• Galbraith speaks out ; U.N. overlooked fraud, he charges
     | October 02,2009
    AP File Photo

    Peter Galbraith

    MONTPELIER – The firing of Vermonter Peter Galbraith, the United Nations' second highest official in Afghanistan, has stirred an international controversy over the legitimacy of the Afghan election.

    Galbraith, who lives in Townshend, said by telephone Thursday that it was incredible to him that he was recalled by the United Nations in the way that he was. Galbraith has for some time disagreed with Kai Eide, the head of the United Nations mission in the country, over how vigorously to act to prevent and expose fraudulent votes.

    "I had a long-running disagreement with the head of the mission over whether the U.N. ought to take steps before the election to reduce the risk of fraud, and after the election whether to exclude the fraudulent ballots from the count,"

    Galbraith said. Other U.N. officials "wanted to ignore the fraud that had taken place, had initially denied it, then downplayed it," he said.

    The United Nations denied the allegations by Galbraith, a diplomat and author who has had a part to play in negotiation and mediation in conflicts from the former Yugoslavia to Iraq.

    "The Secretary-General has decided to recall Mr. Peter Galbraith from Afghanistan and to end his appointment as the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan," according to a statement by the international organization. "The Secretary-General has made this decision in the best interest of the mission. He reaffirms his full support for his Special Representative, Kai Eide."

    But Galbraith, who until this week was the highest ranking American working for the United Nations in Afghanistan, said the organization has a duty to work towards honest elections.

    "The mission for the United Nations in Afghanistan includes support for free, fair and transparent elections," Galbraith said. In addition taxpayers from other countries – mostly Americans – kicked in more than $300 million towards making the Afghan election a reality, he said.

    "The notion that we had no interest in whether the voting and counting is fair is illogical to me," he said.

    The Unites States and the administration of President Barack Obama is steering clear of his removal by the United Nations as they should, Galbraith said.

    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Galbraith's termination was a United Nations matter. He agreed.

    "I think Secretary Clinton's stance is appropriate," Galbraith said.

    Incidentally, his recommendations about the election both before and after voting were fairly modest, Galbraith said.

    For instance he recommended that those voting places in parts of the country too dangerous, or controlled by the Taliban so it was obvious voters would not be able to use them, should have been shut down, Galbraith said.

    Instead those phantom polling stations provided a perfect way to record votes that may not have taken place, Galbraith said.

    In one cluster of voting spots, citizens cast ballots that were 100 percent for incumbent president Hamid Karzai, and were cast in cohorts of 500 or 512, Galbraith said.

    "They were obviously never going to open," he said of those polling places. "They just recorded the results from these places."

    Galbraith, who considered running for governor of Vermont in the past, said he is not sure what he will do now, although he expects to do some writing and return to his consulting business.

    "I was expecting to be spending the next year in Afghanistan and quite likely longer," he said. "There is certainly a silver lining to this cloud, which is that I am back home in Vermont, a place I love."

    "I am going to participate on the public debate on Afghanistan," Galbraith said.

    Not all of his public policy work may be so far afield, however, he said.

    "I am an active person, I care about public policy," he said. "I will be involved in public life in Vermont."

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