Afghanistan is not forgotten, says PM

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Washington and London put Afghanistan back on the political agenda yesterday after MPs voiced alarm that the country was in chaos because of Western neglect.

Washington and London put Afghanistan back on the political agenda yesterday after MPs voiced alarm that the country was in chaos because of Western neglect.

The White House announced that President Hamid Karzai has been invited to the United States next month for talks with President George Bush on combating Taliban-led insurgents threatening elections and the reconstruction of the country.

Tony Blair used a press conference at Downing Street to announce that Afghanistan would be a "major issue'' at the Nato summit which he will attend in Turkey next month.

The White House spokesman said President Karzai would attend the G8 summit in Georgia, US, on 8 June and would later hold talks with Mr Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence, and Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State.

The Independent reported yesterday that members of the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs had returned from Afghanistan with a grim picture. They said Nato had failed to keep its promise of restoring democracy, and that warlords were still in charge of vast areas of land, with private militias numbering up to 10,000.

Mr Blair denied that Afghanistan was a "forgotten country". He said: "It is neither forgotten nor is it a country that is going backwards." Conceding that there was "more to do", he said: "The actual prognosis for Afghanistan is good. Sure there are big problems. These nations are failed states of total and absolute degradation. You don't turn them around in two or three years so they become first world countries en route to joining the European Union. It's not like that for a country like Afghanistan."

He said it was "absolutely wrong and unfortunate" if people thought no progress had been made in Afghanistan over the past two or three years.

"There are five and a half million kids in school including over two million girls who were banned from school. The economy has grown by 30 per cent this year and is expected to grow by 20 per cent. The most telling statistic is that two and a half million refugees have returned to Afghanistan," he said.

Donald Anderson, chairman of the select committee, issued a statement challenging his own committee members. "The Independent report is more newspaper spin than any considered view of the committee as a whole," he said. "There are quotes in the story from individual committee members but the committee has not even begun to discuss what to put in its report." But Mr Anderson could face a revolt from some of the committee if its final report does not reflect their anxiety about Afghanistan. The Labour MP Eric Illsley said it had become a "basket case". A former minister who was also on the trip repeated the claim yesterday.

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