Robin Raphel: “goddess of Indian terrorists, secessionists and other outlaws”

It’s been reported that the veteran US diplomat Robin Raphel, who had been working for the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), after spells as a lobbyist and a contractor in the US Embassy in Islamabad, is under federal investigation “as part of a counterintelligence probe”. She was also “placed on administrative leave last month, and her contract with the State Department was allowed to expire this week”.

As the Post noted, “espionage cases involving State Department officials are relatively rare”. But the case is also notable because Raphel was – to put it mildly, as the excerpts below demonstrate – India’s bête noire throughout the 1990s for her outspoken views. When Raphel returned to the State Department in 2009, the analyst and former intelligence officer B. Raman wrote, in an article titled ‘She’s Back’:

During her posting in the US Embassy in New Delhi [1991-1993], she was actively interacting with the various anti-India groups in Jammu & Kashmir and it was reportedly on her advice that the Hurriyat, as an umbrella organization of these groups, became very active.

It was during her tenure as the Assistant Secretary of State that the Clinton Administration declared Jammu & Kashmir as a “disputed territory” and started calling for the resolution of the dispute between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people. This refrain has once again been taken up by the Obama Administration.

Towards the end of 1993, during a non-attributable discussion with some Indian journalists in Washington DC she reportedly defended this formulation and contended that the US considered the Kashmiri territory transferred by Pakistan to China in 1963 when Ayub Khan was the President also as disputed territory, whose future was yet to be decided.  The Times of India prominently carried this story on the front page without identifying the official of the State Department who had talked to the Indian journalists on the Kashmir issue. Enquiries made by the government of India identified the official as Robin Raphel.

It was during her stewardship of the South Asian Affairs portfolio in the State Department that the Taliban under Mulla Mohammad Omar came into existence in 1994 with the joint support of the Pakistan and US Governments. The Taliban was prepared to support the construction of an oil and gas pipeline by UNOCAL, an American oil company, from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan and she had met Mulla Mohammad Omar in this connection. This period also saw Osama bin Laden shift from Khartoum to Jalalabad in 1996 without any objection from the US. The Taliban later shifted him to Kandahar.

Even after she left the State Department and joined the faculty of the National Defence University, she reportedly maintained active contacts with anti-India elements in J&K.

The News has correctly described her as “one known to be Pakistan’s friend”.  She is.

(Raphel was also prominent in Raman’s Times of India obituary last year).

Contemporary reporting and writing also highlight just how toxic her interventions were in India. The former governor of Jammu and Kashmir devoted a section in his book to Raphel’s comments:

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Following those comments, India Today wrote in 1993:

[T]he fact that the sudden renewal of international pressure on Kashmir is being led by the US, the sole remaining superpower, gives the Kashmir question unprecedented urgency, even legitimacy. Kashmir, as officials put it, has appeared on the “radar screen” and no amount of rhetoric about the Simla Agreement or aide memoires can wish that away.

US Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel may be the villain of the piece in New Delhi – and the flavour of the month in Islamabad – but she is certainly no loose cannon on the State Department deck. Nor is she to be dismissed as a ‘bleeding-heart’ junior functionary who overstepped her official brief. Raphel spent three years at the US embassy in New Delhi – she was married to ambassador Arnold Raphel who died in General Zia-ul-Haq’s plane crash. Her brief in India was Kashmir, more specifically what the Americans call Track-2 diplomacy which involves bringing together experts from India, Pakistan and Kashmir in ‘neutral’ situations …

Raphel, who is an articulate and aggressive speaker, suggested that the time was ripe to turn the screws on both India and Pakistan over resolving Kashmir. Her argument advocating a ‘a glove off line was, as even top level MEA officials admit, forceful and credible. The US and its western allies were “prepared to do anything” to avoid regional instability in the subcontinent …

On the surface, Raphel’s remark smacks of indirect support for militancy in the Valley. The Indian aide memoire in reaction to Raphel’s briefing, stated that “it only encourages Pakistan to persist with its interference,” and added; “We percieve… a studied tilt on the part of US towards Pakistan.”

