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We will not abandon you again: Blair to Afghans

Reuters

Posted: Oct 09, 2001 at 2103 hrs IST

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the Afghan people in a targeted radio interview on Tuesday that the West would not abandon them after US-led air and missile raids on Taliban targets had been completed.

Blair, President George W. Bush's leading ally in his anti-terror campaign, used an interview to be aired in Pashto, the language of Afghanistan's majority Pashtun tribe, to pledge the Western allies' long-term commitment to the Afghan people.

In a broadcast for the Pashto language service of the BBC's World Service, Blair conceded the West had made past mistakes on Afghanistan and had simply "walked away" from its people. "This time round we must not repeat that mistake," he said. "This conflict will not be the end...once the conflict is over we've then got to sit down with people in Afghanistan and try and work out a stable and coherent way for the future."

"That is our commitment. We are not going to walk away again," Blair said. Pashto is the mother tongue of about 40 percent of Afghans, many of them in the Taliban-controlled south of the country. Many non-Pashtun Afghans understand and speak Pashto.

The United States and Britain launched air and missile raids on Taliban targets in Afghanistan on Sunday and the U.S. unleashed a second wave of attacks overnight on Monday. The British premier said Western countries were learning a "big lesson" from the crisis which erupted after the devastating September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

"If we handle a situation, we very rarely escape the consequences of it in the medium or long term. We may escape them in the short term, but they come back and haunt us at a later date," he said. Blair cited the end of the Cold War, when Soviet troops finally pulled out of Afghanistan after a decade of occupation, as a missed opportunity.

"We really should, at that point in time, have put together a proper plan, a rescue plan for the country, helped it to get back on its feet again -- but we didn't," he said. Tuesday's interview was the second in as many days and was part of an attempt by Blair to win over critics inside and outside Afghanistan of the US-led war against Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and his Taliban protectors.

On Monday, Blair used an interview with the Qatar-based Arabic television station al-Jazeera to counter bin Laden's efforts to rally Arab opinion around him. The same station had carried footage after Sunday's US-British missile and air strikes of a defiant bin Laden warning Americans they would not live in peace until Palestinians could do the same.

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