U.N. Official Says He Did Not Ignore Afghan Fraud

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 12, 2009

KABUL, Oct. 11 -- The embattled head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan on Sunday denied allegations by his former American deputy that he chose to ignore evidence of fraud in August's disputed elections and acted in a biased manner that favored President Hamid Karzai.

U.N. special envoy Kai Eide described the Aug. 20 election in Afghanistan as "marred by so many problems, not least, as you know, widespread fraud." But he said neither he nor the mission acted inappropriately during the process.

"What I have done is to implement my mandate with the full support of the international community," he said.

The seven weeks since the election, without a declared winner and with little trust in the process, have thrust Afghanistan into a dangerous political limbo. Eide and the United Nations have been swept up in this controversy because Peter W. Galbraith, his former deputy, accused him of playing down fraud in order to favor Karzai's chances at reelection.

At a news conference in which he was flanked by Western ambassadors, Eide responded to the allegations. He said that they were "personal attacks against me and my integrity" and that "it has not been dignified, it has not been fair, it has not been true."

The public dispute between Eide and Galbraith has roiled the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, leading to Galbraith's firing on Sept. 30 and the resignation of at least three other U.N. employees. It prompted Karzai's challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, to question the credibility of the United Nations, and some Afghan parliament members called for Eide's removal.

"For weeks, Eide had been denying or playing down the fraud in Afghanistan's recent presidential election, telling me he was concerned that even discussing the fraud might inflame tensions in the country," Galbraith wrote Oct. 4 in an article in The Washington Post's Outlook section.

Throughout the election and its aftermath, the United States has sought to appear impartial and to focus publicly on supporting a fair process. But the scope of fraud allegations and concerns over the United Nations' neutrality have made many Afghans doubt the legitimacy of the results.

In what was intended to be a show of international support, Eide appeared at the news conference alongside ambassadors from the United States, Britain and France, although the envoys did not speak or take questions.

The Electoral Complaints Commission is expected to finish this week a review of suspect ballots and fraud claims. Those results will determine whether Karzai, who received 54.6 percent of the vote, wins, or whether enough fraudulent votes are thrown out to force a second-round runoff.

Eide said the dispute has exacerbated an already contentious election by "heightening the temperature" of the discussion about its fairness.

Before his dismissal, Galbraith was the highest-ranking American in the U.N. mission in Afghanistan. He has said he wanted to close polling sites in areas where violence prevented security forces or election officials from attending. He said that such "ghost polling centers," which could not open anyway, produced hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes for Karzai.

Eide said that Galbraith wanted to close 1,200 of the roughly 7,000 polling sites that were initially planned, but that Eide thought too many Afghans would be prevented from voting. With military operations attempting to provide security, Eide thought 6,500 could open, although on election day around 6,200 opened.

"I could not take a decision one month before the election that would already disenfranchise a large number of Afghans," he said. "If we have done that, it would in itself have created an important element of potential instability in the country."

Galbraith also said Eide did not turn over to the Electoral Complaints Commission U.N. data on voter turnout that showed widespread discrepancies between turnout estimates and the number of votes counted, particularly in volatile southern and eastern provinces. Eide said the information -- some of it gathered by phone calls from second- or third-hand sources -- was unreliable.

"I did not prevent any information to go forward that could in any sense contribute to concealing any fraud," he said.

Despite the problems with the election, Eide insisted that a fair decision would emerge. The result, he said, "should be acceptable to the Afghan people."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company