A Postcard From Paris

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I arrived in Paris yesterday, scheduled to give a series of lectures in philosophy. The lectures are in political philosophy, on how power distorts liberal democracy. I’ve been nervous about giving these lectures in Paris, the city in which a liberal democratic revolution toppled a system of power, monarchy, which seemed to those subject to it both permanent and inevitable.

My plane, scheduled to arrive to 8:30 a.m., was late. By the time my taxi made its way to my apartment in the 11th arrondissement, it was nearly noon. Cordons of police were blocking the streets, and the sound of sirens was everywhere. My taxi driver swore and took a side street to my destination. I ducked into a cafe next to my apartment, awaiting my keys. There I heard the startling news that we had driven past the scene of a terrorist attack, and that the target was Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper famed for ridiculing authority in all its incarnations. Among the 12 people killed were four of France’s most famous satirical cartoonists.

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Democracy vs authoritarianism vs terrorism

By Farrukh Khan Pitafi

It was supposed to be all about terrorism, but somehow it seems more and more about democracy, constitutionalism and their nemesis – authoritarianism. And in a country with a disturbing history of failed spells of democratic rule and equally disastrous autocratic governments, this is precisely what was supposed to be avoided. But now that the Pandora’s Box of debate on civil-military trust deficit has been opened, thanks to the creation of military courts, it is time to build some perspective.

As I write these lines, two images keep haunting me:

The first, of a disheveled, heartbroken Senator Raza Rabbani losing control and bursting into tears on the floor of the house during passage of the 21st amendment. For years, Mr Rabbani has acted as my moral compass. While I have not nearly always agreed with his views, like the North Star, they have most certainly often guided me in the right direction. Now to see him so badly broken is something I will never forget.

The second image is of a young army officer that I met in a conflict zone.

“Sir, I wish was born in another country, had joined their army and died fighting for them. At least at the time of my death, I would have known that my country would own me as a national hero. In Pakistan, no one cares about a soldier’s sacrifices.”

This young man, I was told a few days later, died bravely fighting against militants for his country, Pakistan. His grievances were legitimate. We have lost count of how many brave souls have perished fighting terrorists in recent years.

What is more, quick as we are to accuse the army of being solely responsible for religious militancy in this country, of breeding terrorists in isolation; what we fail to consider is how this accusation does not apply to the young officers and soldiers who are confronting terrorists today.

Wars do strange things to people. For over a decade, we have fought an enemy that is not across the border but within us. We have bled profusely, old doubts and apprehensions have grown complicated beyond recognition.

But behind this fog of war, our old bitterness and old wounds still persist. It all happened so fast that we did not get the time to update our definition of the existential threat.

Now, there is a huge trust deficit which owes itself to the misperception of the enemy.

Over the years I have seen men and women in Khaki and civvies halfheartedly calling terrorism an existential threat. But in reality they are on the lookout for the old enemy.

Always on the lookout.

The khakis, the civvies and the troublemakers

It is about two narratives. One civilian, one military. Both incomplete. Both a product of a weak state’s inability to overcome its constant challenger – India, or to win the ultimate prize – Kashmir. But more of that later.

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