Shah Mahmood Qureshi played down a statement by Pakistan's military that it had serious concerns about aid _ seen by many in his country as a sign of U.S. meddling. He called the assistance the "first, very strong signal of a long-term commitment with the people of Pakistan."
Qureshi also told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations that Pakistan and the United States should strengthen consultations as the Obama administration decides whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.
The U.S. aid bill would provide Pakistan with $1.5 billion a year over the next five years to spend on democratic, economic and social development programs. It also allows "such sums as may be necessary" for aid to the military as it fights militants who have wreaked havoc in Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan.
Pakistan's military, in an unusual public statement Wednesday, expressed serious concern about the bill _ comments could bolster opponents of the weak U.S.-backed civilian administration in Islamabad.
The aid bill, U.S. officials say, is meant to alleviate widespread poverty. But many Pakistanis see it as a sign of unwanted U.S. influence.
Qureshi said that key backers of the bill, Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., assured him Tuesday that the economic aid has no conditions attached.
He said criticism of the aid in Pakistan is part of the "beauty of a democracy," where differing points of view are natural.
On U.S. worries that Pakistan would not spend huge amounts of U.S. aid properly, he said it is in his country's interest to make sure the money goes where it is supposed to go. Pakistan must have strong infrastructure and education, he said, to destroy terrorists and become a stable, peaceful country.
Qureshi has met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top U.S. officials during his trip to Washington, which comes as President Barack Obama reviews whether to accept a push by U.S. military commanders for more troops in Afghanistan.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the man Obama put in charge of the Afghan war earlier this year, has said the United States needs significantly more forces to destroy Taliban militants and their al-Qaida allies. Vice President Joe Biden and others have been reluctant to support a troop increase, favoring a strategy that directly targets extremists believed to be hiding in Pakistan.
Qureshi wouldn't comment on the U.S. debate over more troops for Afghanistan. Washington and Islamabad, he said, should have more focused talks on Afghanistan as the Obama administration ponders its decision.
He sent a clear message that Pakistan doesn't need any U.S. troops on its side of the border, something he said the United States should be grateful for. Never before in Pakistan's history, he said, has there been as strong a focus on the Afghan border. He called for better coordination on the Afghan side.
Generally, he said, there must be more trust between Pakistan and the United States, which has long pushed for Islamabad to do more in fighting extremists.
"If you keep doubting our intentions, and we keep doubting your intentions, then where is this partnership going?" Qureshi asked.