Controversy Surfaces over Conflict of Interest about Raphel’s Appointment

A lobbying firm, where Robin Raphel, the US coordinator for non-military aid to Pakistan, previously worked has disclosed that she had been an active lobbyist for Pakistan until a few days before her appointment. With this, the controversy over conflict of interest triggered following her appointment has risen.

Her appointment is thus against code of ethics and the revolving-door ban US President Barack Obama put out a day after took charge.

According to this, lobbyists who take up a responsibility in the US government will not concern themselves at least for the next two year with issues that they have lobbied for during the past two years in their previous employment.

During her earlier stint in the region as Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Raphel was a known pro-Pakistan diplomat from the 1990s and even rubbed India the wrong way categorizing Kashmir as ‘disputed territory’ and casting doubts over the instrument of accession.

Having held important assignments in the Clinton administration, she was brought back in August into the official fold by Richard Holbrooke, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Before her latest appointment, she had been working with lobbying firm Cassidy and Associates which had a $1.2-million contract with the Pakistan government of which receipts of $350,500 have been shown in the last quarter.

This has raised questions over conflict of interest norms that the Obama administration has so strictly applied, and on which the President has taken a clear public position from the start of his presidency.

In its submission under US laws to the Department of Justice, the firm lists Raphel as one of its principal lobbyists for Pakistan, listing her several visits to the State Department and US Congress in this connection. Details of legislations for which the firm lobbied for Pakistan are:

Fiscal 2010 Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations (HR-3081)

a)    Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan 2009, known as the Kerry-Lugar Bill

b)    Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhance Act moved by Howard Berman

c)    The Afghanistan-Pakistan Security and Prosperity Enhancement Act, which was later known as the Afghanistan and Pakistan Reconstruction opportunity and Zones Act

d)    The Foreign Relations Authorization Act for fiscal 2010-11

e)    Defence Authorization Bill.

Raphel’s travel expenses have been listed against the Embassy of Pakistan until July 31 this year, which is barely a week before her appointment was made public by the State Department. Registered as a lobbyist for Cassidy in April 2007, the submission lists travel expenses by her in months of June and July as paid by the Embassy of Pakistan in the US.

As coordinator for non-military assistance to Pakistan, she will be involved in disbursing funds made available through the very legislations she lobbied for while at Cassidy. While the State Department is said to have taken the position that she may not be a full-time employee, the jury is still out on whether Obama’s code of ethics will apply on her or not. New Delhi, which has always had concerns with Raphel being included in Holbrooke’s team, is keenly watching the issue.

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