Robin Raphel, the ‘obstacle’ in India-U.S. ties

‘Her position was anti-India, but it was also not in the U.S.’s interests’

November 08, 2014 01:17 am | Updated November 16, 2021 04:46 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

In 1995, U.S. diplomat Robin Raphel was the toast of the State department. President Bill Clinton appointed her the first Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia (the post later included Central Asia), and she was known to be close to him and Hillary Clinton, as she knew the U.S. President from his time at Oxford.

The former CIA analyst wasn’t just popular, she was admired; her husband, the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Raphel, had died just a few years earlier in the plane crash that killed President Zia-Ul-Haq also. She had served briefly (1991-1993) at the U.S. Embassy in Delhi, and had already made ripples with frequent visits to Srinagar and expressing strong views on Kashmir at diplomatic events.

As a result, when she made her controversial comments on the Kashmir dispute and the suggestion of a referendum, the Indian government saw her as a formidable, antagonistic voice to contend with. “The U.S. was seen as pro-Pakistan at the time,” describes diplomat Satinder Lambah, who was India’s High Commissioner in Islamabad then, “And Ms. Raphel was a real obstacle in bettering ties between the US and India. They improved dramatically, later, but it was in spite of her.”

The Narasimha Rao government issued demarches, both in New Delhi and Washington, expressing unhappiness over the comments. While Ms. Raphel remained in the position for several years, the Clintons changed their public positions on Kashmir soon after. President Bill Clinton, who had even raised concerns over “human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir” at a White house function in 1994, no longer brought those up, even as a visit by Hillary Clinton in April 1995 to New Delhi paved the way for better relations.

Controversial policies

“Eventually, we have been vindicated by this investigation,” said an official who preferred not to be named, speaking about the just-announced U.S. federal probe against Ms. Raphel, “We repeatedly told the U.S. that Ms. Raphel’s position was anti-India, but it was also not in the U.S.’s interests.” As a diplomat Ms. Raphel was responsible for two other controversial policies: that of suggesting support for the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in 1996, as a means of securing the U.S. company Unocal consortium’s pipeline plan in the region, as well as advocating dropping parts of the U.S.’s Pressler amendment that put strict oversight over aid to Pakistan. After she retired, Ms. Raphel joined consultancy group Cassidy & Associates and landed a massive $1.2 million contract from the Pakistan government under President Musharraf, to “improve Pakistan’s image” in the U.S. in 2007.

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