Peter W. Galbraith served as United Nations deputy envoy to Afghanistan from June to September 2009. He was fired after urging the U.N. to respond to what he described as "massive electoral fraud" committed by the Afghan Independent Election Commission during the 2009 national elections.
1. Why do you think Karzai blamed you specifically for election fraud during last year's national elections?
I can't imagine why Karzai would accuse me of orchestrating the fraud. As is well known, I thought the U.N. had a responsibility to prevent fraud in what were U.N.-funded and U.N.-supported elections. My superiors felt so strongly that the U.N. should not get involved that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon fired me.
Karzai's accusation that I was behind the fraud is therefore exceptionally bizarre. He claims I committed the fraud -- involving more than one million phony Karzai votes -- so I could leak this to the media and weaken him.
Obviously it raises more questions about his state of mind than about anything I did.
It is interesting, though, that he now admits his re-election was fraudulent.
2. Why do you think Karzai has recently been lashing out against the U.S. to Afghan officials and parliamentarians? Do you think there is credence to the idea that he is simply posturing himself as an independent leader who is the sole arbiter for reconciliation talks with the Taliban?
Afghans see the same weird behavior that we do. Afghans know Karzai's was not legitimately re-elected, and they wonder why he would make such improbable allegations [and thereby draw renewed attention to the elections]. The NATO coalition is reasonably popular with many Afghans, and Afghans rightly worry that Karzai's antics will alienate his country's most important supporters.
3. On Tuesday, the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs declined to say whether Karzai is an ally or not. Is he an ally? Yes, but not a useful one. I think Gibbs was wrong to call Karzai the democratically elected leader of Afghanistan. It undermines U.S. credibility when the White House says something Afghans know is not true.
4. Do you think that U.S. public pressure from the Obama administration on Karzai to fight corruption helps or hurts the effort to achieve that end? Karzai has no desire to fight corruption and is not capable of so doing. Stealing an election is the ultimate corrupt act as it enables all subsequent larceny.
Of course, the Obama administration has to make the effort but there is no prospect that it will make a material difference.
5. What needs to be done to have an honest election in September? What are your expectations? Will we see honest elections this time?
If Afghanistan's electoral machinery remains unchanged, there is no prospect that the fall parliamentary elections will be honest. Elections in Afghanistan are the responsibility of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which is not independent at all. Karzai appoints the IEC members, and they do his bidding. The IEC, or its staff, were complicit in every case of significant fraud in the 2009 presidential elections. To make matters worse, Karzai promulgated a decree in February giving him the power to appoint all five members of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), a previously independent body that threw out hundreds of thousands of phony Karzai votes.
Fortunately, the West has enormous leverage over Afghanistan's electoral processes. Unless Western donors pay for Afghanistan's elections, they cannot be held. The U.S. should provide no funds for Afghanistan's elections until Karzai rescinds the decree giving him control over the ECC and until Afghanistan establishes a genuinely independent IEC with no Karzai appointees. If the Obama administration is unwilling to be tough, Congress should place such a condition into the law appropriating election funding.
U.S. taxpayers provided $200 million to pay for the fraudulent 2009 presidential elections. We were ripped off. President Obama and the Congress should make sure that does not happen again.
6. You were fired over your bringing allegations of fraud to your superior, Kai Eide, the U.N. special representative to Afghanistan. As we become more aware that corruption is still an enormous problem in Afghanistan, do you feel somewhat vindicated in your decision to bring the allegations to light?
I feel completely vindicated but that is small consolation. It would be much better if the U.N. hierarchy had supported steps last summer that might have mitigated the fraud and avoided a prolonged political crisis that undermines all the U.S. and the U.N. seek to accomplish in Afghanistan.
7. Critics say you may be right about corruption in Afghanistan, but you are being pessimistic. Is this true? True. I see no prospects for improvement under current circumstances.
8. What tools can effectively fight corruption in Afghanistan, as far as U.S. tools, or Afghan government action?
The U.S. needs to recognize that stealing a national election is the most debilitating possible corruption. The Obama administration and the Congress should use its financial leverage to make sure Karzai doesn't steal this year's parliamentary elections.
9. How optimistic are you about the prospect of Afghan government reconciliation with the Taliban and other insurgent groups?
I support negotiations with the Taliban leadership. As we are unlikely to defeat them, negotiation is the only way to end the war. At the moment, the Taliban must feel things are going their way. They operate in more of the country than ever before, Karzai is visibly unglued, and domestic support for the Afghanistan war is eroding in key troop-contributing countries. So, the Taliban may well believe they have more to gain from fighting than from negotiation. Still, negotiations are worth a try.
10. You characterize the war in Afghanistan as one that cannot be won nor lost. Is this war a quagmire in your opinion?
Yes. We can't defeat the Taliban because we don't have a credible local partner. The Taliban, which is an entirely Pashtun movement, cannot take territory in the half of Afghanistan that is not Pashtun and they cannot take Kabul.