Lahore has changed little since my last visit in March 2008. Perhaps, no city does in such a short span. Still the atmosphere in the end of February was different from what it was then. There was fear of terrorists in the city. Entry to hotels and government offices was restricted and all vehicles and individuals were searched thoroughly. The rhythm of life flowed as usual but people had learnt to live with terrorism. They knew that anything could happen anywhere and they were fatalist about the future. Still the attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team must have shocked them. It must have given them the terrible feeling of living in the midst of terrorists. What has made them concerned, as I found, is the increasing Talibanisation of their country. Except the Jamaat-i-Islami, no political party has supported the handing over of the Malakand division, including the Swat valley, to the Taliban. People say openly that the Taliban can take over Peshawar whenever they like. That 'America has not liked the deal' does not bother them because many feel that the responsibility of their ills is Washington itself. However, the government they know is 'servile' to America. Terrorism is considered a consequence of America's policy. Former President General Pervez Musharraf is now looked upon as a person who played a double game, encouraging the Talibans on one hand and fighting against them on the other. Washington is also not being singled out because it is said to have trained and financed the Taliban during the regime of General Ziaul Haq who too wanted to fight against infidels (khafirs) coming up to Afghanistan through the help of the then Soviet Union. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, with whom I had a long session wanted Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to forge a joint front to combat terrorism. He was, indeed, worried because he had found the Taliban's penetration in every part of Pakistan. He said that Pakistan had been reduced to such a plight because of one martial law after another. I led a goodwill delegation to Lahore and Islamabad from February 22 through February 26. Our purpose was to strengthen the hands of the Pakistani civil society which has been trying to span the distance between the countries. Whatever the posture of Islamabad the people and political leaders in Pakistan want those responsible for the Mumbai carnage to be punished without delay. There was condemnation of the tragedy and a desire to turn a new leaf. People were concerned The people did say that they were themselves a target of terrorists. This was not meant to defend themselves but to persuade India to join hands in combating terrorism. As far as India-Pakistan relations are concerned, they are at the lowest ebb. People want peace with India. They openly say that America is their first enemy, not India. There is a realisation that they have no go from friendship with India. But there is a feeling that New Delhi is not as forthcoming in response as the people in Pakistan would want it to be. People-to-people contact had done wonders. Tensions in the two countries had practically disappeared. The unending process of action and reaction was waning. When our delegation met leaders on the other side, they felt they were embarrassed over the killings at Mumbai and they used all the words to condemn the murders. No doubt, only through contact the climate can be changed. But before that a congenial atmosphere has to be created. New Delhi's suggestion to Indians not to travel to Pakistan, particularly the cricketers who were to tour that country, looked ill-advised. But in hindsight there seems to be some merit in it. However, the Sri Lankan players agreed to replace India and tour to help Pakistan's cricketers and cricket-lovers who were starved off international game for so long. But the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers at Lahore's Liberty Chowk last week has left a big question mark hanging over the future of the game as no international cricket team may be willing to tour Pakistan. The incident also highlights a perilous security situation, making it highly improbable for Pakistan to co-host the 2011 World Cup. All this notwithstanding, the highest point of our delegation's visit was the reception by the Jamaat-i-Islami that announced publicly that they wanted to befriend India. It was their first reception to any Indian delegation after the Mumbai attack. They assured us that they would like to solve all the problems, including Kashmir, through dialogue. Their wish was to bury the hatchet once and for all. During my visit to Lahore when I passed opposite the Aitchison College in Lahore, I remembered how a major general from India had wished his ashes to be sprinkled outside the college where he was once a student. His farewell message was: Tell the Pakistanis that I have fought wars against them but I bear no ill will towards them. This holds good for most of the Indians and Pakistanis. Bitterness between them is an aberration, not something permanent. Nowhere in the world are the two peoples so similar and still so distant. The writer is a former member of the Indian Parliament and a senior journalist.