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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.

Robin Lynn Raphel
Robin Raphel 2012.jpg
Raphel at the Pakistani American Congress Annual Meeting, 2012
14th U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia
In office
7 November 1997 – 6 August 2000
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded byMary Ann Casey
Succeeded byRust MacPherson Deming
1st Assistant Secretary of State for
South and Central Asian Affairs
In office
2 August 1993 – 27 June 1997
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded byInaugural holder
Succeeded byKarl Inderfurth
Personal details
Robin Lynn Johnson

Vancouver, Washington
Spouse(s)Arnold L. Raphel (1972-1982)[1]
Leonard A. Ashton (1990-?)(div)
ChildrenTwo daughters: Alexandra and Anna
Alma materUniversity of Washington, B.A. History & Economics (1965-1969)
University of Maryland, M.A. Economics (1972-1974)
ProfessionCareer diplomat
Government consultant
Expert on Pakistan affairs

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of a federal counterintelligence investigation, and that the FBI had searched her home and her security clearance had been revoked.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 educationEdit

Robin Lynn Johnson was born in Vancouver, Washington in 1947[2] to Vera and Donald Johnson, a manager of an aluminum plant.[3][4] She has two sisters, Karen Freeze and Deborah Johnson.[4][5] She graduated from high school in Longview, Washington in 1965.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8]

Early diplomatic careerEdit

Robin Raphel began her career in the U.S. government as an analyst at the CIA after graduating with her master's degree.[9] 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.[7] 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.[8]

Assistant Secretary of StateEdit

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.[2][10]

At the time, Pakistan had not tested its nuclear capabilities, opting for a policy of nuclear opacity.[11]:137 India's nuclear program was at the time also under the same undeclared status, which ended in 1998 with the Pokhran-II tests.[12] 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.[13] Meanwhile, democracy's experiment in Pakistan was witnessing a revolving door of army-induced change between the governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.[14]:43

Reconciliation efforts in KashmirEdit

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[15] 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.[16] 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.[16] She left the State Department's South Asia section in late June 1997.[2]

Engaging and cooperating with the TalibanEdit

Robin Raphel delivers aid in Peshawar

A second major policy directive that Raphel advocated and developed during her tenure was engagement and cooperation with the Taliban.[15] Her positions received praise as well as scorn.[17]

One of the channels for U.S.-Taliban cooperation was through energy. 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 energy reserves through Afghanistan to an exit at Pakistan's Indian Ocean seaport of Gwadar.[18]:165 Unocal, an American company, was one of the many international oil companies seeking the rights to build this pipeline. Unocal entered into negotiations with Taliban, to secure protection for the pipeline in return for money. 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.[18]: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.[19]:95 Unocal held detailed discussions with Taliban representatives in Houston in December 1997.[20] However, after Raphel's successor Karl Inderfurth took over, the deal collapsed when the U. S. started paying attention to the Taliban's record on human rights, education and treatment of women.[18]:171–174

Raphel openly spoke in favor of the Taliban-supported pipeline project on trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan in April and August 1996. She was one of the first senior American officials to meet personally with Taliban[21], and she called on the international community to "engage the Taliban." Overt US 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.[18]:165 In supporting the oil-pipeline deal with the Taliban, Raphel also created ill will with Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, then under the command of Ahmad Shah Massoud.[19]:95 Massoud-controlled militias blocked the pipeline's northern access route due to the longstanding civil war with Taliban forces.

Raphel was instrumental in coordinating the State Department's establishment of diplomatic relations with the Taliban shortly after its takeover of Kabul.[22]:300 She welcomed their taking of Kabul in September 1996 as a "positive step".[23][24] Her support for the Taliban earned her the sobriquet "Lady Taliban" in some circles.[25]

After Massoud was killed on September 9, 2001 in a Taliban bombing, Raphel's critics accused her of collaborating with the Taliban 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.[22]

Rapprochement with PakistanEdit

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.[26] 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.[27] 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.[28] The Brown Amendment was put into effect in November 1995.[29]: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.[29]

Impact in IndiaEdit

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.[30] Her characterization in her capacity as an official of the State Department 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.[16] 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".[30]

Ambassador to TunisiaEdit

In November 1997, Robin Raphel was appointed as United States Ambassador to Tunisia.[2] 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.[31] President Zine El Abidine visited the Clinton White House in 1999.[31]

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.[31] She served her full term and left in August 2000.[2] Raphel was Senior Vice President at the National Defense University in Washington from 2000 until 2003. Raphel retired from service in 2005.

