U.S. envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke said Friday legislation on new American aid to Pakistan puts no conditions on that country, and that assertions to the contrary are distortions. Holbrooke says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Pakistan in a few days to discuss U.S. aid and related issues.
U.S. officials are providing no details of the Clinton itinerary because of security considerations.
But Holbrooke says the Secretary will visit Islamabad within a few days for talks focusing on the aid issue and the Pakistani government's new military drive against extremists in the Afghan border region.
The Clinton visit comes amid a controversy in Pakistan over a five-year, $7.5 billion civilian assistance package approved by Congress last month aimed at regularizing what has been an up and up-and-down aid relationship.
The measure, which requires periodic White House reports to Congress on, among other things, whether Pakistan's civilian government is exercising effective control overt the military, was attacked in by some in Pakistan as an infringement of the country's sovereignty.
The issue, eased somewhat by clarifications to Pakistan by Congressional leaders, may flare again with approval Friday of a defense spending bill that would require administration reporting that Pakistan is not diverting military aid intended to help fight the Taliban to build defenses against India.
At a news briefing, Holbrooke said the legislative terms are requirements on the U.S. executive branch, not conditions on Pakistan.
"There are no conditions on Pakistan," he said. "There are reporting requirements on us. Almost all legislation now, and for the last 30 years, since the 1970's, Congress began putting reporting requirements on the executive branch. This began in the Nixon-Kissinger era. That's how it works. And there's been a total, and I believe willful distortion of this among some people in Pakistan."
Holbrooke called the defense spending measure approved Friday a pro-Pakistan bill and expressed hope that it is reported on accurately in Pakistan so that there is no repeat of what he termed the misunderstanding about the civilian aid package.
Under questioning, the U.S. regional envoy also predicted that there will be fewer problems with the second-round presidential election in Afghanistan November 7 than in the fraud-tainted first round of voting in August.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed to the run off with his main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, after investigators determined that about a third of the votes cast for him in the first round were fraudulent and that he did not get an outright majority.
There are concerns that the same kind of irregularities will cloud the second-round vote, but Holbrooke said he expects it to be a smoother process.
"It is reasonable to hope that there will be less irregularities this time, for several reasons," he said. "One, there are only two candidates. Two, there's the experience factor. Three, the international community including the forces under [U.S.] General McCrystal's command are going to go all-out to help make this a success."
There have been suggestions that relations between U.S. officials including Mr. Holbrooke and President Karzai have become difficult amid reports he resisted the idea of a runoff.
But Holbrooke, who said he expects to meet Mr. Karzai in Kabul in a few days, called his relations with the Afghan leader correct and appropriate and said if he wins re-election, the Obama administration looks forward to working closely with him in pursuit of mutual goals.