Ambassador Richard Olson retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in November of 2016 with the rank of career minister.

His final assignment was as U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP). From 2012 to 2015 he was the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan.

Ambassador Olson served as the coordinating director for Development and Economic Affairs at U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan, from 2011 to 2012 and as U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2008 to 2011.

Ambassador Olson joined the U.S. Department of State in 1982. He served in Mexico, Uganda, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates (both Abu Dhabi and Dubai), and Najaf, Iraq. He was also deputy chief of mission at the United States Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). His Washington assignments included: State Department Operations Center (twice), NATO Desk, the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs (twice, including as Director), and the Office of Iraqi Affairs, including as Director.

Ambassador Olson is a recipient of the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, a Presidential Distinguished Service Award, the Secretary of State’s Award for Public Outreach, the State Department’s Superior Honor Award (three times), and the Secretary of Defense’s Exceptional Civilian Service Award (for his service in Iraq). He was awarded the medal of Wazir Akbar Khan by President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani.

He graduated from Brown University in 1981, receiving an A.B. in law and society (Honors) and history.

Publications By Richard

India, Pakistan Watch Warily as Taliban Move to Takeover

India, Pakistan Watch Warily as Taliban Move to Takeover

Monday, August 2, 2021

By: Vikram J. Singh; Ambassador Richard Olson; Tamanna Salikuddin

The Taliban’s rapid advances have caught the region and the United States off guard. The deterioration in security has forced India, along with many other countries, to retrench its diplomatic presence in the country, closing consulates outside of the capital of Kabul. There have been conflicting reports over the past month over whether or not Indian officials have engaged in talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar. Afghanistan’s neighbors all prefer a negotiated political settlement to the conflict but are preparing for the worst and could look to armed Afghan factions to protect their interests. Meanwhile, Kabul and Islamabad are blaming each other for the spiraling security situation.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan: End to an Endless War?

U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan: End to an Endless War?

Thursday, April 15, 2021

By: Scott Worden; Johnny Walsh; Belquis Ahmadi; Ambassador Richard Olson

President Joe Biden formally announced on Wednesday that the United States will withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September 11 of this year, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaida attacks that led to the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban. The decision comes a month after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken looked to jump-start the moribund intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, Qatar with a sweeping set of proposals. Although the withdrawal would mean an end to America’s longest war, the implications for Afghanistan’s hard-won progress are immense and many fear the possibility of a rejuvenated civil war after U.S. troops leave.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

Can Blinken’s Letter Jump-start the Afghan Peace Process?

Can Blinken’s Letter Jump-start the Afghan Peace Process?

Thursday, March 11, 2021

By: Scott Smith; Johnny Walsh; Belquis Ahmadi; Ambassador Richard Olson

With intra-Afghan talks gridlocked and the U.S. troop withdrawal deadline looming, Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed new plans to advance the peace process in a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The letter recommends several efforts to “move matters more fundamentally and quickly” toward peace, including a U.N.-convened conference of key regional actors, a senior-level meeting between the Afghan government and the Taliban hosted by Turkey and a 90-day reduction in violence to head off the Taliban’s annual spring offensive. Blinken also recommended an interim power-sharing government composed of Taliban and other Afghan leaders.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

Pakistan Senate Election Upsets Government Efforts to Solidify Power

Pakistan Senate Election Upsets Government Efforts to Solidify Power

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

By: Tamanna Salikuddin; Jumaina Siddiqui; Colin Cookman; Ambassador Richard Olson

Pakistan held indirect elections on March 3 for the Senate, its upper house of Parliament, which is elected by sitting legislators in the National Assembly (the lower house of Parliament) and each of the provincial assemblies. Given the typically party-line vote, Pakistani Senate elections tend to be mundane affairs, with the results often preordained. However, in last week’s elections the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, despite having a numerical majority in the national and provincial assemblies, failed to forestall defections among some lawmakers and in doing so failed to take control of the Senate from the opposition.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

Biden and Washington’s Perennial Pakistan Problem

Biden and Washington’s Perennial Pakistan Problem

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

By: Ambassador Richard Olson

Among the many challenges facing the Biden administration will be addressing the infamously dysfunctional U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Anyone familiar with how Islamabad and Washington have interacted over the last 74 years will resort to tired metaphors: a roller-coaster ride, a sine wave, the dynamic between an overbearing mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law. These clichés reflect the reality that the relationship has rarely been stable and usually is either declining precipitously or accelerating unsustainably. The challenge for the new administration will be to find a way to work productively with Pakistan without oscillating between peaks of enthusiasm and depths of cynicism.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Global Policy

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