Post-retirement careerEdit

As lobbyistEdit

In 2005, shortly after her retirement, Raphel began working for Cassidy & Associates,[32] a Washington-based lobbying firm, through which she represented the government of Pakistan among others.[33] As a Senior Vice President at Cassidy & Associates incharge of a $1.2 million contract, she lobbied for Pakistan.[34] 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.

AfPak diplomacyEdit

Robin Raphel (far left) with Richard Holbrooke, Hillary Clinton and Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani in Pakistan, 2009

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.[35] 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.[36]

Raphel told Daily Times Chief Reporter 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.[37] 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."[37]

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.[38]

FBI InvestigationEdit

In October 2014, the FBI searched Raphel's home. Her office at the State Department was also examined and sealed. She was placed on administrative leave and her security clearances were also withdrawn during the same month.[33] Her contract with the State Department was allowed to expire on November 2, 2014.[39]

On November 7, 2014 several media organizations reported that Raphel was under federal investigation as part of a counterintelligence probe possibly linked to espionage for Pakistan.[33][40][41] It was later reported that an intercepted conversation of a Pakistani official had led to the investigation.[42] In March 2016, the Justice Department formally closed the investigation and decided to not file any charges.[43]

Personal lifeEdit

Raphel's 1972 marriage in Tehran to Arnold Lewis Raphel, later Ambassador to Pakistan, ended in divorce ten years later.[1] Her subsequent marriage to Leonard A. Ashton (1990-?) also ended in divorce. She has two daughters: Alexandra and Anna.[1] She is fluent in French and Urdu.[44]


