September 23, 2020
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Robin Raphel, notorious in India in the 1990s for her role in getting J&K declared as a “disputed territory”, is now reported to be joining the team of Richard Holbrooke for the Af-Pak region

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She's Back
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The News, the Pakistani daily, has reported on August 3, 2009, that the Barack Obama Administration has decided to appoint Robin Raphel, who was a Counselor for Political Affairs in the US Embassy in New Delhi from 1991 to 1993 and subsequently became the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs in the Bill Clinton Administration, as a member of the team of Richard Holbrooke, the Special Representative to the Af-Pak region. 

According to the paper, she will be based in Pakistan and will co-ordinate the implementation of the plan for non-military assistance to Pakistan. She is expected to arrive in Pakistan on August 14, 2009. 

During her posting in the US Embassy in New Delhi, 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. 

After Bill Clinton assumed office as the President in January,1993, she joined the State Department as the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of South Asian Affairs under Warren Christopher, who was the Secretary of State. It used to be said that she knew the Clintons from her younger days and this gave her easy access to the President despite her junior position in the State Department. She exploited this to prevent Pakistan being declared as a state sponsor of terrorism after the Mumbai blasts of March,1993. 

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. 


B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.


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