On the heels of the Senate's vote to triple foreign aid to Pakistan, the Obama administration praised the congressional step as a "big step forward." 
According to the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, who attended a meeting for major supporters of Pakistan here in New York, the gathering broke into spontaneous applause when President Obama, who co-chaired the gathering with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, announced the bill's passage.    

Holbrooke, who briefed reporters after the meeting, applauded the vote which passed on a bipartisan basis, and was according to Holbrooke, "timed to this meeting." 

The bill, which is expected to be taken up in the House as early as Friday and pass, will provide Pakistan with $1.5 billion in aid a year over the next five years. 

Holbrooke asserted that the five year authorization by congressional leaders, along with an upcoming trip to Pakistan by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, might help combat anti-American sentiment in the country.
"We recognize that Pakistani public opinion on the United States is surprisingly low given the tremendous effort the United States is making to lead in the international coalition in support of Pakistan," he said.

Speaking of today's gathering, "we want to convey through this meeting today, in which President Zardari sat between the prime minster of Great Britain and the President of the United States, flanked by many of the world's greatest leaders...that the United States and Pakistan's other friends are all working together for Pakistan" said Holbrooke.

As for allegations that the US only cares about Pakistan because of it neighbor Afghanistan, Holbrooke insisted Pakistan matters because it's Pakistan. "If Afghanistan were not a problem, if there was complete peace and harmony in Afghanistan, we would still be focusing heavily on helping Pakistan and its people."

"For this Administration, Pakistan is, of course, of equal importance.  But I want to be more specific.  Pakistan and Afghanistan are interconnected in a way where progress in one requires progress in the other," said Holbrooke, "At the same time, Pakistan is a huge and important country in its own right."

To underscore this point, Secretary Clinton will have a bilateral meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari later this evening. 

"So do we take Pakistan seriously?" Holbrooke asked reporters, "You bet."