- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 11, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | The abrupt firing of the top American in the U.N. mission in Afghanistan - before the last ballots in the August presidential election could be vetted - has turned into a verbal melee in which the head of the mission and his ousted deputy are loudly accusing each other of permitting fraud and hiding evidence.

The feud between Peter Galbraith and Kai Eide has not derailed the work of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), according to the United Nations, nor has it demoralized many of the 1,500 staffers who work on humanitarian, human rights and political issues.

But it has cast a darker cloud over the election process, with final results expected to be released Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the enmity between Mr. Galbraith and Mr. Eide is still smoldering.

“He is good in the humanitarian work and outreach,” Mr. Galbraith said of his former boss, “but that is not true of his administration.”

Other critics are harsher.

Anthony Cordesman, a military specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told a Washington audience recently that Mr. Eide “needs to be replaced as soon as possible.”

“The U.N. effort under Kai Eide has been terribly managed,” Mr. Cordesman said.

U.N. agencies and programs have been active in Afghanistan since it joined the world body in 1946. U.N. workers remained even while the Taliban ruled from 1996 to 2001. The mission has expanded several times over the years, but still centers around stability and development, with human rights, humanitarian assistance and political issues gaining prominence.

The Security Council created UNAMA after the fall of the Taliban as a civilian body tucked into the peacekeeping department. The mission - which works closely with U.S.-led forces - maintains a civilian profile and has a budget of about $170 million for the year ending June 2009. The mission has field offices in 34 provinces, and Afghans comprise about 80 percent of the mission’s staffers.

UNAMA works with nongovernmental organizations to build physical infrastructure in a mountainous, nearly roadless country. The organization has tried to discourage farmers from planting poppies and to grow vegetables and fruit instead.

But Afghanistan remains firmly tethered at the bottom of U.N. quality-of-life rankings.

Critics say the international community as a whole has done a poor job of building Afghan civil institutions since the Taliban was toppled.

Mr. Cordesman, speaking at the Nixon Center, said the aid effort had been poorly coordinated, that too much money spent by charitable groups goes to “overhead and corruption” and that the Afghan civil service, instead of being reinstituted, “has disappeared and become translators and drivers.”

Mr. Cordesman also said it was a mistake to try to create an “instant democracy” in Afghanistan, a country that had a period of peace as a monarchy followed by three decades of foreign occupation, insurgency and civil war.

Much of the criticism of UNAMA focuses on the Aug. 20 elections.

Mr. Galbraith has accused Mr. Eide of trying to hide U.N. findings that tens of thousands of ballots counted by Afghan authorities were never actually cast.

He says he was fired from his UNAMA post because he confronted his boss about openly favoring incumbent President Hamid Karzai and asking staff members to cover up fraud.

“It has gotten very personal,” said Edmond Mulet, the assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, which oversees UNAMA. “There was no way they could continue to work together.”

Mr. Eide waited until Thursday to respond. He issued a four-paragraph statement rejecting Mr. Galbraith’s allegations as “patently false.”

“Over the past days, the United Nations and I have endured repeated attacks in the media,” Mr. Eide said. “I intend to deal openly with all these allegations against the U.N. and myself relating to fraud and bias at the appropriate time.”

Well before the Aug. 20 vote, U.S. election observers warned U.N. officials in Kabul that it would be nearly impossible to have a legitimate election without a prior census and voter registration.

Unlike the elections in 2004, which were run by the United Nations, Afghans organized the 2009 election with limited support from the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations.

Under Afghan law, two panels were responsible for conducting the elections, counting the votes and discarding fraudulent ballots.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) set the rules, while the Election Complaints Commission (EEC) is dealing with 2,500 documented complaints.

The five EEC commissioners were selected by prominent Afghans and international advisers. The IEC’s 10 commissioners were chosen by Mr. Karzai.

The IEC announced an initial count last month that gave nearly 55 percent of the votes to Mr. Karzai and 28 percent to his top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. A runoff would be required if Mr. Karzai gets less than 50 percent of the vote, although it would be difficult to have another election before the spring. The Washington Times has reported that the international community is preparing for another Karzai term no matter the final tally.

U.N. officials have quietly tried to undermine Mr. Galbraith in background briefings with the political and peacekeeping specialists and by slipping reporters articles that challenge Mr. Galbraith’s credibility.

One official gave The Times a copy of a 16-year-old Newsweek profile of Mr. Galbraith, then the Clinton administration’s ambassador to Croatia, accusing him of allowing Iran to sell arms to Bosnian Muslims despite an international arms embargo.

The article also comments on Mr. Galbraith’s media skills.

Mr. Galbraith has given dozens of interviews since he returned home to Vermont last month, challenging Mr. Eide’s credibility.

He has asserted that five UNAMA staff members will quit their jobs because they didn’t want to work without him.

Mr. Mulet denied this.

“Only one person left because of Galbraith, and that was his personal assistant,” Mr. Mulet said. “There are always routine comings and goings” of staff moving to different jobs or leaving the country, he said.

As for UNAMA as a whole, Mr. Mulet said, it was “just fine” despite Mr. Galbraith’s expulsion.

Mr. Mulet said Mr. Galbraith’s criticisms haven’t resonated with most UNAMA staffers, who are preoccupied with trying to do their jobs despite car bombs and other attacks on foreigners in a country that has always been wary of outsiders.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly affirmed his “full confidence” in Mr. Eide and said that he authorized the Norwegian to fire his deputy “in the best interests of the mission.”

The Obama administration Friday added its endorsement.

“The United States fully supports United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and Special Representative Kai Eide in UNAMA’s oversight of and support for Afghanistan’s election processes on behalf of the world community,” the State Department said in an e-mail late Friday afternoon.

“We are in close cooperation with UNAMA and Ambassador Eide, and believe that the agency and its leadership have shown sound judgment in the conduct of their mission.”

Barbara Slavin contributed to this report from Washington.

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