The UN’s number two official in Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith, has been fired after a clash with head of mission Kai Eide over how to handle fraud in the recent presidential elections. Galbraith alleges that Eide is covering up massive corruption for reasons of expediency.
Peter Beaumont and Jon Boone for The Guardian:
The most senior American diplomat at the UN mission in Afghanistan has been fired after he failed to secure support for a full and robust investigation into widespread fraud favouring President Hamid Karzai in the August presidential elections. Peter Galbraith, the deputy UN special envoy responsible for electoral matters, was removed after a dispute with his Norwegian boss, Kai Eide, after Galbraith had taken an outspoken line over alleged vote-rigging in the 20 August election, a position that reportedly angered Karzai.
UN sources said Ban was persuaded to end Galbraith’s mission after ministers in Karzai’s government said they could no longer work with him. Confimation in New York of Galbraith’s removal followed his emailed denial earlier in the day that he had been sacked. Within hours of the news, a member of the UN’s political affairs unit had resigned. Others are likely to follow among the diplomats who liked Galbraith personally and backed his tough approach to officials of the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC), who many believe are complicit in attempts to rubber-stamp a Karzai first round victory.
Sources say Galbraith was furious that the IEC first voted to apply a set of standards to its count that would have excluded tens of thousands of fraudulent votes, only to reverse the decision the next day, apparently following political pressure.
The recall of Galbraith would have required the agreement of the Obama administration and has come as a surprise following the earlier demand by Obama’s own envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, that Karzai respect the proper election process.
Further damning US criticism of the Karzai administration emerged in the leaked confidential report prepared by the US commander in the country, General Stanley McChrystal, which warned that corruption within the Karzai government was as big a threat as the Taliban. The exit of Galbraith would appear to further reduce Obama’s scope for manoeuvre in Afghanistan at a time when he is facing calls from his military commander, General Stanley McChrystal, for up to 40,000 more soldiers.
Richard Oppel and Neil MacFarquahar add for NYT:
“For a long time after the elections, Kai denied that significant fraud had taken place, even going to the extreme of ordering U.N. staff not to discuss the matter,” Mr. Galbraith wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. “And, at critical stages in the process,” he wrote, “he blocked me and other U.N.A.M.A. professional staff from taking effective action that might have limited the fraud or enabled the Afghan electoral institutions to address it more effectively.” U.N.A.M.A. refers to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
Mr. Eide and Mr. Galbraith had clashed repeatedly, United Nations officials said, and their different approaches came to a climax over the vote recount after the election on Aug. 20. Their disagreement was so severe that Mr. Galbraith proposed that he return to the United States for several weeks, and Mr. Eide accepted that suggestion. Until now, United Nations officials had been saying that Mr. Galbraith was expected to return to Kabul.
With American officials increasingly accepting the idea that Mr. Karzai will be the next president despite many well-documented irregularities in the election, Mr. Galbraith’s stance put him at odds with both the Obama administration and the United Nations. European Union officials, though, have been more vocal about the fraud.
In the letter, sent earlier this week, Mr. Galbraith suggested that Mr. Eide effectively sided with Mr. Karzai at critical junctures in the campaign, playing down credible reports of widespread fraud and preventing United Nations staff members from intervening to prevent it. Without the fraud, Mr. Galbraith wrote, Mr. Karzai would have been forced into a runoff against the second-place finisher, Abdullah Abdullah.
Yet more from Colum Lynch and Pam Constable at WaPo:
“I think there was massive fraud in the elections — no doubt about that,” said Galbraith, who is now in the United States. “It undermines the credibility of the election process. I took seriously the mandate to support free, fair and transparent elections.”
Galbraith said Eide had suppressed “extensive data” on fraud that the United Nations had collected, not sharing it with Afghan election officials. “I felt we should share it; Kai did not,” he said.
Foreign Policy‘s Josh Rogin notes that Aide and Galbraith had heretofore been quite close.
Eide, who long ago had introduced Galbraith to his wife, turned on him after their long running and multi-faceted dispute over how to handle the fraud discovered in the election became a public issue. “He’s hyper sensitive against the press coverage,” Galbraith said of Eide, “And at some point he decided he had enough of me and he wanted me gone.”
Although the differences between the two were many, he said, one key difference was over how to handle what Galbraith calls “ghost polling centers,” mostly in the southern part of the country, where Galbraith said massive fraud took place. “These ghost polling centers had no pollsters, never opened, but had huge potential for fraud and in fact the fraud took place at these polling centers,” Galbraith said.
Additionally, Galbraith alleges that Eide refused to hand over to the electoral complaints commission massive evidence that their staff had collected about actual incidents of vote fraud. Staff was frustrated that their evidence was going to waste after they put themselves at risk to collect it, he said.
Another major dispute was over whether the independent election commission would abandon its published safeguards against fraud in the wake of the disputed election. Galbraith wanted those standards upheld but Afghan President Hamid Karzai protested and Eide sided with Karzai, Galbraith explained.
A senior U.S. diplomat told The Cable that Eide’s repeated resistance to stronger anti-fraud measures both before and after the election was because his influence was directly tied to his relationship with Karzai. “It’s a classic case of clientilism,” the diplomat said.
It should be noted that Eide heatedly rejects these charges and that senior UN leaders contend that the role Galbraith envisioned went well beyond the UNAMA mandate. It’s rather clear, however, that in attempting to be “neutral,” Eide and his team have essentially been forced to ignore obvious fraud. That, combined with the fact that the Obama administration has apparently decided that they have no choice but to recognize Karzai as the winner of the election, stolen or not, left Galbraith in an untenable position.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.