In a development that has warmed many an Indian heart, the US State Department’s irascible Pakistan expert and India-baiter, Robin Raphel, is being investigated for possible counter-intelligence activities. This is a euphemism for spying on behalf of a foreign government, possibly Pakistan, with which she has had a long and cosy relationship. Raphel was serving as a Senior Advisor for the office of the Special Representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan (late Richard Holbrooke), administering non-military aid such as US economic grants and incentives, when this stunning event took place.
During raids at her residence and office in late October, the Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered that she took classified information home, though it is not known if she passed or intended to pass this on to any foreign government. The New York Times observed, “It is extremely rare for the FBI to open a counter-intelligence investigation into such a prominent Washington figure”. Raphel was sent on ‘administrative leave’ (suspended); her security clearances withdrawn, and her contract with the State Department allowed to lapse (November 2), according to a curt announcement on November 6.
Her career took a sharp upward turn when then President Bill Clinton appointed her as the First Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs, in 1993. She was then Counselor for Political Affairs in the US Embassy in New Delhi. As security expert B Raman had noted, she was highly pro-active with anti-India groups in Jammu and Kashmir and was reputedly the brains behind the establishment of the Hurriyat as their umbrella organisation. She maintained these ties even after retirement, possibly on behalf of an agency like the CIA.
As Assistant Secretary of State, Raphel managed US links with Mullah Omar’s regime in Afghanistan in 1994. The Taliban, backed by the US and Pakistan, was willing to facilitate the construction of an oil and gas pipeline by the American oil company, UNOCAL, from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan. In 1996, Osama bin Laden moved from Khartoum (Sudan) to Jalalabad and later to Kandahar, without any objections from the State Department.
Critics note that Raphel helped to lay the foundations for the devastation of Afghanistan by supporting the barbaric Taliban regime imposed by the Pakistani security establishment on the ill-fated Afghans. Noting that the positions Raphel took on India and Afghanistan conformed to those of the Pakistani military elite, The Dawn hoped the investigations would reveal if her Pakistani contacts were behind her pro-Taliban stance in the 1990s. It condemned her advocacy for the Taliban regime at the United Nations.
This was truly astonishing. Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the UN, condemned the Taliban’s inhuman decrees as “impossible to justify or defend”. But barely three weeks later, Raphel defended the Taliban’s claim to be the legitimate representative of Pashtun Afghans before the Security Council. She brushed off concerns regarding the human rights of Afghans, especially women, for the sake of UNOCAL’s oil pipeline that never even took off.
Raphel was Bill Clinton’s contemporary at Oxford and enjoyed easy access to the President, which enabled her to prevent Pakistan being declared a state sponsor of terrorism after the Mumbai blasts of March 1993. During her tenure as Assistant Secretary of State, the Clinton Administration declared J and K a “disputed territory” and pressed for its resolution in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people (read, hold a referendum without Pakistan fulfilling the UN-mandated conditions for it).
The Clinton connection again worked when the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her an advisor to Richard Holbrooke. This brings one to the million dollar question: Why was Raphel raided, and why now?
One answer could be to expose Pakistan’s dangerous games with the Taliban and other groups prior to the US-NATO withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by the year end. From that perspective, purging Pakistani assets within the Obama Administration makes sense. Daniel Markey, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations, feels that the episode is timed for the Pakistan Army Chief’s forthcoming visit to Washington DC, and aims at putting Pakistan on the defensive.
The Clintons are sure to be embarrassed by the revelations, which complicate Hillary Clinton’s likely bid for the presidency in 2016. This is already an uphill battle within the Democratic Party and has been further complicated by the Republican sweep of the Congress. Washington circles are most interested in what the investigations will reveal about the US’s ruinous policy that led to 9/11 in New York, while Pakistan continues to reel under the effects of the poison seeds sown by American policy in Afghanistan. Officials like Raphel added some vicious twists to this questionable policy. Close observers point out that the US administration always knew about Raphel’s alleged involvement with various extremist groups, but it is disturbing that after a 30-year career in the State Department alone, no one knows the true nature of her ties with several factions of the Taliban and her real political affiliations.
Most pertinent is: Whether she had any business interests with the Pakistan lobby in the US? Her last employment as coordinator for non-military aid to Pakistan was mired in controversy because just before that, she was working as a lobbyist for Pakistan in the lobbying firm Cassidy and Associates. The firm was hired by the Pakistan Embassy for $7,00,000 a year plus expenses, which can run into thousands of dollars.
For Americans, the critical question is: Who made it easier for terrorists to carry out the September 11 carnage in New York? Who had an interest in ignoring or ridiculing the warnings about the activities and intentions of terrorist groups operating out of Afghanistan and Pakistan? Both Michael Sheehan, head of the counter-terrorism wing of the State Department, and Karl Inderfurth, former Assistant Secretary of state for South Asia, were disregarded.