Robin Lynn Raphel (born 1947) is an American former diplomat, ambassador, CIA analyst and an expert on Pakistan affairs. Until November 2, 2014, she served as coordinator for non-military assistance to Pakistan, carrying on the work of the late Richard Holbrooke, whose AfPak team she joined in 2009. In 1993, she was appointed by President Bill Clinton as the nation's first Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, a newly created position at the time designed to assist the U.S. government in managing an increasingly complex region. She later served as U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia from November 7, 1997 to August 6, 2000, during Clinton's second term in office.
In the 2000s, Raphel held a number of South Asia-related diplomatic positions. She retired from the State Department in 2005 after 30 years of service, but returned in 2009 as a senior adviser on Pakistan under then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In November 2014 it was reported that Raphel was the subject of a federal counterintelligence investigation, and that the FBI had searched her home and her security clearance had been revoked. In March 2016, the investigation was closed without any charges being filed.
Early life and education
Robin Lynn Johnson was born in Vancouver, Washington in 1947 to Vera and Donald Johnson, a manager of an aluminum plant. She has two sisters, Karen Freeze and Deborah Johnson. She graduated from high school in Longview, Washington in 1965.
She received a B.A. in history and economics from the University of Washington in 1969. During her undergraduate year she studied history at the University of London, and would later return to England after graduation to study for a year at Cambridge University. In 1970, she took a position as a teacher at Damavand College, an Iranian women's college in Tehran, where she taught history for two years. She earned her master's degree in economics from the University of Maryland.
Raphel was Senior Vice President at the National Defense University in Washington from 2000 until 2003. She is fluent in French and Urdu.
Early diplomatic career
Robin Raphel began her career in the U.S. government as an analyst at the CIA after graduating with her master's degree. After leaving Iran she joined the diplomatic corps and assisted USAID in Islamabad as an economics analyst. In 1978, Raphel returned to the United States and joined the State Department. She would take on a range of assignments for the next decade, including posts in London, until she was appointed as Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa in 1988. In 1991, she took the assignment of Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.
Assistant Secretary of State
In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Raphel as the first Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs within the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, a newly created position within the State Department focused on a growing array of problems in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, including democratic stability, nuclear proliferation, energy access, Islamist and Taliban extremism, poverty and women's rights issues.
At the time, Pakistan had not tested its nuclear capabilities, opting for a policy of nuclear opacity.:137 India's nuclear program was at the time also under the same undeclared status, which ended in 1998 with the Pokhran-II tests. Tensions between Pakistan and India over the unresolved dispute in Kashmir were threatening war between the two nations. Pakistan's armed forces and intelligence services were using Afghanistan's turmoil to create "strategic depth" by fostering alliances with the Taliban. Meanwhile, democracy's experiment in Pakistan was witnessing a revolving door of army-induced change between the governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.:43
Reconciliation efforts in Kashmir
At the State Department, Raphel prioritized resolution of the Kashmir problem to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan as one the central policy positions during her tenure. Her characterization of Kashmir as "disputed territory" – a first in the annals of U.S. diplomacy – made her popular in Pakistan, where her first husband Arnold Raphel had been ambassador while also making her unpopular with the Indian establishment, which was loath to allow any interference of outside powers in what New Delhi considered a purely domestic matter. Kashmir was raised on the agenda in Bhutto's first state visit to Washington in April 1995. It would remain a key topic of regional and bilateral discussions with both India and Pakistan throughout Clinton's two terms in office. Raphel's outspoken advocacy for Pakistan in resolution of Kashmir would lead to pressure from India for Raphel to be removed from her post. She left the State Department's South Asia section in late June 1997.
Engaging and cooperating with the Taliban
A second major policy directive that Raphel advocated and developed during her tenure was engagement and cooperation with the Taliban. Her positions raised equal measure of praise and scorn. U.S. energy policies in the mid-1990s sought to develop alternative supply routes to counter increasing tensions in the Middle East. The Clinton administration supported oil and gas pipelines to transport Turkmenistan's rich energy reserves through Afghanistan to an exit at Pakistan's Indian Ocean seaport of Gwadar.:165 Raphel openly spoke in favor of a proposed pipeline project by Unocal Corporation, an American oil company, on trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan in April and August 1996. Overt Clinton administration support for the Unocal project, and the subsequent taking of Kabul in September 1996 by the Taliban, raised concerns in Russia and Iran that U.S. intelligence assets were behind the rise of Taliban control in Afghanistan to advance U.S. energy interests in the region.:165
Raphel was instrumental in coordinating the State Department's establishment of diplomatic relations with the Taliban shortly after its takeover of Kabul.:300 A senior Unocal executive commented that the pipeline project would be far easier to implement with the Taliban in control, in reference to the need for central control in Afghanistan to undertake a project of the size, complexity and cost the Texas-based oil giant was considering.:166 Unocal's consortium also included Saudi Arabia's Delta Oil, Pakistan's Crescent Group and Gazprom of Russia. The project involved building an 890-kilometer gas pipeline that would carry 1.9 billion cubic feet of gas to Pakistan each day.:95 Unocal held detailed discussions with Taliban representatives in Houston in December 1997, striking a deal that would later collapse under the weight of rising U.S. and Afghan domestic political pressures against the Taliban's record on human rights, education and treatment of women.:171–174
In pursuing the Clinton administration's energy objectives through construction of the $4.5 billion Afghanistan Oil Pipeline, Raphel created ill will with Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, then under the command of Ahmad Shah Masood.:95 Masood-controlled militias blocked the pipeline's northern access route due to the longstanding civil war with Taliban forces. After Masood was killed September 9, 2001 in a Taliban bombing, Raphel's critics accused her of collaborating with the Taliban to advance American commercial interests even as the group gave refuge to Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other senior al-Qaeda leaders in the time leading up to the September 11 attacks.