Even in the US, Raphel’s remarks were seen as being tendentious and undiplomatic. “Raphel made a very grave mistake, completely inappropriate for an Assistant Secretary of State,” says Selig Harrison, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who has written extensively on the subcontinent … What the Raphel remark has exposed is Indian ineffectiveness in influencing US foreign policy.

India Today again, in 1994, on the “patch-up”:

It is silly, therefore, as some politicians are now doing, to sit on ceremony or to condemn the treatment and access accorded to Raphel as a manifestation of Indian obsequiousness in the face of a bully. For it was really nothing of the sort. Raphel, for all her unpalatable pronouncements, is the senior most Clinton Administration official dealing with this part of the world.

And having decided to play host to the representative of the unipolar world’s most powerful leader, it was only proper that the Government treat her with apt protocol while also using her as the lightning rod for criticism of Washington’s recent postures on Kashmir and related issues. The very fact that Raphel decided to descend on New Delhi right in the midst of a diplomatic hurricane of her own making was in itself proof that Washington wanted to make amends. And there were sound reasons for this. America’s commitment to its Manifest Destiny forces it into playing a high-profile world role at any given time. …

For starters, Raphel backtracked completely on her most controversial utterance on the validity of the Instrument of Accession. She recognised the provocation from Pakistan-trained terrorists and was at pains to stress that Washington was mounting ceaseless pressure on Pakistan. This was clearly damage control. And it apparently had the sanction of the highest authority in her land. For it was no coincidence that in the midst of Raphel’s visit, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao received an invitation from President Bill Clinton to visit the US.

The New York Times in 1994 on another flare-up:

India has reacted with anger to recent statements by the Clinton Administration over possible abuses of human rights in the Government’s efforts to put down a rebellion in Kashmir … Among the comments that have riled New Delhi was a statement last month by President Clinton while accepting the credentials of Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s new Ambassador to the United States, that the United States shared Pakistan’s “concerns on the abuse of human rights in Kashmir.” The Indian reaction had been primed by remarks in Washington by Ms. Raphel, who was named last fall to the newly created post of Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs.

The Washington Post (20 March 1994, p. C1; no link) had a particularly colourful account:

Particular scorn has been reserved for the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Robin Raphel, who until a year ago was a senior political officer in the U.S. Embassy here. Raphel, who is expected to visit Delhi on Tuesday, has become a lightning rod for complaint for her outspokenness on Kashmir.

For instance, in the middle of a tense stand-off between the Indian army and terrorists barricaded in a mosque in Kashmir last October, Raphel said at a Washington press briefing that the United States did not believe Kashmir “is forever more an integral part of India,” adding that Kashmiris should be consulted about the future of their region. The State Department churned out clarifications, and officials here conceded that the timing of Raphel’s statement was unfortunate.

Indians have focused on Raphel’s remarks, and comments by Clinton expressing concern over human rights abuses in Kashmir, as a sign that America is ignoring Pakistan’s role in fueling the insurgency and secretly favors an independent Kashmir. Nonetheless, the increased public pressure by the United States and others is paying some dividends as India has begun opening Kashmir to more international observers.

U.S. officials have complained that the Indian embassy in Washington and Indian officials in Delhi have orchestrated a flood of negative and often uninformed commentary about the United States and its policies, which are eagerly picked up and sensationalized by India’s free but strongly nationalistic press.

A front page story two weeks ago in the Hindustan Times, a popular, mainstream daily, called Raphel the “goddess of Indian terrorists, secessionists and other outlaws” and urged the government to roll out a “black carpet” for her when she arrives later this month. “Considering the animosity she arouses in every patriotic heart, politicians are expected to treat her as an untouchable,” the story said. “It is likely that she will use this country’s soil to reaffirm the Clinton administration’s commitment to destabilize India.”


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