Diplomat Fired in Clash Over Addressing Afghan Vote Fraud

By Colum Lynch and Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 30 -- Peter W. Galbraith, a former U.S. diplomat who served as the second-highest-ranking U.N. official in Afghanistan, was fired Wednesday after clashing with his boss over how to contend with allegations of fraud in the country's presidential election.

Galbraith had pushed the U.N. special representative in Kabul, former Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, to forcefully address the claims of fraud, and the disagreement culminated in Galbraith's abrupt departure from Afghanistan this month.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office issued a statement Wednesday saying he had decided to end Galbraith's appointment as Eide's deputy to serve the "best interest of the mission."

In an interview, Galbraith said his dismissal sent a bad signal about the United Nations' commitment to fair elections.

"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.

Officials from the United States and other NATO countries in Afghanistan have told incumbent President Hamid Karzai that they expected him to win another five-year term. Afghanistan's election commission has said that he won 54.6 percent of the vote, but the United Nations is investigating the results.

In a separate interview, Eide acknowledged Wednesday that the United Nations had collected a lot of information about electoral fraud but said that it could not be handed over to the Afghan officials without verification or without a formal request from them.

"I understand his frustration at the moment," Eide said. But he added that Galbraith had gone "beyond the fabric of the constitution" in his zeal to pursue fraud allegations, including seeking to reduce the number of polling stations because they could not be adequately monitored.

Eide said that it was no longer possible to run a mission with "two voices" and that he had "unanimous" support from the United States and other nations involved in the region.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declined Wednesday to comment on Galbraith's dismissal, saying, "It's a United Nations matter."

The dispute between Galbraith and Eide had rippled through U.N. offices in Kabul for weeks, with staff members taking sides. U.N. sources said most agreed with Galbraith and were frustrated with Eide's more pragmatic approach. "Peter was championing the values that the U.N. stands for here, and almost all of us supported him. There was practically a mutiny over this," said a U.N. source in Kabul, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Diplomatic sources said that Eide believed that Karzai would prevail in the election even if there was no fraud and that the international community should not push the allegations because it could undermine Afghanistan's stability.

On Tuesday, Eide traveled to U.N. headquarters in New York to brief the Security Council and said that although "there has been fraud and irregularities" by the candidates and their supporters, the Afghan election generated unprecedented "public engagement."

Karzai and his major challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, have called for the election review process to be carried out fully and have said they would respect the results.

Abdullah, who has accused Karzai's government of orchestrating "massive state fraud" in the election, said Wednesday that it would be "unfortunate" if Galbraith's removal was due to his push for a "vigorous look" at the allegations of electoral fraud.

Constable reported from Kabul.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company