ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Nine U.S. senators on a five-nation goodwill tour through Central Asia made a stop in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday to meet with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and call for an easing of tensions between feuding Pakistan and India.
The president and senators also discussed the whereabouts of terrorist leader Usama bin Laden. Musharraf told the group he does not believe bin Laden escaped into Pakistan as has been suggested by some Afghan government leaders.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who is heading the delegation with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he is encouraged that Musharraf will make a very important gesture in the next two or three days when the president gives a speech with a "bold and principled initiative."
"I think the speech ... is going to be critically important," Lieberman said. "I hope it will lead to a de-escalation of tensions and perhaps even to a new chapter in the relationship between Pakistan and India."
The two nations have been feuding for years over the status of Kashmir, a disputed province divided between the two countries. Tensions escalated in December when a Pakistani militant group attack India's parliament.
Musharraf yielded to U.S. and Indian pressure when he arrested 50 terrorists accused of conducting cross-border attacks, but feuding continued Tuesday when three suspected Islamic militants attacked an army camp in Indian-ruled Kashmir with guns and grenades, killing one soldier, according to Indian authorities.
During the trip to Pakistan, Lieberman said that the world community needs to help rebuild Afghanistan to avoid a repeat of the destruction and warfare that plagued the country for more than 20 years.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, added to the sentiment when she said that it is irresponsible for the United States to try to avoid a long-term commitment to the region.
"If we don't stay engaged ... we will allow the same sort of forces that led to the rise of Al Qaeda and Usama bin Laden to once again take hold," she said.
The remarks were similar to those he made Monday at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where the senators met with U.S. soldiers and the leader of Afghanistan's interim government.
The three-hour stopover in Afghanistan was the first delegation of American lawmakers to visit the war-torn nation since bombing raids began there in October.
Senators expressed their gratitude to a rowdy crowd of U.S. soldiers stationed in Bagram.
"We are here for two reasons, the first is to thank the military personnel who are here to fight a just and noble cause and to tell them, as we have tonight, that America's people could not be prouder for the role they are playing here," Lieberman said.
The senators toured the base, about 30 miles north of the capital, Kabul. They did not leave the U.S. base during their time there, but met with interim Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai, who greeted them with a broad grin and ushered them into a large tent for an hour-long conversation.
"Welcome to Afghanistan," Karzai told the senators, making a point of shaking each delegate's hand.
"I used to see you on TV in the U.S.," he told McCain and Lieberman, both 2000 presidential candidates, in front of a small group of American troops.
Karzai arrived in a 10-car convoy with Afghan bodyguards and Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and Women's Affairs Minister Sima Samar.
While there, Lieberman expressed something of an apology to Karzai for America's absence in the country over the past two decades, enabling the Taliban regime to flourish, which in turn gave rise to terrorism.
"We've let the situation be a breeding ground for terrorists. We're not going to let it happen again," Lieberman said.
Lieberman and McCain said it's time now for the government to demonstrate its ability to get the country back on its feet.
The senators left Washington on Thursday for a trip that included scheduled stops in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Oman, Turkey and possibly India. They were also expected to visit U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf.
Other members of the delegation include Collins, Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., John Edwards, D-N.C., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
The first trip to Afghanistan by American legislators will be followed up with another led by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. That group will leave Jan. 10 for a trip to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and possibly Afghanistan.
For security reasons, members do not yet have clearance to go into Afghanistan, where a war has been fought since October to oust the Taliban regime and terror network Al Qaeda. Senators expect they will cleared to enter the country some time before they return on Jan. 19.
Fox News' Steve Centanni and the Associated Press contributed to this report.