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9/11's forgotten victims

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forgotten victimsBy Imran Khan

Tahira is typical of many people in Pakistan's urban middle class. She is a successful businesswoman with a loving family. She remembers the day those planes struck at the heart of America, but not like many in the West.

"It wasn't a life changing moment; I can't remember exactly where I was or what I was doing. My husband called me and I switched on the television. I remember thinking it was sad, but not much else. What I didn't know was how our lives would change."

Tahira spoke to me in her garden in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, exactly a year ago. I had made a comment on the barriers that had appeared on her street, and she just sighed. "When 9/11 happened I thought that it had nothing to do with us, they were blaming an Arab living in Afghanistan, not a Pakistani living here, but look at our lives now... We live like prisoners in our own home, nervous of anyone we don't know."

I'm reminded of our conversation as I watch and read what feels like acres of print and hours of broadcast material in the run-up to the 10 year anniversary of those horrific attacks. The headlines say it all. "9/11's innocents".  "The Unsung heroes". The list could go on.

Tahira's words are a poignant reminder that the effects of 9/11 have been felt most acutely not in the West, but on the dusty alleyways of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Daily bombings, murderous intent and religious rhetoric have turned the events of that fateful Tuesday into what Tahira calls a "horrific reality".

I know exactly what she means. Throughout my years of reporting from the frontlines of the so-called "War On Terror" -from the streets of London to the remote tribal regions of Pakistan and beyond - I have felt the disconnect between how the West feels and how the East feels.

The tragedy of the July 2005 bombings in London saw a massive outpouring of grief, and anger. Western politicians very eloquently articulated the feelings of their constituents and rightly so, in times of grief we look to them to do exactly that.

Yet for those innocent victims in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, politicians of all hues remain silent. In all of those countries the blood continues to spill daily on our television screens.

I shouldn't be surprised. The media dominates from the West. It's the West that has the money, and therefore the power. Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are, for many people, far off places. Places that harbour terrorists, that play a double game by taking Western aid, while sheltering those that would do them harm. It's an argument I have heard in the halls of Westminster, in Washington.

Yet the one brutal fact remains ignored by many: More people have died In Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan as result of Western intervention than died on 9/11.

Now a tragedy is a tragedy is a tragedy. No one's blood is worth more or less. Yet, as I read and listen to the anniversary speeches and editorials I can only be disheartened at what is in front of me - that Western lives are worth more.

In the weeks, months and years after 9/11 I found myself in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I wound up in Iraq. I saw people get on with their lives in the early days of both wars, not really understanding how long America's action would last, but hoping it would pass quickly. I wonder what those people would think now, and in my more reflective moments how many of then have witnessed death or mourn the passing of loved ones - perhaps as result of a drone strike gone astray, or even a raid that went wrong as a result of bad intelligence.

That there are bad people in this world is a given. That dealing with them in the only language they understand I have no problem with. My problem comes when we forget those who have sacrificed their lives for a cause that they have little to do with.

Across Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq I witnessed countless suicide bombings, a few that were too close for comfort. I have spoken to families ripped apart by US drone strikes that killed civilians. To mothers who have lost children when late at night American and British troops kicked down doors looking for terrorists. All of these incidents and people I met left one lasting impression - the tragic waste of human life.

What angers me even more is the empty platitudes Western governments give to those who die in the line of fire. How many times have we heard US presidents praise the security services of Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan? Praise the sacrifices they have made? Yet no apology on the loss of innocents who die every day.

I'd like to think that somewhere, someone will mention those Pakistanis, Iraqis and Afghans that have also died alongside the victims in America.


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