Archives for December 2008

An audience with Rehman Malik

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Jane Corbin | 13:22 UK time, Thursday, 18 December 2008

As part of my Panorama: Britain's Terror Heartland, I interviewed Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik about the country's fight against terrorism.

He also spoke about how closely the UK is working with Pakistan on this issue. This is something Gordon Brown also reiterated recently.

Unfortunately, we couldn't include the full interview with Malik in the film, but here's some extended highlights.

Face to face with suicide bombers

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Jane Corbin | 21:13 UK time, Wednesday, 17 December 2008

How do feel when you are about to meet a suicide bomber? Nervous, angry, intrigued? All of the above in my case. I came to Kabul in Afghanistan to meet young Pakistani men who had tried and failed to detonate suicide vests and bombs which would have killed them and many innocent bystanders. I wanted to understand what motivated them and how best to stop more of them attacking coalition troops and Afghans and people in cities all over the world like London and Madrid and Mumbai.

Khalil is 17 years old... just two years younger than my own son. He hates Westerners but he cannot articulate why. He wouldn't speak directly to me but answered my questions through my interpreter while I sat behind him out of line of sight. Wrapped in a brown shawl which hid his manacled hands and feet, he was a complete enigma to me. Khalil had spent years in madrassas in Quetta and Peshawar and was proud of his religious learning and his ability to recite the Koran. But somehow that was turned into hatred for Westerners although nothing in his family history suggested a motive for that - no-one had been injured or died as a result of Western intervention in Afghanistan or action by the Pakistani security forces. In fact Khalil told me he'd cut all ties with his family. He'd been recruited by the Taleban and sent to Afghanistan to blow up foreigners. Once there, the target was changed to an Afghan ministry... "I was told these people are spies for the foreigners and it is okay to kill them," he told me. When I asked him how he felt talking to me he said: "The Muslims can never be friends with the infidel." The warden told me that another bomber had told a visiting western journalist that if he hadn't been restrained by chains he would have killed him with his bare hands. That is the level of hatred shown by young men like Khalil that I just cannot begin to comprehend.

Abed was a different case entirely. He'd left his family in the Punjab in Pakistan to study in a madrassa and fell in with the wrong crowd. That's something all of us with teenage children dread - getting in with a gang or getting involved in drugs through the wrong mates. A friend of Abed's suggested a trip to the tribal area as a kind of gap year adventure. But once there, his friend took him to a Taleban camp where Abed was shown videos of US troops purportedly maltreating Muslims in Iraq. After a few weeks he declared himself ready for jihad - ashamed of the easy life he had been living back home while fellow Muslims were suffering. Abed was clearly intelligent and had, like Khalil, spent a long time in religious study.

But he was relaxed and happy to chat with me... to look me straight in the eye. He had no chains and manacles on. He explained that he was supposed to drive a truck bomb into a base full of US and British troops but he was deceived by his Taleban handlers. Once he got there he realised the soldiers were speaking the local language - they were Afghans, Muslims. So he surrendered. "The mullahs of Pakistan lead people astray," Abed told me with quiet anger, "they make Muslims fight against non-Muslim... I am determined to speak out about this". Abed believed that God would protect him and save him from the death penalty that awaits failed suicide bombers and those that survive the bombs they set off. Khalil will probably die, but Abed with his message that he was wrong and has repented will probably live.

Did I understand more after my encounter with the suicide bombers? Yes, in the sense that these are vulnerable young men who have seen the world polarised between Muslim and non-Muslim since 9/11 and were ripe for exploitation. What is hardest of all to comprehend is their willingness to die for their beliefs and the random nature of the damage they are prepared to inflict as a result of the indoctrination they undergo in the training camps of the militants. But as one of my contacts in Pakistan who has a lot of experience with militant networks explained: "You people are fighting to live, we fight to die. You love your life and we love our death."

About Jane Corbin

Jane Corbin | 15:49 UK time, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Hi I'm Jane Corbin and I've been reporting from South Asia, the Middle East and other trouble spots for Panorama for nearly two decades now! I first revealed the threat from al-Qaeda years before 9/11. I've been back to Osama bin Laden's old stomping ground - Afghanistan and his more recent haunt - Pakistan and I'll be telling you all about it in next week's Panorama.

Pakistan's in the headlines more than any other country right now - the new front line of the so-called 'war against terror'. I've just spent three weeks there and next door in Afghanistan and one thing is for sure - you don't feel as comfortable as a westerner there any more. I used to stroll the streets of Peshawar or Kabul looking at carpets, enjoying a kebab but this time I scurried from heavily curtained mini bus to fortified buildings much of the time.

One of the most extraordinary days was spent in a pretty secure place - a jail in fact. I talked to two suicide bombers recruited by the Taleban in Pakistan and sent over the border. One was caught before he could set off the bomb - Khalil was still filled with hate against foreigners and wouldn't look me in the face - let alone speak directly to me. The other, Abed, aborted his mission at the last minute and now he's filled with anger against the militants who mislead young people into jihad. But now this grim export has turned into blowback as Pakistan itself suffers terror attacks.

Lots of my time was spent in helicopters - the only way to get to the remote mountainous tribal areas. I was able to get the top Generals on both sides of the border - Pakistani and American to give me a personal tour. The scenery is awesome but the firefights with the al Qaeda and Taleban militants that go on here are vicious. I'll be reporting next week Monday on the Pakistan army's battle to defeat them and asking - are they serious this time? What happens here matters to all of us - this is al-Qaeda's safe haven for plotting and launching global attacks.


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