President Barack Obama's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan is defending a U.S. troop increase in Afghanistan, but acknowledged that it could drive the Taliban and al-Qaida further into Pakistan. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke made his comments Tuesday at a Senate hearing, where he urged lawmakers to approve U.S. aid to Pakistan.
In an appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ambassador Holbrooke said President Obama's decision to send 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan would help bolster the war effort.
But in an exchange with Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, Holbrooke acknowledged the additional troops could drive Taliban and al Qaida fighters further into Pakistan.
FEINGOLD: "Are you sure that the troop buildup in Afghanistan will not be counterproductive vis-à-vis Pakistan?"
HOLBROOKE: "No. I am only sure that we are aware of the problem, that we are working intensely with the Pakistani army."
Holbrooke said the United States is encouraging Pakistan to move more troops to its Western border. "We hope the Pakistanis will move more troops into the west, improve the training of the frontier corps. We are ready to assist with all of this. It is imperative that it be done," he said.
Holbrooke urged lawmakers to pass a bill sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry of Massachusetts and the top Republican on the panel, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, that triples non-military aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year for five years.
He said Pakistan's new democracy needs the funding to build roads, improve health care and combat poverty, and called for the bill's swift approval. "The only beneficiary of a delay in this bill are the enemies of our nation," he said.
But lawmakers from both political parties demanded accountability over how the money will be spent. They argued that more than $12 billion was spent on Pakistan during the previous Bush administration with little to show for it - a point underscored by Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, in this exchange with Ambassador Holbrooke.
MENENDEZ: "I'm just not here [to approve] a blank check. I said that in the previous administration, and as much as I respect this one, I believe the same standards have to apply."
HOLBROOKE: "Senator, I'm deeply troubled by what you've said."
MENENDEZ: "I'm deeply troubled by where we're at, and I get no sense of reassurance from what I hear so far."
Holbrooke said nearly all of previous aid went to the Pakistani military. He said the current bill corrects previous policies that focused too heavily on military aid to Pakistan.
Holbrooke said the Obama administration would establish benchmarks to measure progress once the aid package is approved.