Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

International Engagement

BREAKING NEWS: Ban Fires Galbraith

Thomas Ruttig 3 min

Watch the UN website tonight: The UN Security Council has decided to fire Peter W. Galbraith, the American deputy head of its Afghanistan mission UNAMA. An announcement by Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on this step is expected to be published tonight (GMT).

The reason to be given: serious differences of opinion with UNAMA boss Kai Eide in regard to how to tackle the massive fraud that occurred during the Afghan presidential election of 20 August.

Galbraith had already been ordered out of Afghanistan by Eide on 13 September for a ‘leave’ after he had put ‘”pointed” questions’ on electoral fraud to officials of the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) during a meeting while Eide was travelling abroad privately. He prevented the IEC from announcing a final result that would have declared incumbent Hamed Karzai the winner of the poll before complaints were duly investigated by the initially UN- and Western-backed Electoral Complaints Commission.

This had highlighted divisions between a majority amongst the mission’s senior staff that supported investigations of the fraud allegedly mainly committed by the incumbent’s election team. When Galbraith was sent abroad, according to the Times of London members of the mission demonstratively saw him off and praised his principled stand and criticized Eide: ‘The one thing the UN should be doing, which it’s not doing, is speaking up on election fraud.’

The Norwegian Eide, meanwhile, keeps following a course that would not alienate the UN again from President Hamed Karzai while relations between Karzai and some leading Western countries had soured following open criticism of his lack of resolve in fighting administrative corruption and allegation about a President’s brother’s links with the drug trade. Meanwhile, Karzai accused some governments of undermining him by supporting his rivals and by trying to deal with the Taleban behind his back.
A few days before the first part of the Galbraith affair broke UNAMA was busy hunting down a whistle-blower who had pointed to hundreds of ‘ghost polling stations’ in which votes had been fabricated.

Galbraith only had taken up his post on 2 June. Prematurely but prophetically, Afghan Tolo TV had already announced on 16 September that he was fired from UNAMA. The Spokesman of the mission, then had confirmed the differences but denied the 58-year-old diplomat’s dismissal.

Kai Eide had briefed the Security Council in New York on Tuesday (read the new UNSC report on Afghanistan here).

During the briefing, he noted ‘fraud and irregularities by many parties in the elections, in addition to a low turnout’ but emphasized ‘the positive side, including the fact that the Independent Electoral Commission had done its utmost to provide access to voters in a country plagued by conflict, weak infrastructure, weak institutions and a huge illiterate population faced with 41 candidates’. He added that ‘[m]ost Afghans wished to see the election process end, a Government formed and their lives improved’ but failed to mention that many Afghans – not so ‘unaccustomed to voting‘ as Eide claimed, as the 2002 Loya Jirga selection and election process as well as the 2004 presidential election had shown – also expect a legitimate government to emerge.

NATO countries now support Eide’s course: The Washington Post of today reports that the US and other NATO foreign ministers from the groups of ‘Friends of Afghanistan’ had ‘reached “consensus” that Karzai would probably “continue to be president”’ and assured him their further cooperation.

This announcement is a clear climb-down from statements like ‘we will not be party to any whitewash when it comes to the elections’ (spokesman of the British Embassy in Kabul), ‘I don’t think we should precipitate this […]. We would like to see things going faster but the most important thing is that we have a result that is credible in the end’ (EU foreign policy chief JavierSolana) and ‘[w]e cannot ignore allegations of fraud and we will insist among the European foreign ministers that these will be scrutinized. It is crucial that the newly elected president has the respect of the whole Afghan population’ (outgoing German foreign minister Steinmeier).

This step renders the ongoing ECC fraud investigation – already seen as a face-saving exercise by observers in Kabul – practically meaningless. Again, it puts (assumed) political expediency over due process. Those Afghans that had argued that their elections were meaningless because ‘the US’ will appoint their leader anyway and decided to stay home on 20 August will feel affirmed in their cynicism. The whole affair is another Western disservice to Afghan democracy.


Peter Galbraith UN