NEW YORK - New Yorkers experienced at first hand the celebrated Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) featuring lively discussions on a variety of subjects and showcasing Pakistan's cultural mosaic of music, art, film-making and literature that kept the audience engrossed for more than seven hours in a packed hall of Asia Society on Sunday.

"LLF is the most effective use of soft power, Kati Marton, an award-winning American author and journalist remarked, while assessing the impact left behind by the festival, the first time a Pakistani literary festival has taken place abroad.

She said that the 4-year-old festival provided the people in this creative City an opportunity to explore the cultural advancement in Pakistan.

"We are proud that for the first time a festival of ideas from Pakistan has been taken overseas," Pakistani Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, said in her welcoming remarks at the start of the proceedings, spread over seven sessions.

"Today, the amazing outpouring of art and literature in Pakistan is the most forceful response to a tiny minority that seeks to impose an alien orthodoxy," she added.

And Ahmed Rashid, prominent Pakistani author and an authority on the Taliban, said that LLF was being used to counter extremism in the country. During the course of discussions on 'The Promise of Pakistan' and 'Educating Pakistan', speakers calls for re-asserting the vision Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah's vision for the country -- a democracy guaranteeing fundamental rights to all its citizens irrespective of their beliefs. 

Former Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar made a strong case for greater efforts to make Pakistan of Quaid's dreams, stating the growing intolerance and extremism was badly hurting the country.

Pakistan needed to strengthen its democratic institutions to provide justice to the people and thereby creating unity, she said.

Raza Runmi, an author and television journalist referred to the Quaid's policy speeches, and said the Father of the Nation wanted a liberal and modern State not a religious one.

Syed Babar Ali, a top Pakistani businessman and philanthropist, who was speaking to ABC-TV News' Amna Nawaz, said that the Quaid wanted citizenship not religion as the founding principle of the new State.

“Quaid's main motivating factor was to provide opportunity to Muslims that they could not enjoy in an undivided India.”

During a discussion on US-Pakistan relations, moderated by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, Ms Marton, the author and wife of Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, backed the moved to talk to the Taliban in an effort to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan.

Ahmad Rashid said that the US policy to isolate the Haqqani network from the Taliban would not work and a better strategy was needed to move forward.

And he regretted that President Barack Obama had not personally engaged himself to deal with the Afghan crisis, noting that America was in fact walking away from the region.

While blame was being piled on Pakistan, Rashid said that the govt in Afghanistan had miserably failed to deal with the surging Taliban, and the promise of President Ashraf Ghani to turn the country around was nowhere to be seen.

Ms. Marton said Holbrooke wanted to develop strategic ties with Pakistan, not transactional relations, but his efforts went abegging.

Both Ms. Marton and Rashid strongly criticised the utterances of Republican Presidential front-runner, Donald Tump, stating he had no policy.

When Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution, who an expert on South Asia, spoke of the Army influence in Pakistan and the need for civil/military balance, Raza Rumi pointed out that the country has a successful civilian transfer of power in 2013. But Cohen went on state that because it was influential, the US at times dealt with the Army instead of civilian govts.

To this, Hina Rabbani Khar said that the US should always talk to elected govts. By doing do, Washington would be strengthening democratic institutions, she added.

Pakistan's internal security problems, she said, stemmed from allowing its territory to be used for training the Mujahideen to fight the 1979 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The United States was responsible for creating the rebel groups, some of whom subsequently turned against Pakistan, she said.

The Pakistan Army had now stabilised the situation through anti-militant operations, she added.

In the course of a discussion on the contemporary art in Pakistan, Salima Hashmi, a leading artist, educator and curator, spoke of the tremendous progress in the field of arts despite challenges.

A string of young artists, some from remote areas of Balochistan, had joined the ranks, she added.

Mrs Hashmi called for greater patronage of artists.

Amin Jaffar moderated the group, which included Sadia Shirazi and Salman Toor.

The message from the group discussing Urdu literature -- Dr. Azra Raza, the moderator, Tajira Naqvi, Frances Pritchett and Arfa Sayeda -- was for the people to read Urdu books so that it stays alive, after papers were read on Esmat Chughtai and Sadaat Hassan Manto. 

US-based prominent Pakistani author Bapsi Sidhwa, who spoke to the audience on Skype, called LLF a "bold step" and said it was rendering great service to promoting literature.

Pakistan's Consul General In New York Raja Ali Ejaz presented a Lifetime Achievement award to Sahrah Suleri, a well known Pakistani author.

The award was accepted on her behalf by Dr. Raza.

During the concluding session on Lahore, Kites and Popular culture, Sarmad Khoosat, a well-known film and television personality, spoke about various periods of developments of films and TV play the changes they underwent during various regimes in Pakistan. Moderated by Maryam Wasif Khan, the group was composed of Ammar Bellal and Sadia Sheppard.

Earlier, Rachel Cooper, Director of Global Performing Arts and Special Cultural Initiatives at the Asia Society, welcomed the gathering to the festival, stating it would help promote and strengthen partnerships among peoples of the two countries.

Razi Ahmed, who is LLF’s founder and CEO, said spoke of LLF's partnership with the festival and said it had brought ideas and showcased Pakisan's talent.

“For four years now, we’ve had the privilege of bringing some of the most creative and insightful voices in the world to Pakistan’s cultural capital to engage with our writers, artists and audiences. We are delighted now to be taking some of Pakistan’s finest to the creative capital of the US.”

The festival was rounded off late Sunday evening with grand Qawwali performance by an eight-member ensemble - the Saami Brothers.