Blair scales back aims in Afghanistan as war takes toll on shattered people

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair declared that Islamic terrorism would go on for at least a generation as he was urged by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to back a new "Marshall Plan" for Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister admitted that a change of strategy by the West was needed to secure victory against Islamic extremists by winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Britain.

Speaking in Pakistan yesterday, Mr Blair promised a doubling in aid to £480m for Pakistan, partly intended for madrassas - Islamic schools - to help fight Islamic fundamentalism against the West. But he appeared to admit that the past strategy led by US policy had failed to stop the rise in terrorism.

"We begin to win when we start fighting properly. I think we are now fighting properly but we have got to do more," Mr Blair said. "This is about ideas and we have got to make our ideas powerful. It is about justice and where there is injustice we have to deal with it."

His remarks signalled a scaling back of expectations on the "war on terror"that launched with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, aimed at bringing down the Taliban and destroying Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida training camps. He said: "This took a generation to grow. It will take a generation to defeat."

Speaking in Pakistan during his tour of South Asia, after meeting moderate Muslim clerics, Mr Blair said: "In the end security measures are important but they can only take you so far. You have got to win hearts and minds as well. That is where we have got a lot more work to do." Mr Blair flew to the region to prepare for more wide-ranging measures to stop the collapse of Afghanistan, and to bolster support for the West's key ally in the area, President Musharraf, who is facing a Muslim backlash in his country for supporting the West.

President Musharraf said a modern-day Marshall Plan was needed for Afghanistan. The Marshall Plan - which was named after the US Secretary of State in the Truman government - spearheaded the post-war recovery of Europe with billions of dollars from America. Speaking after hour-long talks with the Prime Minister, including 20 minutes on their own, President Musharraf said they were united on all the key issues.

"We believe that there is a requirement for a massive inflow of development funds there. Some kind of Marshall Plan, some billions of dollars could be put in there for the reconstruction effort for the south-eastern region of Afghanistan which is under turmoil. Unless we understand the environment correctly, our strategy will never be correct."

Senior officials travelling with the Prime Minister made it clear that Mr Blair had not signed up to a massive increase in spending on Afghanistan. They pointed to a conference in London in January at which $10.5bn (£5.5bn) was pledged for reconstruction.

"In terms of a Marshall Plan we have always said you have to have the reconstruction going with the security. But it goes at different places. The security problem in the south-east is the greatest," said one official. "The problem is not having the money available, it is getting the infrastructure to spend that money."

President Musharraf admitted Pakistan had to "put our own house in order", with tougher measures to cut off support for the Taliban, but defended the border deals which have allegedly left the Taliban untouched in some areas. He insisted Pakistan would oppose the "Talibanisation" of Afghanistan or tribal areas of Pakistan.

Fact or fiction?

* BLAIR'S BOAST: 4.6 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan in the last five years.

* REALITY: Many have quietly left again, uncounted. Thousands more are internally displaced.

* BOAST: 25 per cent of MPs are now women.

* REALITY: Women MPs are targeted by the Taliban and fear for their lives.

* BOAST: 37 per cent of pupils at school are girls.

* REALITY: Entire provinces now give girls no education because schools have been burnt down, teachers killed and parents intimidated.

* BOAST: 60 per cent increase in the number of health clinics.

* REALITY: Many patients have to provide their own medicine and surgical equipment to qualify for treatment.

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