Peter Galbraith: The UN is losing credibility by keeping Karzai in power

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The election fraud in Afghanistan which has brought President Hamid Karzai back for a second term next week has not only shaken the confidence of Nato governments in the whole project. Its mishandling has also undermined the UN's credibility in that country and may well define Ban Ki-Moon's tenure as UN Secretary-General.

Abdullah Abdullah, Mr Karzai's principal challenger in the elections, pulled out of a run-off saying the procedures in place in this UN-funded and supported election were likely to make the second round even more fraudulent than the first round, and he was right. While President Karzai got his second term, he did so in circumstances where many in Afghanistan and the troop-contributing countries do not see him as legitimately in office.

The UN Security Council gave the UN mission in Afghanistan the mandate to support the Afghan electoral institutions in the holding of "free, fair, inclusive and transparent" elections. Unfortunately, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC), the body charged with administering the polls, did not share these goals. Notwithstanding its name, President Karzai appointed all the commissioners and the commission single-mindedly pursued his political agenda. On election day, Mr Karzai received more than one million phoney votes – one third of his total – and in every case commission staff either committed the fraud, collaborated with those who did, or knew about the fraud and failed to report it.

The UN had the authority and the clout to insist on procedures for an honest election. It raised the $300m needed to pay for the Afghan elections and the major troop-contributing countries provided security without which the elections could not have been held at all. Unfortunately, Kai Eide, the Norwegian diplomat in charge of the UN mission, interpreted his mandate in the most passive manner. He insisted the UN had no authority to intervene with the IEC, even when it made blatantly partisan decisions.

As deputy special representative of the UN Secretary-General, I disagreed strongly with Mr Eide's decisions and told him so. I was not, however, the whistleblower I am now said to have been. Unfortunately for me, one of Mr Eide's many detractors within the mission leaked fact of our disagreement to the press. Mr Ban then fired me, even as the UN acknowledged I had no role in making the dispute public. The UN provided no explanation for my removal except the one Mr Ban gave a week ago in London – that I had the misfortune of having a private disagreement become public. Strong organisations and strong leaders welcome robust expressions of opinion and tolerate private dissent. For the UN to argue – as it did to me – that private dissent is acceptable as long as it does not become public is equivalent to suppressing dissent as there is always a risk that private dissent on a high profile matter will become publicly known.

To this charge, Mr Ban added in an interview with The Independent that I wanted to disenfranchise Afghan voters by reducing polling centres for the 20 August presidential elections. I did want to reduce the number of polling centres, but only to eliminate 1,200 which were located in Taliban-controlled territory or in areas so insecure that no one from the election commission staff could go to the place.

These polling centres were never going to open but, as they were inaccessible to observers, candidate agents and voters, they were perfect vehicles for electoral fraud and, since they were not closed, these "ghost" polling centres produced hundreds of thousands of phoney votes, diluting real votes and thereby effectively disenfranchising the millions of Afghans who risked their lives to cast real ballots. Dr Abdullah put forward two main conditions for his participation in the run-off last Saturday. Foremost, he demanded the elimination of the ghost polling centres and a reduction in the number of polling places. This time, Mr Eide supported a reduction by the very number I had proposed in July.

However, the IEC thumbed its collective nose at both Dr Abdullah and the UN, and actually proposed to increase the number of polling centres from that in the first round. The IEC also refused a demand from the UN and Dr Abdullah to fire the hundreds of officials and thousands of IEC staff who stole Afghanistan's presidential election. Without the basic conditions for a fair election in place, Dr Abdullah rightly decided not to ask Afghans again to risk their lives to vote in a sham election.

Not one person who committed the fraud has been prosecuted, disciplined or lost his job. The UN, which was entrusted by the international community to support honest elections, has done nothing to examine its role in a fiasco that has seriously undermined the prospects for democracy and stability in Afghanistan and made the UN itself the subject of attack. Massive fraud took place in Afghanistan's presidential election. So far, I am the only person to lose his job because of it.

The writer was the UN Secretary-General's deputy special representative in Afghanistan from June until October this year

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