And here we are, all different nationalities, talking politics over pots of coffee. I jump at the opportunity to find out how they view their worlds. I start with the Indian. "I'm for capitalism" she says, "but I believe a developing country like India needs a degree of socialism. I'm very against anything- or anyone- who encourages communalism." The conversation moves to Kashmir. "I like Musharraf's four-point plan. But can he deliver? I'm sceptical. And I don't think I trust Pakistan enough to move troops away." About the civilian nuclear deal with the US, "I'm no expert, but international collaboration is needed if we want to meet our energy needs. But I thought Pakistan was very smart when it protested a regional imbalance would be created if the US did not make a similar deal with it."
The Pakistani smiles, "I'm not affiliated with any particular party either. I believe in free markets but also universal primary education. But most strongly, I am against the army rule. Even the good, like the women's bill, has not been done properly and makes it unstable once Musharraf leaves." She feels more optimistic about Kashmir. "Economic stability with India is in the army's interest, and people are sick of this bickering. I hope he garners support for it because I feel it will sideline the fundamentalists. Let's see." We hit upon Iran and she says, "It has a right to develop nuclear weapons, and I'm quite sure Pakistan won't back a war against Iran. And don't forget, the Iran-India-Pakistan pipeline is very important; we have growing energy needs and need this cheap supply!"
My Iranian friend begins with his political affiliations, a question I have put to all. "Anything that is anti-government and pro-democracy. Young people, seventy per cent of the population, have no opportunities. Unless you agree with the government, you can't climb the ladder", he explains passionately, "I believe in equality for the masses as socialism dictates." We speak about the turmoil in the Middle East. "Iran puts more money into Iraq than Syria because it desperately wants another fundamental Shiite state in the region as its ally. If you get rid of the Iranian regime, you will end most of the terrorism in Iraq," he tells me, "and even if the US pulls out soon, it's definitely going to get worse before it gets better."
My Lebanese friend offers another perspective. "I am a Lebanese liberal orthodox Christian- in that very order. We are yet to find two people that can agree about what it means to be Lebanese. Saying no to foreign influence, for example, does it include Syria and Iran? See?" as I nod along. Like others, he has accepted the fate of Iraq with a resigned sigh. "An all out civil war in Iraq will bring Syria and Iran even closer because Syria doesn't support the Sunnis at all." I ask about the Beirut Rally. "Well, last year Hassan Nasrallah said that Iran is no Ukraine, that rallies can't change governments. But at his Beirut Rally, the rhetoric was despicable and there were personal insults made to religious leaders. Nasrallah keeps saying that Hizbollah would never take up arms against its own people. Doesn't he realise this is just as dangerous?"
I shift my focus to the Palestinian. "Alright, if I had to be affiliated to a party it would be the Fateh party because they are secular and believe in negotiation. But I am adamant in backing the current government." I ask him what he thinks of Syria and Lebanon's relationship. "Many believe they should be one country, and Syrian presence in Lebanon is very high and they are suspected to be involved in many assassination plots. But till today there are no formal diplomatic channels between the two countries. And now opposition against Hizbollah in Lebanon is increasing after the unexpected war with Israel this summer that ended in the destruction of Beirut." And what about Syria's connection with Hizbollah, I ask. "Syria is socialist and does not agree with Hizbollah's ideology but supports it: Hizbollah is more enthusiastic about fighting Israel than Syria, and because it is not a state, Hizbollah can use guerilla tactics. Both oppose western backed systems. Basically, the enemy of my enemy is my friend." He shrugs it off US talks with Iran and Syria over Iraq. "They should have done this sooner because their earlier isolation by the US was not beneficial for the region."
I turn to the American. "I'm a moderate leaning liberal; no party affiliation." he clarifies, "And I really think we should stop messing in foreign affairs so much." I point to Bolton leaving the UN and Baker joining. "Yes, the return of the pragmatists is welcome. In any case, I think a quick withdrawal from Iraq is needed. Let's shift the responsibility to the Iraqi government." About the nuclear deal with India, he chuckles, "I'm not terribly concerned about that one. I think the US is doing it to counterweight China's growing importance! We should look at more options in Asia but our oil addiction keeps our focus on the Middle East."
We look at each other. Next time, more countries.
Also at: http://www.expressindia.com/blogs/showblogdetails.php?contentid=19490