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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 16:02 GMT
Downing Street hails Blair progress
Tony Blair meets Pakistan's foreign minister Abdul Sattar
Mr Blair meets Pakistan's foreign minister Abdul Sattar
Downing Street says it is pleased with the progress made during Tony Blair's diplomatic efforts to help defuse the inflamed Kashmir crisis.

The comments came after Mr Blair thanked Pakistan for its "tough decision" to back the battle against terrorism in the wake of the 11 September attacks.

Speaking after talks with President Pervez Musharraf as he nears the end of his tour of South Asia, Mr Blair also stressed the importance of efforts to rebuild Afghanistan.

That followed his earlier remarks that the international community had to remain committed to supporting Afghanistan.

Mr Blair's shuttle diplomacy
19 Berlin
20 Paris
20 New York
20 Washington
21 Brussels

4 Moscow
5 Islamabad
6 Delhi
9 Geneva
10 Oman
11 Cairo
31 Syria
31 Saudi Arabia

1 Jordan
1 Israel
1 Gaza
7 Washington

3 Bangladesh

Downing Street said that in his discussions with both the Indian and Pakistani leaders, Mr Blair had stressed the two key principles - "total rejection of terrorism" and the need for "proper and meaningful dialogue".

Mr Blair's visit to Pakistan follows a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Sunday, to discuss the Kashmiri crisis, which has brought the two countries to the brink of war.

The overseas trip has come in for criticism in the UK with claims in some quarters that the prime minister should be focusing on domestic issues rather than touring a world stage over which Britain has little influence.

A spokesman for Mr Blair insisted however that he remained "relentlessly focused" on the need for improvements in Britain's public services but events abroad had repercussions for the UK.

"All prime ministers have gone abroad. It is part of their job," the spokesman said.

Ahead of talks and then dinner with President Musharraf, Mr Blair met Afghan women who told him of their suffering under Taleban rule.

The prime minister described the Taleban regime, which before 11 September had close links with Pakistan, as "probably the most repressive regime in the world".

He said the conflict in Afghanistan would not end until chief terror suspect Osama Bin Laden and the Taleban leaders had been tracked down.

"The campaign remains in place to make sure all of our objectives are secured - and that includes tracking down those responsible for the terrorism in Afghanistan," Mr Blair told a press conference.

"So until that is done our mission is not complete. There's no doubt about that at all."

Military build-up

Mr Blair is hoping to ease tension between India and Pakistan, as troops continue to mass along their shared border in what is considered one of the most dangerous military build-ups since independence in 1947.

Pervez Musharraf
India insists Musharraf must do more
However, Mr Blair faces growing criticism in the UK that he is neglecting the domestic agenda, as the country's strike-bound rail network was plunged into fresh chaos on Monday.

Normally pro-Labour commentators have joined calls for Mr Blair to devote more energy to problems closer to home.

In an editorial, Monday's Guardian newspaper said Mr Blair's diplomatic mission to South Asia was "doomed to irrelevancy" as he "lacks clout" on the world stage.

'Not complacent'

Reacting to the criticism, the prime minister's official spokesman said it was important to retain a sense of perspective on Mr Blair's foreign trips.

Travelling abroad is part of a prime minister's job

The Prime Minister's official spokesman
"It is right that the prime minister, as all prime ministers have done, goes overseas," he said.

"Since 11 September he has only been out of country a few days but has played an important role in developing the international coalition.

"The government understands it has been given an instruction to deliver on improvements in public services.

"We are not complacent about the challenge ahead.

"We are seeing improvements to the public services but more needs to be done.

"Travelling abroad is part of a prime minister's job."

Acts of terror

Talks in the Indian capital, Delhi, on Sunday between Mr Blair and Mr Vajpayee resulted in a joint declaration condemning all supporters and sponsors of terrorism.

But the British prime minister's call for a sustained campaign against terrorism is expected to receive a mixed reception in Pakistan.

The Pakistani government will be pushing Mr Blair to accept a distinction between acts of terror and what it views as legitimate resistance by the Muslim population of Kashmir against Indian rule.

Pakistan argues that India violates UN resolutions in denying Kashmiris under their control a referendum on their fate and allegedly causing civilian casualties.

Talks with Washington

Downing Street revealed that Mr Blair had already discussed the India-Pakistan crisis with US President George W Bush during a 15-minute telephone conversation on Monday.

Mr Blair's spokesman said both sides had felt it important to talk after Mr Blair's meeting with Mr Vajpayee and before his meeting with President Musharraf later on Monday.

The BBC's Branwen Jeffreys
"Tony Blair said there was no excuse for terrorism"
See also:

07 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Picture gallery: Blairs in Asia
06 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Blair handles diplomacy hazards
04 Jan 02 | Americas
Powell urges Pakistan to do more
03 Jan 02 | South Asia
Musharraf seeks China's backing
06 Jan 02 | Media reports
Press spins Blair visit
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