Blair calls for a new focus on Afghanistan

Posted in Europe , Broader Middle East | 20-Nov-06 | Author: Carlotta Gall| Source: International Herald Tribune

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, addressing British soldiers in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, on Monday. He pledged to stay "as long as it takes" to defeat militants.

KABUL: In his first visit to the Afghan capital, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain warned Monday that the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda would be a generation-long one and said NATO had to refocus on its commitment in Afghanistan until the job was done.

"Now is the right time, with the Riga summit coming up, for NATO to bring into sharp focus the need for us to stay with the Afghans in their journey of progress and rediscover within ourselves the belief and the vision that took us here and should keep us here until the job is done," he said, speaking at a press conference with President Hamid Karzai in the gardens of the presidential palace.

Blair visited British troops based in the southern province of Helmand, where they have fought intense battles with a resurgent Taliban this summer, and then held talks with Karzai and cabinet officials in Kabul.

He pledged Britain's strong commitment to the task, despite the recent difficult months, and said the world had no alternative to taking on the fight.

"Here, in this extraordinary piece of desert, is where the future of world security in the early 21st century is going to be played out," he told the troops at Camp Bastion, the main British base pitched in the desert in Helmand.

"We know we went through a very difficult period two or three months back," he said later in Kabul. "But as a result of the work that is being done not just by American and British, but also by Afghan forces, there is a sense of the country moving forward again."

"We've got the same alternatives we had five years ago," he said at the press conference. "You either stick with it till the job is done or you don't and you leave it to another generation to sort out. And I'm not prepared to do that."

Blair, who visited Pakistan on Sunday, also emphasized that cooperation from neighboring Pakistan on tackling the Taliban threat was vital to achieving regional stability, words that Karzai greeted with the comment: "Exactly."

"It is important that we work with everyone, including the neighbors of Afghanistan," Blair said, "to make sure that we realize we have got a common cause here."

"I have no doubt at all myself that for any neighbor of Afghanistan's, anything that encourages the Taliban destabilizes the region," he said. "That's why it is important to see a common cause."