A writer — or to be more precise — a poet with a somewhat provincial outlook, once got a chance to be included in a writers’ delegation that was sent to a neighbouring country. A journey that he still recalls with a nostalgic pride. He considers that event as one of his life achievements: his representing Pakistan abroad, as he calls it. We have mostly been represented by pen-pushers in the past, either by those coming from literary journalism or by individuals in the good books of our literary establishment.Nevertheless, exchange of writers between States is an important aspect of cultural diplomacy. This phenomenon can be termed ‘literal diplomacy’. In general, the diplomatic relations between two countries are considered to be operating or, at least, focusing on trade and defense. However, cultural exchange is just as significant. Designation of cultural attaches in the embassies signify the role of culture in this context. Establishment of state-controlled cultural bodies in foreign countries — American Centres, British Council Libraries, and Goethe Institute serve a very similar purpose, often in close cooperation with the respective embassies or consulates. But all these channels represent the cultural life of a country by proxy. The physical presence of the artists and writers in other countries and especially their direct contact and exchange between the states relate to the more active dimension of the literary diplomacy.Shelley’s famous pronouncement about poets as ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world’ might appear as nothing but romantic smugness, yet there is no denying that literature depicts the deep recess of the national ethos. Literary diplomacy is, alongside literary translation, an effective mode of introducing and promoting national literature abroad; of establishing literary relations with other countries and in doing so, boost the overall image of one’s own country on the global literary scene. Thus, literary exchanges are a regular feature in diplomacy between developed nations — an activity that is spearheaded by cultural ministries, state-sponsored literary bodies, and literary NGOs.News of literary delegations sent abroad is either not carried by our national press or is mentioned scantily in newspapers. This is partially because of the relatively insignificant and marginal position literature has vis-à-vis politicsIn order to yield the desired results, however, the representing writers are selected not only according to their literary credentials but also for the deep understanding of their literary history and culture as well as for the delegate’s power to express effectively before his or her literary counterpart(s). If such an occasion had ever occurred where we were to represent and introduce Urdu literature to a non-Urdu audience, Rasheed Ahmad Siddiqui would name AS Bukhari for the job. Well, we might not have Bukharis among us any longer, but as the river of time flows on, we have to look around to see whatever talent we have at our disposal. Contrary to political diplomacy — both between government dignitaries as well as at the level of the state representatives from civil and military bureaucracy that normally appears in headlines — the news of a literary delegations sent abroad is either not carried by our national press or mentioned scantily in newspapers.This is partially because of the relatively insignificant and marginal position literature vis-à-vis politics. However, this lack of coverage might possibly be a desired tactic on the part of the literary establishment to conceal the bogus literary representation that they peddle. In most cases, the persons at the helm of literary affairs: those with prime positions in the state-sponsored literary bodies who are often in the writing business themselves jump at these opportunities.One former chairman of such a top literary body — a prolific but shallow writer with an unthinking adherence to party-line agenda — was notorious for his global ‘literary diplomacy’. By using his office for his personal literary advancement, he travelled the globe and manage to get his works translated in various languages.His might be the most pitiable instance of abuse of official position, but such behaviour has taken place and been ignored during each successive regime — military and civilian. Take one look at the list of literary delegations sent abroad in just a couple of years and you will know that no criteria has been followed. Only political affiliations and personal loyalties have been taken into account.There can be no remedy to this when the apex literary and cultural bodies themselves are proverbial square pegs in round holes. The head of Pakistan Academy of Letters for example, a body that sees it primarily aim in preserving literary heritage and promoting and developing it ‘by projecting it at various forums at home and abroad’, is not a writer but a linguist.Conversely, The National Language Promotion Department (former: National Language Authority) — whose cardinal concern lies in the ‘promotion of Urdu as the national language of Pakistan and to make all necessary arrangements in this regard and to submit recommendations to the Federal Government for expediting the use of the national language’, is being run by a mere poet.Both politically installed, of course!The writer is a Pakistan-born and Austria-based poet in Urdu and English. He teaches South Asian Literature & Culture at Vienna UniversityPublished in Daily Times, April 22nd 2018.