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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 22:17 GMT
Blair briefs Bush on Asia trip
Tony and Cherie Blair
The Blairs trip included India, Pakistan and Afghanistan
Prime Minister Tony Blair has been briefing US President George W Bush on his tour of South Asia that included a brief stopover in Afghanistan.

Mr Blair's trip to Bagram airport near the Afghan capital Kabul made him the first Western leader to visit the country since the fall of the Taleban.

Clearly the greater part of the war, the immediate war against terrorism, is over

Donald Anderson
Critics of the prime minister have accused him of playing the international statesman while UK rail passengers suffer travel chaos caused by the latest bout of rail strikes.

The principal focus of his five-day trip was his attempt to calm tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

Mr Blair's spokesman said the prime minister spoke by telephone to President Bush for around 15 minutes on Tuesday night.

"They discussed the current situation in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan following on from the prime minister's visit to those countries in the last week."

Rail chaos

At home, Mr Blair's visit coincided with the escalation of the rail crisis, with commuters suffering delays and overcrowding as the RMT union staged more strikes on South West Trains.

The prime minister's spokesman said Mr Blair, who arrived in London on Tuesday morning, would now be focusing on the public service issues facing the government.

The prime minister has also been criticised for drafting in former BBC director-general Lord Birt to produce long-term transport proposals.

Lord Birt's involvement was described as "nonsense" by Gwynneth Dunwoody, chairman of the Commons transport select committee.

A rail passenger checks the strike damage
Passengers are facing more rail misery on Tuesday
Meanwhile, Conservatives have criticised the government for sending out "mixed messages" over the UK joining the euro.

This followed reported comments from senior Treasury official Gus O'Donnell that the decision on the euro would be political rather than economic.

A senior Labour backbencher on Tuesday said Mr Blair should concentrate on domestic issues now the "immediate" part of the war on terror was over.

Donald Anderson, chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, hailed Mr Blair's trip as a success, saying that Kashmir tensions threatened world peace.

Hostile 'murmurings'

"I think the consensus is that that has gone better than expected and no one was able to do or prepared to do the sort of job the prime minister has done."

But he pointed to "murmurings" about the prime minister spending too much time on foreign affairs.

Tony Blair with Hamid Karzai at Bagram airport
Blair met interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai

"I think part of that is the problem that after the election on 7 June his advisers thought now is the time for delivery on these key domestic issues - education, health, transport and so on.

"Then came what Harold Macmillan called 'Events, dear boy, events' - that is, 11 September.

"I suspect that now his advisers have got the message that clearly the greater part of the war, the immediate war against terrorism, is over and that the PM should now be advised to devote more of his immense energies to domestic problems."

Support for Afghan people

Mr Blair used his visit to Afghanistan to pledge continued support for the people of the war-torn country.

He met new Afghan interim leader, Hamid Karzai, during his visit to Bagram air base, which was unannounced because of security fears.

Mr Blair said: "Afghanistan has been a failed state for too long and the whole world has paid the price - in the export of terror, the export of drugs and finally the explosion in death and destruction on the streets of the US."

Pledging to "remain on the side of the Afghan people", he also praised British forces deployed in Afghanistan to root out terror suspects and as part of the new peacekeeping force.

Blair abroad
Should the prime minister focus on domestic issues?
See also:

08 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Perils of a globetrotting PM
08 Jan 02 | South Asia
Blair pledges support for Afghan people
08 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Make or break on transport
06 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Blair handles diplomacy hazards
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