Global Policy Forum

UN Attempts to Defend Neutrality in Afghanistan


By Edith M. Lederer

October 8, 2009


The United Nations attempted to defend the neutrality of its role in Afghanistan's disputed election Wednesday, with the top U.N. official in the country dismissing claims that he favored President Hamid Karzai as "nonsense."

Kai Eide denied allegations by his former deputy Peter Galbraith that he downplayed widespread fraud in the election and thwarted efforts to do something about it. Galbraith, the top American official at the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, was fired last week by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Eide's three-page rebuttal to Galbraith's charges, sent to senior U.N. officials, was obtained by the Associated Press. The AP also obtained a U.N. table estimating voter turnout in the Aug. 20 presidential election which reveals major discrepancies with the government's official count, fueling fraud allegations.

In Helmand province in the south, where Taliban fighters remain very active, for example, the U.N. estimated that just 38,000 votes were cast while Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission reported 122,376 votes for the top three candidates, including 112,873 for Karzai. In neighboring Kandahar, the U.N. estimated turnout at below 100,000 voters - compared to the commission's official count of 242,782 votes, 221,436 of them for Karzai.

Galbraith claimed in a letter to the secretary-general that Eide "denied that significant fraud had taken place, even going to the extreme of ordering U.N. staff not to discuss the matter." He also accused Eide of ordering the staff not to share the U.N.'s voter data, which showed "a minuscule turnout in key southern provinces," because it would be "deeply disturbing to president Karzai."

"This is nonsense," Eide said in his response.

He said he "was reluctant to share the data not because it was displeasing to Karzai but because it was difficult to corroborate." The information was made available to U.N. staff working in the Independent Election Commission, or IEC, he said, and the Electoral Complaints Commission, or ECC, "was informed that if they wished, they could have access to this information." he said.

According to the U.N. spreadsheet, first reported by the Washington Post, there were wide discrepancies between the U.N. and the IEC in the south and east where Karzai won by large majorities.

In eastern Paktika province, the U.N. estimated turnout at 35,000 but the IEC reported 206,886 votes were cast, 193,541 for Karzai. And in neighboring Khost, near the Pakistan border, the commission reported 108,473 votes were cast, over 80,000 more than the U.N. estimate of 25,000 voters.

There have also been fraud allegations against Karzai's main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, but to a lesser extend.

The five-member ECC - which includes three members appointed by Eide - is doing recounts and audits of ballots that are suspect because of 100 percent turnout or one candidate with more than 95 percent of votes. The ECC is expected to issue its order to the IEC about how many votes to throw out, and the IEC - whose members were all appointed by Karzai - will then announce the final results, probably sometime next week.

In the initial count by the IEC, Karzai received 54.6 percent of the vote. If Karzai does not get 50 percent when the final results are announced, he will face a runoff against Abdullah, who has alleged widespread fraud by the government and backed Galbraith.

Galbraith told the AP that Eide "is operating on the assumption that the IEC is a nonpartisan, objective institution."

"In fact, it is a pro-Karzai body which was complicit on all the fraud that took place," he said.

Eide said in his rebuttal that his fundamental difference with Galbraith was that "I sided with the institutions" - the IEC and the ECC.

"If one is serious about state-building in Afghanistan, one must allow these nascent institutions to work and to grow," he said. "This means allowing them to make their own mistakes. I was confident that the process had the safeguards it needed."

Three U.N. officials held a news conference at U.N. headquarters Wednesday to back Eide and refute Galbraith's claims.

Edmond Mulet, the assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, said Galbraith proposed closing 1,500 of the 6,900 polling stations because they were in volatile areas, and annulling the election because of fraud and setting up a transitional government - actions which were "completely out of bounds" with the U.N. mandate which was to support the Afghan election process, not to monitor it.

Galbraith countered on Wednesday that he never proposed annulling the election and accused the U.N. of "a desperate attempt to obfuscate the issue in this dispute" which was Eide's failure to deal with fraud.

In his letter to Ban, Galbraith said he learned on Sept. 2 that the IEC was about to abandon its published safeguards against fraud and include a large number of Karzai votes "that it knew to be fraudulent." He said he spoke to the chief electoral officer to urge that the IEC stick with the established procedures which provoked a protest from Afghanistan's foreign minister and a threat from its U.N. ambassador to have him expelled from the country.

Eide said it was not his job nor his deputy's "to become bureaucratic warlords."

"I do not believe that Peter was willfully interfering in the electoral process," Eide said. "But his actions opened him up to the charge that he was. That was a political error on his part. It was carelessness of the sort that we cannot easily afford in Afghanistan."

Galbraith told AP on Wednesday that his intervention stopped the IEC from changing the procedure for five days "and then when they realized it meant Karzai would face a runoff, they went ahead and changed the procedure."

"With 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, the international community clearly has an interest in honest Afghan elections, and that clearly means sticking with the published anti-fraud guidelines," he added.


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