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Blair's promise to Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised Afghans that the world will not abandon their country again, saying the international community had learned the high price that is paid for neglect.

Blair, the first western leader to visit Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, spoke at the Bagram air base north of Kabul.

Blair and wife Cherie arrived on a military flight from Pakistan just before midnight local time (1900 GMT) on Monday to meet Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and British troops at the air base.

"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 in the explosion in death and destruction on the streets of the U.S.," he told a news conference at the base, Reuters news agency reported Tuesday.

In depth: Rebuilding Afghanistan 

The Blairs were wearing long coats against the freezing cold as they stepped off their blacked-out aircraft and were met by an honor guard and a local military band, The Associated Press reported.

In addition to Karzai, Blair is also due to meet United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, AP said.

Earlier Blair, who arrived in Afghanistan after visits to Pakistan and India, said it was vital to underline what he says is the international community's long-term commitment to the war-torn country.

The UK is to command the international peacekeeping force which is to be deployed in the Afghan capital after a deal for the force was agreed on Friday.

At a news conference in Islamabad on Monday ahead of a meeting with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, Blair said the backing of countries like India and Pakistan in the war on terrorism was of immense importance.

"I think we can realise just how important it is that the international community, having made its commitment to sorting out Afghanistan in the interest of defeating international terrorism, continues that commitment in order to help Afghanistan back on its feet, stop being a failed state and be a reliable partner in this region," Blair said.

"That is what all the countries in the region want and it is what the international community needs."

Blair challenged the international community to make a long-term commitment to Afghanistan in terms of time, energy and cash.

"Let us just reflect on what happened when we failed to make that commitment 12 years ago or so. What happened then was that Afghanistan became a failed state, living on terror, finally exporting terror and responsible for 90 percent of the heroin on British streets," Blair said.

"So if we want reasons of self-interest as to why it's important that we commit ourselves to Afghanistan for the long term, I think those reasons are there in abundance."

Blair's official spokesman told reporters in Pakistan that it was accepted that "there is a legitimate complaint that the West neglected Afghanistan after the Russian war. We recognise that people need to know that we are not here just for today, tomorrow, next week, and then we're gone.

"What we've seen is the price you pay for neglect, and the price for turning a blind eye to the problems of the world."

He said Blair had placed his government "shoulder-to-shoulder" in the military campaign against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

A nine-member U.S. Senate delegation on a tour of Asia also visited Afghanistan on Monday.

Making up the U.S. Senate delegation are Senators Joseph Lieberman, John McCain, Jack Reed, Susan M. Collins, Fred Thompson, John Edwards, Chuck Hagel, Bill Nelson and Jean Carnahan.

CNN sources said the senators were also meeting Hamid Karzai.

They are touring nine Asian countries, including Uzbekistan, where they met with government and military officials ahead of their trip to Afghanistan.

Members of the U.S. House already arrived in Afghanistan over the weekend.




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