Blair in Pakistan, vows continued UK role in Afghanistan

Says more must be done to support moderates in the battle against terrorism or the war against extremism will fail.

blair 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
blair 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The British and Pakistani leaders committed Sunday to a fight against terrorism for years to come, pledging to fund moderate Islamic schools and provide more job opportunities to erode extremists' base of support, while vowing to stamp out Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, making his third trip to Pakistan, and host President Gen. Pervez Musharraf also called for a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, seen as the catalyst for the spread of global Islamic militancy. Blair said the war against extremism will fail unless more is done to support moderate political and religious forces over those fanning terrorism. "This terrorism that we are facing, of which one manifestation is what has happened in Afghanistan, has been a long time going and will take a long time to defeat," Blair said during a visit to the eastern city of Lahore. Blair's visit comes amid heightened Taliban violence in Afghanistan, where more than 30 British troops have died this year. Pakistan's central government is trying to cut off the broad-based support the Taliban receive in its northwestern tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. British forces will continue battling the Taliban to prevent the spread of extremism in Afghanistan, Blair said. "We are in the middle of a difficult global struggle that has many aspects to it, including what is happening in Afghanistan," Blair said. "Our task is to take on the extremists wherever they are. I believe we will win." Musharraf said that "we are doing the maximum" to stop militants from crossing the border and fighting in Afghanistan, and said more action against the Taliban needs to be taken inside Afghanistan. "I would say that actions, more actions are required on the Afghanistan side because the war will be won on the Afghan side," he said. " However, he acknowledged that the Taliban had support in Pakistan's tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. "The Taliban problem is an Afghan problem ... being supported by elements from this side," Musharraf said. "We need to put our house in order on our side." "We are doing all we can because we are against terrorism, against extremism, we are against Talibanization." Musharraf dismissed assertions that religious extremism could lead to "World War III," but said resolving the Palestinian crisis, providing a concrete redevelopment plan of Afghanistan and boosting the number of jobs in Pakistan would reduce the numbers of people turning to violent extremism. In a joint-communique, the two leaders said they had agreed to tackle the "underlying conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism ... for many years to come." Blair repeatedly stressed that the Palestinian-Israeli problem must be dealt with to stamp out terrorism. "For the Middle East in particular - but also worldwide - where there is injustice we've got to be dealing with it," Blair said. "That's why it's important that we deal with the Palestinian issue in a proper way." The two men pledged increased cooperation to curb violence in Afghanistan through military means, economic reconstruction and fighting the opium trade. Blair said Britain would provide two MI-17 helicopters by next April for the use of anti-narcotics forces patrolling the Afghan-Pakistan border. The prime minister agreed Sunday to immediately release 20 million pounds (US$38 million, €30 million) to target poverty alleviation schemes. "This will promote the climate for enlightened moderation to which the president and the prime minister both aspire not just in Pakistan but also globally," the joint-statement said. Blair agreed Saturday to increase planned funding for a program to create a network of Pakistani religious schools - known as madrassas - teaching moderate Islam from 236 million British pounds (about US$450 million; €350 million) to 480 million pound (US$910 million; €710 million). Blair and Musharraf were also expected to discuss closer ties between their interior ministries, intelligence services and universities to combat extremists who have attracted support in both countries. Three of the four bombers who killed 52 commuters and themselves in July 2005 attacks on London's transport network had family ties to Pakistan. Two visited Pakistan in the months leading up to the strike. Pakistani intelligence agents provided key information that led to the 2004 arrest in London of Dhrien Barot, jailed this month for a minimum of 40 years over plans to bomb U.S. and British targets. A British operation in August to round up a gang allegedly plotting to down US-bound airliners was also directly linked to Pakistani intelligence assistance.