In a bid to avoid another furore in Pakistan over tough new conditions against diverting US military aid to confront India, a top US official suggested that the legislation puts no conditions on Islamabad, only "requirements" on Washington.
Splitting legal hair, US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke told reporters on Friday: "There are no conditions on Pakistan," and that assertions to the contrary are distortions. But he also admitted: "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."
The $680 billion defence spending bill, including $2.3 billion in military aid to Pakistan, passed by Congress on Friday would among other things require the Obama administration reporting every six months that Pakistan is not diverting military aid intended to help fight the Taliban to confront India.
The bill also requires the president to make an assessment every six months of the effectiveness of efforts "to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al-Qaeda, its affiliated networks, and other extremist forces in Pakistan; to eliminate the safe havens for such forces in Pakistan; and to prevent the return of such forces to Pakistan or
Asked if the Pakistanis were on board with the provision relating to not diverting aid to confront India, the envoy again parried saying: "There is a clause on that issue, but I have not had personal discussions with them (Pakistanis) about it."
"I look forward to it when I get there. The Congress can speak for itself. But I want to stress again these are not conditions on Pakistan. They're reporting requirements on us," he repeated.
Holbrooke said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Pakistan in a few days to discuss US aid and related issues. US officials are providing no details of the Clinton itinerary because of security considerations.
The Clinton visit comes amid a controversy in Pakistan over a five- year, $7.5 billion civilian assistance package approved by Congress last month that too conditioned aid to action against terrorist groups on its soil operating against the US and its neighbours, namely India.
The measure, which also requires periodic White House reports to Congress on whether Pakistan's civilian government is exercising effective control over the military, came under attack in Pakistan as an infringement of the country's sovereignty.
US officials fear the issue, eased somewhat by clarifications to Pakistan by Congressional leaders, may flare again with the new military aid legislation.
Holbrooke called the defence 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 non-military aid package.