The Firing Of Peter Galbraith

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on October 2, 2009

In the event that you are not familiar with this story, Peter Galbraith, who was serving as the second-highest ranking UN official in Afghanistan, was fired over an argument with his superior, Kai Eide, the UN special representative in Afghanistan, concerning allegations of fraud in the presidential race between Hamid Karzai, and the former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah. Galbraith was pushing for a tough statement on allegations of fraud, and the UN was holding back.

Now, Galbraith has given an interview concerning the dispute and his firing. Included in the discussion of the interview is the following passage:

Although the differences between the two were many, [Galbraith] 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.

Obviously, the allegations of fraud in the presidential election are disturbing; they interfere with out conception of the elections as representing a healthy expression of democratic engagement on the part of te Afghan people. But there seems to be little doubt that in fact, the Afghan elections were riddled with fraud. That doesn’t take away from the admiration one ought to feel for Afghans who braved violence and threats of violence to case their votes, and it does not take away from the sense of mission we ought to feel concerning Afghanistan’s reconstruction and the need to defeat the Taliban. But there is no point in denying the problems with the presidential election, or the degree to which political fraud could undermine international efforts to assist Afghanistan.

And yet, the United Nations appears determined to shut its eyes to evidence of fraud. Those who wonder why it is that so many–especially on the Right–believe that the UN is a disappointing and under-performing institution, ought to examine how it has responded to reports of corruption and vote-rigging in Afghanistan. They will find in this story all of the evidence they need to support the argument that the UN is in need of serious reform before it can be considered a credible international actor.

In the meantime, it would be nice if the Obama Administration would come out in support of Peter Galbraith’s efforts to speak truth to power. But as the initial Washington Post story linked in this post points out, the State Department has chosen not to get involved, believing that the dispute between Galbraith and the UN is an internal matter for the organization to contend with.

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