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Page last updated at 16:22 GMT, Thursday, 25 June 2009 17:22 UK

Meeting Punjab's police and bombers

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Orla Guerin on Pakistan's police crackdown against the Taliban

While the Pakistani military is targeting the Taliban on several fronts, a police crackdown is getting results in the country's most populous province, Punjab.

A number of Taliban cells have been broken up, and key figures have been arrested - including a self-confessed bomb-maker and a would-be suicide bomber.

The BBC's Pakistan correspondent Orla Guerin has been talking to the police and the bombers.

The big breakthrough came with the arrest of the man in the burka.

He had thought the loose garment would conceal his deadly cargo of explosives and a suicide vest. But he was found when police searched a public bus in the city of Mianwali in north-west Punjab.

An officer accidentally touched him - his hand connecting with a hard surface. That was the end of the bomber's mission. And it could have been the end for the arresting officers.

hands of would-be bomber
If our commander tells us to blow up our own parents we'll do it. We never spare anyone.
Would-be suicide bomber

The area's police chief, Akbar Nasir Khan, came to the scene to disarm the bomber himself.

"My officers were not trained for this," he said. "There's no standard operational procedure for tackling a suicide bomber. So I did it. This is your responsibility when you lead men," he said.

As he stood eye to eye with the bomber, he asked him if he had done this before.

"He got the joke," Officer Khan said. "He smiled and said you can only do this once."

It emerged afterwards that his explosives were not yet connected to a detonator.

'Unholy alliance'

The suspect has confessed to being a bomb-maker. He told police his mission was to get the explosive vest to a suicide-bomber, waiting in the city of Sargodha, three-and-a-half hours drive away.

His arrest helped police in both cites to uncover "an unholy alliance" - a well-developed Taliban network . In addition to the would-be suicide bomber, they identified and arrested fund-raisers, recruiters and handlers. The local "mastermind" is still at large.

police patrol in punjab
Police in Punjab have managed to dismantle some Taliban cells

At a remote location we met the bomb-maker, who donned the burka. He told us he was 25, unmarried, and had been trained last year at a camp in Waziristan - a Taliban stronghold in Pakistan's tribal belt, near the Afghan border.

"In my class there were 15 or 16, all trained in explosives," he said. "All those who worked in Afghanistan before are now in Pakistan. Why should we go there, they say, when we have so much to do here ? Now they would not go to Afghanistan, even if somebody begged them."

He said the camp was run by Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban - which is blamed for deadly attacks across Pakistan. However, he admitted he himself had never seen him.

"Very few get the opportunity to do that." (That includes the Pakistani military, which is now hunting for him in his sanctuary in South Waziristan).

The bomb-maker's responses to our questions were polite, expansive and chilling.

He said he was more than willing to be a suicide bomber himself and would do it, if he ever got released.

"I am hopeful that God will give me another chance, to do something even bigger," he said. "My mission will be to do something right here - where I was arrested."

This is the nightmare scenario for local police, who are already prime targets.

Brainwashed

The would-be suicide bomber arrested in Sargodha also showed no remorse. He's in his 30s, and is also unmarried.

He claimed not to know his target, saying his handler would have been informed by telephone.

When we interviewed him, his feet were shackled and his face was concealed, but not his hatred. I asked how he could possibly attempt to justify bombing innocent people.

"When they take us from here for training, they teach us that this is jihad," he replied. "They brainwash us and we start thinking that this is way to heaven."

"What about women and children?" I asked. "If you were told to blow up a playground would you do it?"

bomb-making ingredient
The police managed to retrieve the ingredients for a suicide bomb

"Whatever they say we will do it," he said. "If our commander tells us to blow up our own parents we'll do it. We never spare anyone. If we get our orders we have to do it.

I asked if he would kill me, if ordered to do it. "Why not?" he replied, without a second's hesitation.

The arrests made in northern Punjab were particularly significant because these men were previously low-profile figures, who had not hit the police radar. A second Taliban cell has also been dismantled, with five suspects in custody.

Police in Punjab know they only have pieces of the Taliban jigsaw, and not the whole puzzle. But they believe they are making a dent in the militants' ability to operate.

"They are adapting in the face of the action by government and police, but they are also fragmenting," said senior superintendant Usman Anwar, who was involved in the arrests in Sargodha.

Many here say that the future of Punjab will determine the future of the country. The fear is that if the Taliban can destabilise Pakistan's most populous province, they can destabilise the nation.

This is key moment in the fight against them, according to officer Akbar Khan.

"We all know, both sides, that this is the moment to decide it. This is a fight for all the times to come and the next few months will decide which way Pakistan goes."



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