Afghans criticize UN's strong hand in their election

Several analysts and opposition figures in Afghanistan say the UN's decision to fire Peter Galbraith for urging a harder line on election fraud affirms popular fears that it is the international community calling the shots on who wins.

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    UN workers unload boxes of disputed Afghan election ballots Tuesday from a UN helicopter at Kabul International Airport before being transferred to the Independent Elections Commission warehouse for auditing.
    Ahmad Masood/AP
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Before their country's fraud-riddled election in August, some Afghans complained it was the international community that would decide the result. With the United Nations having fired a top diplomat for urging a tougher stand against vote-rigging, a move made public Wednesday, they say they now have proof.

Several Afghan analysts and opposition figures criticized the decision to sack Peter Galbraith, the UN's No. 2 person in Afghanistan, for accusing his boss, Kai Eide, of endorsing a decision by the Independent Election Commission to allow fraudulent ballots to be counted – a move he said gave the election to President Hamid Karzai.

"I think it will further undermine the credibility of the election," says Haroun Mir, head of the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies in Kabul. "The majority of Afghans were already saying the final decision would be decided by the international community."

Everyone was hoping for an impartial decision, Mr. Mir continues, "but unfortunately, it seems the decision is political rather than technical."

According to provisional results, Mr. Karzai won 54.6 percent of the vote, though a recount of 12 percent of polling stations is underway.

Opposition: UN favors Karzai

A member of the campaign team for Karzai's main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, criticized Mr. Galbraith's firing.

"It's surprising that someone who was within the UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] office, who was very … committed to a free and fair elections process – that he would be forced to leave office," the critic says – particularly when "the official mandate of the UN in Kabul is to ensure the accountability and transparency of the elections."

Dr. Abdullah, who took 27.8 percent of the vote, has stopped short of asking for Mr. Eide's removal. But a dozen lawmakers who support Abdullah said Thursday that a fraud investigation by the UN-backed election body in Afghanistan was tainted by bias toward Karzai, and called for criminal investigations. One of them called on Eide to leave the country.

A campaign spokesman for Karzai, Waheed Omar, says of Galbraith's removal: "We do not know of any specific reason for Mr. Galbraith's leaving the country, but obviously we do not think it is because he was being tough on fraud. It is an internal UN issue, and we respect whatever is decided. We don't want to interfere."

Sacking shows US, allies divided over election

Six weeks since the Afghan elections took place, the international community remains divided over how to handle massive allegations of fraud surrounding Karzai's tentative win. Some fear that returning him to power with so little legitimacy would undermine US and NATO efforts to win over the population. Others have continued to back the incumbent.

Galbraith's dismissal highlights the "lack of coordination in the international community. A lot of people are really sick of this election debate countrywide," says Omar Sharifi, an Afghan academic. "The disappointing point is that there is no clear understanding and cohesion about what to do with Afghanistan."

Ehsan Ullah, a schoolteacher from southern Kandahar Province, says: "I was sad to see [Galbraith fired]. If somebody is trying to restore law and then he gets punished for that, then it's terrible. If fraud was committed, then he had to say that, he had to pursue that, he had to investigate that. Why did he get punished? He was sent for that."

Some people, especially Abdullah supporters in the north, may take the row as further reason to reject the authority of any future Karzai government, says Mir. "It may not lead to violence immediately, but this isn't a question of a year or two. It's the next five years," he says.

Northern Afghanistan has grown increasingly unstable over the summer, with the central government unable to assert its authority in the region.

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