As fears grew of widespread fraud in the Afghanistan election in August, an American diplomat working for the U.N. floated the idea.
As widespread fraud in the Afghanistan presidential election was becoming clear three months ago, the No. 2 United Nations official in the country, the American diplomat Peter Galbraith, proposed enlisting the White House in a plan to replace the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, according to two senior U.N. officials.
Karzai, the officials said, became incensed when he learned of the plan and was told it had been put forth by Galbraith, who had been installed in his position with the strong backing of Richard Holbrooke, the top American envoy to Afghanistan. Holbrooke had himself clashed with the Afghan president over the election.
Galbraith abruptly left the country in early September and was fired weeks later. He has said he believes that he was forced out because he was feuding with his boss, the Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, the top U.N. official in Kabul, over how to respond to what he termed wholesale fraud in the Afghan presidential election.
He accused Eide of concealing the degree of fraud benefiting Karzai. Galbraith said in an interview that he had discussed but never actively promoted the idea of persuading Karzai to leave office.
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Galbraith’s warnings about fraud were largely confirmed in October, when a U.N.-backed audit stripped Karzai of almost one-third of his votes, preventing a first-round victory and forcing him into a runoff. Karzai was proclaimed the winner last month after his challenger withdrew, saying the runoff would not be fair.
But the disclosure of Galbraith’s proposal to replace Karzai, contained in a letter written by Eide and reported in interviews with U.N. and American officials, sheds light on the bitter feud between Galbraith and Eide.
Holbrooke said he was unaware of the idea of replacing Karzai. “And it does not reflect in any way any idea that Secretary (of State Hillary Rodham) Clinton or anyone else in the State Department would have considered,” he said.
Galbraith, a former American ambassador and an influential voice on Iraq, also came under scrutiny recently for his stake in an oil field in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
Eide, who is set to leave his job as head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan by early next year, said Galbraith’s departure from Afghanistan in early September had come immediately after he rejected what he described as Galbraith’s proposal to replace Karzai and install a more Western-friendly figure.
He said he told his deputy the plan was “unconstitutional, it represented interference of the worst sort, and if pursued it would provoke not only a strong international reaction” but also civil insurrection.
It was during this conversation, Eide said, that Galbraith proposed taking a leave to the United States, and Eide accepted.
Galbraith’s proposal would begin with “a secret mission to Washington,” Eide wrote last week in a letter responding to a critical public report of his work by the International Crisis Group, a research organization.
“He told me he would first meet with Vice President Biden,” Eide wrote. “If the vice president agreed with Galbraith’s proposal they would approach President Obama with the following plan: President Karzai should be forced to resign as president.” Then a new government would be installed led by an ex-finance minister, Ashraf Ghani, or ex-interior minister, Ali A. Jalali, both favorites of U.S. officials.