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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 17:47 GMT
Blair urges support for Afghanistan
A family of refugees cross back into Afghanistan at Torkham
Refugees are returning to Afghanistan
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged fellow world leaders to stay committed to Afghanistan during its difficult period of reconstruction.

Speaking after arriving in Pakistan as part of a South Asia tour, Mr Blair said stability in the shattered country was vital for peace in the region and also in the fight against world terrorism.

The best weapon against extremism ultimately will be political stability

Tony Blair
Meanwhile, a delegation of leading US senators has arrived in Afghanistan - the first such visit since US military operations against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and their Taleban hosts began three months ago.

The nine-member group is meeting the Afghan interim leader, Hamid Karzai, at Bagram air base, north of the capital, Kabul.

Pledge of support

The delegation is led by Joe Lieberman, Al Gore's running mate in the US presidential election, and John McCain, who ran against George Bush for the Republican nomination.

Speaking earlier in Tajikistan, Senator Lieberman said the group had seen that US work in the region was far from over.

"We realise that we must change our participation in the region - geopolitically and economically and this co-operation should be preserved for a long time after the victory over the Taleban and the terrorists," he said.

It was this assurance of international commitment which Mr Blair sought in his speech in Pakistan.

"Let us reflect on what happened when we failed to make that commitment 12 years ago. Afghanistan became a failed state," Mr Blair urged during a brief news conference.

As he spoke, US jets pounded suspected al-Qaeda training camps around Khost in eastern Afghanistan while special forces continued the ground search for Osama Bin Laden and Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Bin Laden is wanted for the 11 September attacks on the United States.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press said US helicopters had landed ground troops in an area near the Zawara training camp, also in eastern Afghanistan.

Mr Blair said the military campaign in Afghanistan had been "immensely successful" despite the failure to capture Bin Laden or Mullah Omar.

"People were very sceptical as to whether the action in Afghanistan would be successful," he said.

'Hunt continues'

"Some people warned it would lead to humanitarian disaster, a military disaster, a political disaster... (but) we have managed to achieve more than people could possibly have dreamt of a few months ago.

"We still have objectives to be secured, but nonetheless, the terrorist network of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is effectively broken, the Taleban regime is no more."

Mr Blair said that tracking Bin Laden down remained a major goal.

Tony Blair with wife Cherie in Pakistan
Tony Blair hopes to calm tension between India and Pakistan
"The campaign remains in place to make sure all our objectives are secured and that includes tracking down those responsible for terrorism in Afghanistan," he said.

"Of course it is true that until all our objectives are complete our mission is not complete, but I think it is fair to say that it has been very substantially successful."

He praised the talks that had led to the setting up of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul - led by Britain - and said Afghanistan's new administration would have a "major task" in tracking down remaining pockets of extremism.

People power

But he added: "The best weapon against extremism ultimately will be political stability, because then the voice of the people will be heard. Very few people want to live under an extremist regime."

He said the Taleban had been "probably the most brutal and repressive regime in the world".

See also:

07 Jan 02 | South Asia
Blair in Pakistan for crisis talks
06 Jan 02 | South Asia
US 'resumes Afghan bombing'
06 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Blair handles diplomacy hazards
04 Jan 02 | Americas
Powell urges Pakistan to do more
06 Jan 02 | Media reports
Press spins Blair visit
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