Global Policy Forum

US Diplomat “Forced Out” Over Stance on Afghan Election Fraud


By Peter Beaumont and John Boone

September 30, 2009


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 favoring 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.

The spokeswoman for UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, Michele Montas, said in a statement yesterday that Ban had decided to recall Peter Galbraith and end his appointment as the UN's deputy special representative. Montas said the secretary-general reaffirmed his full support for Eide.

Arsala Jamal, a Karzai campaign official, said today he was aware of Galbraith's removal but called it an internal UN matter.

UN officials had previously acknowledged the dispute between Eide and Galbraith, who left the Afghan capital in mid-September. 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.

Obama was expected to meet his top advisers on Afghanistan yesterday, including Vice President Joe Biden, secretary of defence Robert Gates, secretary of state Hillary Clinton, national security adviser General James Jones, Chairman of the joint chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, and the CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus. The meeting was to include a discussion via video conference with McChrystal, whose grim assessment of the war was leaked last month. The meeting is the first of five scheduled for the coming weeks.

Galbraith's removal comes just days after reports that the US and its allies would accept Karzai remaining as president even if the investigation into voter fraud meant his share of the vote fals below 50%, which election rules had stipulated Karzai was required to win to avoid a run off with his closest rival foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Speaking yesterday Abdullah, who alleges fraud took place on a massive scale, expressed concern that Galbraith had been pushed out for campaigning to prevent electoral fraud. "If the firing of Mr Galbraith was on some technical issue, I have no say in it," he said. "If the issue was based on the fact that he was for a vigorous look into the issue of fraud, in that case, I would say that he has been talking on behalf of the people of Afghanistan."

Galbraith was formerly the US ambassador to Croatia and helped negotiate the end of the war in that country. He also served as director of political, constitutional and electoral affairs for the UN transitional administration in East Timor from 2000 to 2001. Outspoken in his criticism of the conduct of the US war in Iraq during the Bush administration, he resigned from government to write The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End.


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