the military has not directly taken over, even in moments of intense political crisis.

But over the past year, Pakistan has been in the grips of unending political uncertainty, mainly triggered by the ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan last April, who has since been holding rallies and marches against the PM Shehbaz Sharif-led coalition government to demand snap national polls. Khan, who is embroiled in a string of court cases, has been avoiding arrest, which has led to violent clashes between Khan’s supporters and police who have tried to take him into custody in recent weeks.

The situation has given rise to fears of another military intervention, which Asif ruled out in a briefing with foreign correspondents on Friday.

“If you look at the history of four army interventions we’ve had over the last 75 years, those interventions were personally motivated,” Asif said in Islamabad, adding that the situation in those years — 1958, 1969, 1977, and 1999 — never "warranted any intervention."

“There is no link between violence, civil unrest, and the Pakistani army taking over in our history. So speculating that there will be chaos and civil unrest and the army will take over, citing the example of past takeovers [is unfounded] because past takeovers were based on personal ambitions and not for any particular situation of law and order in Pakistan.”

The minister said there were no constitutional provisions in Pakistan that allowed the army to take over and impose martial law.

“If there is civil unrest, then the civilian governments are responsible under the constitution and they will tackle the [situation], and in that process, if they have to call the army in aid of civil power, it is in the constitution but taking over the country is abrogating the constitution and there is no room for that,” the defence minister said.

Asked if he was suggesting the current military leadership had no "personal agenda," Asif said:

“Absolutely, the current military leadership has no personal agenda. Their only agenda is to defend Pakistan, internally and externally.”

The minister said that the government was willing to talk to Khan “for the sake of peace in our country” and to reach some sort of consensus on major issues. But the government wanted a “comprehensive” rather than a "transactional dialogue," he added.

Speaking about elections in Pakistan, including a national election and general elections in Punjab whose legislative assembly was dissolved in January, Asif said polls would be held simultaneously in October as per the schedule. 

Earlier this week, the political crisis in Pakistan deepened as the election regulator announced the postponement of polls in Punjab province from April 30 to October 8.

The decision was made by the Election Commission of Pakistan, Asif said, as the body is empowered to make such decisions, adding that the federal government had only put forward suggestions to delay the polls due to security and financial reasons.

Pakistan has seen a rise in militant attacks in recent months and is also in the middle of a full-blown economic meltdown, which it is trying to avert by signing a loan deal with the IMF.

Pakistanis among nine migrants found hiding in truck in Serbia 

Updated 24 March 2023

Pakistanis among nine migrants found hiding in truck in Serbia 

  • Serbia lies at the heart of Balkan route that refugees, migrants use to reach Western Europe 
  • Migrants often go from Turkiye to Greece or Bulgaria, then to North Macedonia and Serbia 

BELGRADE: Serbia’s customs authorities said Friday they discovered nine migrants hiding among aluminum rolls in a truck headed to Poland from Greece. 

Customs officers on Serbia’s border with North Macedonia spotted the migrants on Wednesday during a scan that showed human silhouettes in the back of the truck, a statement said. 

The migrants were young men from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, the statement added. 

Serbia lies at the heart of the so-called Balkan land route that refugees and migrants use to try to reach Western Europe and start new lives there. 

Migrants go from Turkiye to Greece or Bulgaria, then to North Macedonia and Serbia. From Serbia they move on toward European Union member states Hungary, Croatia or Romania, or they go to Bosnia first and then on to Croatia. 

Thousands of people fleeing violence or poverty pass through the Balkan region every year. They often face dangers in the hands of people-smugglers who help them cross borders undetected. 

IMF demands funding assurances from multilateral bodies, China, UAE, Saudi Arabia to unlock bailout

Updated 24 March 2023

IMF demands funding assurances from multilateral bodies, China, UAE, Saudi Arabia to unlock bailout

  • Pakistan is desperately awaiting $1.2 billion bailout tranche from IMF as part of $7 billion program
  • Release of IMF funds will offer some relief to South Asian country reeling from a severe dollar crunch

KARACHI: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said Pakistan needed to secure financing assurances from multilateral institutions as well as friendly countries like China, UAE and Saudi Arabia to unlock a critical bailout loan the South Asian country desperately needs to avert an economic meltdown.

Pakistan and the IMF have been engaged in talks to reach a staff level agreement for a bailout package of $1.1 billion that has been delayed since November mainly over issues related to fiscal policy adjustments.

The latest deal will also unlock other bilateral and multilateral financing avenues for Pakistan to shore up its foreign exchange reserves, which have fallen to four weeks worth of import cover.

The IMF wants Pakistan to get assurance for up to $7 billion to fund this fiscal year’s balance of payments gap. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has been saying it should be around $5 billion.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, IMF communications director Julie Kozack said a staff level agreement would follow after financing assurances, which were a “standard feature” of all IMF programs.

“Aside from support provided by the IMF, Pakistan’s Extended Fund Facility supported program receives financing from other multilateral institutions, including the World Bank, the ADB (Asian Development Bank), and the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) and bilateral partners, notably China, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE,” Kozack told reporters.

“So, we do need to ensure that we have those financing assurances in place in order for us to be able to take the next step with Pakistan.”

Kozack said Pakistan’s economy faced multiple challenges, including slowing growth, high inflation and large financing needs, all made worse by devastating floods last summer that had caused over $30 billion in losses to the economy.

“[Pakistani] authorities are committed to implementing the necessary reforms,” she said.

“They’ve started to implement decisive actions to stabilize the economy and restore confidence … Timely financial assistance from external partners will be critical to support the authorities’ policy efforts and ensure the successful completion of the review.”

The Pakistan government has implemented several fiscal measures, including devaluing the rupee, lifting subsidies and raising energy prices as preconditions for the IMF agreement, which the finance minister said this month was “very close”.