Rapprochement with Pakistan
Raphel entered her State Department assignment at a time when U.S.-Pakistan relations were strained. Sanctions imposed by George H. W. Bush over concerns about Pakistan's burgeoning nuclear program under the Pressler Amendment banned all military ties, supply of military hardware and jet fighters, and cut off political relations with Islamabad. Bhutto sought rapprochement with the Clinton White House, and Raphel became a key player in orchestrating the renewal of ties, visiting the United States in April 1995. Raphel, working with Pakistan's envoy to Washington at the time, Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, helped craft administration policy changes and build Congressional support that would ultimately become law through repeal of the Pressler Amendment. The Brown Amendment was put into effect in November 1995.:78 It restored U.S.-Pakistan relations and allowed Raphel to proceed apace in executing U.S. energy objectives in the region, now with new-found support from the Pakistani military for restoring military-to-military ties and its civilian government for insuring return of funds paid by Pakistan to the United States for undelivered F-16 fighter jets.
Impact in India
Raphel's emphasis on providing Pakistan with military aid, siding with Pakistan on Kashmir issue and construction of oil line in Afghanistan for supply to Pakistan made her unpopular within the Indian establishment, despite being stationed in New Delhi in her early career. Her characterization in her capacity as an official of the State Department official of Kashmir as disputed territory and her lobbying for separatists in Jammu and Kashmir when she was stationed there made her a target of criticism in India. Her official position on the topic was overshadowed by off-the-record comments in which she questioned whether India's territorial integrity might not be changed by seeking self-determination rights for Kashmiris. Raphel also sided with Sikh separatists and persuaded Clinton to support them. She was seen in New Delhi as a catalyst for Washington's "trafficking with India's enemies".
Ambassador to Tunisia
In November 1997, Robin Raphel was appointed as United States Ambassador to Tunisia. Tunisia was a frequent partner for Mediterranean military exercises with U.S. naval squadrons and marine battalions, allowing more exercises in its waters than any other country in North Africa. When Raphel was ambassador, Stuart Eizenstat, the Undersecretary of State for Economics, Business and Agriculture, proposed a new initiative to liberalize trade further with Tunisia. The Eizenstat Initiative, as it came to be known informally, implemented lower tariffs on industrial and manufacturing sector goods to enable Tunisia to become a supplier for goods throughout Arab and African states. President Zine El Abidine visited the Clinton White House in 1999.
During her tenure, First Lady Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton visited the country to support Tunisia's improving record in women's rights. Raphel witnessed the rise in political power of Tunisia's opposition as Abidine's administration reserved 20 percent of Parliament's seats for opposition candidates for the first time since he came to power. She served her full term and left in August 2000.
In 2009, Robin Raphel joined the Afghanistan-Pakistan task force known as AfPak, joining the late Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Special Representative for the region. Her focus was to allocate U.S. resources committed under the proposed Kerry-Lugar Bill. That legislation was enacted in late 2009, tripling civilian U.S. aid to Pakistan to approximately $1.5 billion annually.
Raphel told journalist Afnan Khan in a 2011 interview that the U.S. was financing to kick-start development work on the Diamer-Bhasha Dam to help Pakistan offset its energy crisis. She said the U.S. was also spending millions of dollars to aid Pakistan's capacity building through renovation and repair of the Tarbela dam and others that would add over 500MW to the national grid. "There is no short-term solution to end the gap between electricity consumption and generation, which was currently around 5,000MW," she said, adding that things would better during the years to come should Pakistan start work on power generation projects. Dismissing the notion that the U.S. was only giving all this assistance to change public perception in Pakistan as inaccurate, she stated that "The US wants to help Pakistan meet its energy needs. The process of assistance was started years ago on public request. Before that the US had been providing only military assistance to Pakistan."
Raphel's responsibilities included oversight of spending for law enforcement, improvements in Pakistan's judicial system and education programs to raise the country's literacy standards. She worked with USAID in a number of Pakistan's border areas in particular to distribute non-military assistance.
Post-retirement,return to the State Department and Investigation
After her retirement in 2005 Raphel worked for Cassidy & Associates, a Washington-based lobbying firm, through which she represented the government of Pakistan among others. She returned in 2009 to the State Department under Hillary Clinton as senior adviser on Pakistan for the office of the special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan. On November 7, 2014 several media organizations reported that Raphel was under federal investigation as part of a counterintelligence probe possibly linked to espionage.
The FBI searched Raphel's home in October 2014. Her State Department office was also examined and sealed. She was placed on administrative leave and her contract with the State Department was allowed to expire on November 2, 2014. Her security clearances were also withdrawn in October 2014. It was later reported that an intercepted conversation of a Pakistani official had led to the investigation. In March 2016, the Justice Department formally closed the investigation and decided to not file any charges.
Raphel's 1972 marriage in Tehran to Arnold Lewis Raphel, later Ambassador to Pakistan, ended in divorce ten years later. Her subsequent marriage to Leonard A. Ashton (1990-?) also ended in divorce. She has two daughters: Alexandra and Anna.