Ex-UN Afghan deputy denies conspiracy

AP News
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Posted: Dec 17, 2009 5:49 PM

The former deputy U.N. chief in Afghanistan said Thursday that he had proposed replacing the Afghan president with an interim government to avert a constitutional crisis if a fraud-marred election could not be resolved in time. He denied the suggestion that it was a plot against President Hamid Karzai.

Peter Galbraith, the highest-ranking American in the U.N. mission in Afghanistan at the time of the election last summer, disputed a report in the New York Times that he wanted to enlist the White House to force out Karzai. The newspaper said Karzai, who was under criticism for his leadership and for allegedly tolerating corruption, was enraged when he learned of the plan.

The Associated Press telephoned members of Karzai's staff for comment but none answered the phone. Karzai has complained that allegations of electoral fraud were overblown.

Galbraith told the AP that the interim government proposal went nowhere because the head of the U.N. mission, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, rejected it. Galbraith left the country four days after making the proposal and was fired by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Sept. 30. He has started U.N. proceedings to challenge his termination.

He disputed any suggestion that he had gone to the U.S. Embassy staff with a proposal to get rid of Karzai. "It didn't happen," he said.

Galbraith, who served as the first U.S. ambassador to Croatia, has been an active voice in foreign policy debates in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s and loudly sounded an alarm about electoral cheating while serving in Kabul.

He said he believes he was forced out because of his allegations that Eide was not aggressive enough in exposing fraud committed during the Aug. 20 ballot on behalf of Karzai. The Afghan leader was declared the winner after his last remaining challenger dropped out a few days before a scheduled November runoff.

In a telephone interview, Galbraith said there "was no plot" to oust Karzai unconstitutionally. Instead, Galbraith characterized the plan as a recommendation to avoid a constitutional crisis, which he believed would have developed had the election process dragged on into the coming year.

Karzai's term was to have ended on May 21 but was extended by the Afghan Supreme Court after the election commission postponed the vote from last spring until August, citing organizational problems.

Nearly three weeks after the election, the Karzai-appointed election commission announced that Karzai had won with 54 percent of the votes _ enough to avoid a runoff with his top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

However, Karzai's victory proclamation was withheld because of the allegations of massive fraud. Galbraith said U.N.-backed auditors reported it would take them several months to review the disputed ballots, potentially forcing the runoff to April or May of next year after the winter snows had melted.

"This raised the question as to who would be president of Afghanistan until then," Galbraith said. "His continuation until May 2010 ... would have been deeply divisive and unconstitutional."

Galbraith said he raised the issue on Sept. 9 with Eide. Galbraith said his notes from that meeting showed Eide saying that "Karzai's continuation in office is not desirable." He said several U.N. staff members confirmed that Eide proposed replacing Karzai.

Eide rejected the interim government plan the following day, and Galbraith said, "I accepted the decision." He said he left the country four days later so Eide "could handle the elections as he saw fit."

In Norway, Eide told the AP that he never considered an interim government as a temporary solution and defended his role in the elections.

"The end result of the situation was not ideal. But we managed to detect the fraud, and it forced the electoral process into the second round," he said. "A solution was found. It was not ideal. But we have a situation in Afghanistan now which is stable."

Three U.S. officials said that to the best of their knowledge, Galbraith's proposal never had any support from the Obama administration. They said Galbraith mentioned it at a meeting attended by Deputy Ambassador Frank Ricciardone but that it was rejected as antidemocratic. They said Galbraith was not a U.S. government employee and was not reflecting U.S. policy.

Galbraith said he had no clear recollection of the meeting. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to reveal such conversations.

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Reid reported from Kabul, Lederer from the United Nations. Matthew Lee in Washington and Ian MacDougall in Oslo, Norway also contributed to this report.