  1. ^ a b c The Last Diplomat By Adam Entous and Devlin Barrett Wall Street Journal Retrieved 03 December 2016
  2. ^ a b c d e "Office of the Historian-Robin Lynn Raphel". U.S. State Department. Retrieved 12 April 2014.
  3. ^ Mathieu, Stephanie (16 November 2006). "Home Grown: Native travels globe as diplomat". The Daily News. Longview Daily News. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  4. ^ a b "Congressional Record, Volume 143 Issue 129 (Wednesday, September 24, 1997)". Congressional Record. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  5. ^ "Karen Johnson Freeze Obituary: View Karen Freeze's Obituary by The Seattle Times". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  6. ^ "State Department Archived Biographies -- Robin Lynn Raphel". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Robin Raphel: facts and figures". Soylent Communications. Retrieved 12 April 2014.
  8. ^ a b "U.S. State Department Biography of Robin Raphel". U.S. State Department. Retrieved 12 April 2014.
  9. ^ Gearan, Anne; Goldman, Adam (7 November 2014). "U.S. diplomat and longtime Pakistan expert is under federal investigation". The Washington Post. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  10. ^ "Departments — Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs". AllGov. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
  11. ^ Chakma, Bhumitra (2009). Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons. Routledge. p. 137, Footnote 6. ISBN 9780415590327.
  12. ^ Farley, Robert (January 3, 2015). "India's Mighty Nuclear-Weapons Program: Aimed at China and Pakistan?". The National Interest. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  13. ^ Siddiqi, Shibil (24 March 2010). "'Strategic depth' at heart of Taliban arrests". Asia Times. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  14. ^ Vajpeyi, Dhirendra K. (2013). Civil–Military Relationships in Developing Countries. Rowman & Littlefield, Lexington Books Division. p. 43. ISBN 9780739182802.
  15. ^ a b "Statement of Robin Raphel, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs". U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 7 March 1995. Retrieved 12 April 2014.
  16. ^ a b c Ray, Ashis (17 September 2012). "RAW tapped senior US official's phone, 'heard' US-Pak move on J&K". The Times of India. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  17. ^ Haniffa, Aziz (20 December 1996). "Robin Raphel Urges India To Back Talks With Taliban". India Abroad. Archived from the original on 11 June 2014. Retrieved 12 April 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  18. ^ a b c d Rashid, Ahmed (2002). Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia. I.B. Tauris. pp. 165–166. ISBN 1860648304.
  19. ^ a b Gohari, M. J. (1999). The Taliban: Ascent to Power. Oxford University Press. p. 95. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
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  21. ^ Sanchez, Raf (7 November 2014). "FBI searches home of former envoy labelled 'Lady Taliban'". Telegraph. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  22. ^ a b Coll, Steve (2004). Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001. Penguin Books. p. 300. ISBN 1594200076.
  23. ^ Swami, Praveen (18 January 2012). "Lead West's romancing of the Taliban". The Hindu. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  24. ^ Dorronsoro, Gilles (June 2001). "The World Isolates the Taliban". Global Policy Forum. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  25. ^ Porter, Tom (21 November 2014). "FBI Investigates US Diplomat Dubbed 'Lady Taliban' over Secrets Leak". International Business Times. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  26. ^ "Context of 'October 1990: US Imposes Sanctions on Pakistan'". History Commons. 1990–1993. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  27. ^ Kennedy, Tim (June 1995). "Bhutto visit to Washington success in every way but one". Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. pp. 15, 90. Retrieved 14 April 2014. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  28. ^ Ali, M.M. (December 1995). "Brown Amendment prepares way for arms delivery to Pakistan". Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. pp. 38, 119. Retrieved 14 April 2014. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  29. ^ a b Hersman, Rebecca K. C. (2000). Friends and Foes: How Congress and the President Really Make Foreign Policy. Brookings Institution Press. p. 78. ISBN 0815735650. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  30. ^ a b Dahlberg, John-Thor (15 March 1994). "U.S.-India Relations Turn Sour: Both are democracies with values in common. U.S. investment pours in. So what's wrong?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 April 2014.
  31. ^ a b c Hanley, Delinda C. (April–May 1999). "US Ambassador Robin Raphel gives update on Tunisia". Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p.20-21. Retrieved 14 April 2014. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  32. ^ "US bends rules India-baiter Raphel named for Pak aid job". The Indian Express. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  33. ^ a b c "U.S. diplomat and longtime Pakistan expert is under federal investigation". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  34. ^ Bogardus, Kevin (25 October 2007). "Pakistan builds up D.C. presence with Cassidy contract". The Hill. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  35. ^ "Raphel appointed coordinator for non-military assistance to Pakistan". Thaindian News. 3 August 2009. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  36. ^ Waraich, Omar (8 October 2009). "How a U.S. Aid Package to Pakistan Could Threaten Zardari". Time. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  37. ^ a b Khan, Afnan (July 18, 2011). "US helping Pakistan offset energy crisis". Daily Times. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
  38. ^ "Pakistan: The Lost Generation : Extended Interview: Robin Raphel". PBS. February 23, 2010. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  39. ^ "Eavesdropping on Pakistani official led to investigation against US diplomat Robin Raphel: Report". The Express Tribune. 21 November 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
  40. ^ Leiby, Richard (16 December 2014). "Who is Robin Raphel, the State Department veteran caught up in Pakistan intrigue?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
  41. ^ Mazzetti, Mark; Apuzzo, Matt (7 November 2014). "F.B.I. Is Investigating Retired U.S. Diplomat, a Pakistan Expert, Officials Say". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
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  43. ^ Apuzzo, Matt (March 21, 2016). "U.S. Ends Spying Case Against Former Envoy". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 December 2017.
  44. ^ "U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia Biography/Archives". U.S. State Department. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Inaugural holder
Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs
1993 –1997
Succeeded by
Karl Inderfurth
Preceded by
Mary Ann Casey
U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia
Succeeded by
Rust MacPherson Deming