|UN's Afghan mission takes a hit
By Sreeram Chaulia
The revelation by the United Nations' special representative
to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, that his former deputy, the
scandal-ridden American ex-diplomat, Peter Galbraith, had
plotted a meticulous step-by-step scheme to
unconstitutionally depose and replace President Hamid Karzai
has invited fresh embarrassment for the world organization.
Norwegian Eide's allegations follow acrimonious exchanges
with Galbraith earlier this year that resulted in the latter
being fired in September from his position as the deputy UN
envoy to Afghanistan. After being shown the door, Galbraith
lashed out at Eide for allegedly covering up Karzai's
fraudulent abuse of state power to rig the August 2009
The American accused Eide of effectively colluding with
Karzai to conceal the underhanded means used by the
incumbent president to get himself re-elected for a second
term. Since the Afghan
Independent Election Commission (IEC) was under UN tutelage,
Galbraith's charges amounted to vilifying the UN as a
partisan player that
was hand-in-glove with cheating the Afghan electorate of its
verdict by stamping a seal of approval over an illegitimate
Eide is due to step down in January, saying that he will not
seek an extension of his two-year term. However, Galbraith
has hit back, saying that Eide was forcibly removed. "This
was involuntary and inevitable, ever since the end of
September," Galbraith was reported as saying.
"Kai's problem was that he valued his relationship with
Karzai above all else, including having honest elections,"
Galbraith said. "He was so discredited by the way he handed
the election and the fallout from engineering my ouster. He
cut his own throat," the Cable quoted Galbraith as saying.
Eide's mission is to unite the civilian efforts in
Afghanistan, especially important now as the West plans a
civilian "surge" in reconstruction efforts to complement
Obama's 30,000-strong troop reinforcement. The unseemly
public fight will not do these efforts any good. In
addition, Eide's mission has been halved in size following
the evacuation of 600 staff following a Taliban suicide
attack that killed six UN workers in October.
Galbraith projected a self-image of occupying the moral high
ground as a whistleblower that was exposing the UN's
favoritism for Karzai. But Eide's team in Afghanistan, which
investigated numerous complaints of massive fraud in the
polls, eventually did not give Karzai a clean chit of
approval. After two months of wrangling and agonizing over
the trade-offs between securing a stable outcome to meet the
rising Taliban threat and of respecting the Afghan people's
will, the UN invalidated one-third of Karzai's votes as
ill-gotten. It pushed the IEC to announce a runoff with his
closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, in November.
That the runoff could not be conducted eventually was
because of domestic Afghan politics and Abdullah's
withdrawal from the contest. The UN had actually not meddled
in a biased manner to tilt the scales in favor of Karzai.
But the Galbraith-Eide feud certainly left a bad taste that
the UN mission in Afghanistan was riddled with controversy.
Now, three months after Galbraith's stormy departure from
the UN, Eide has reopened the rumor mills by implicating the
former envoy in an international conspiracy to unseat Karzai
and replace him with a US-preferred candidate, such as the
former finance minister, Ashraf Ghani, or the former
interior minister, Ali Jalali. Eide claims that Galbraith -
while still being on UN duty - intended to embark on a
"secret mission to Washington" to leverage his closeness to
US Vice President Joseph Biden and convince him and
President Barack Obama to force Karzai to resign.
Galbraith is indeed known to enjoy access to the top rungs
of the current American political leadership, having been
acknowledged as a long-time adviser on the Middle East to
policymakers like Biden and John Kerry, the chairman of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It is inconceivable that
Galbraith could be appointed to the sensitive office of
deputy UN envoy to Afghanistan without his high reach within
the Obama administration.
What is more, he seems to have been nominated to the UN
mission in Afghanistan despite knowledge in Washington about
his questionable involvement in Iraq a few years ago. While
not holding any official US governmental post then,
Galbraith had been an aide to the Kurdish regional
government in Iraq and acted as a behind-the-scenes drafter
of portions of the Iraqi constitution which granted Kurds
complete control over hotly contested oil fields.
It is also now public knowledge that Galbraith
simultaneously acted as a mediator for the Norwegian oil
company, DNO, to acquire drilling rights in the Dohuk region
of Kurdistan in 2004. The New York Times reported that the
commission in this deal was a lucrative 5% stake
(approximately US$115 million) in the Tawke oil field of
What was particularly amiss with Galbraith's shadowy role in
Iraq was his open advocacy for a trifurcation of the country
along ethnic lines (a Sunni state, a Shi'ite state and a
Kurdish state), a line that enraged nationalistic Iraqis and
the central government in Baghdad. For a private American
citizen to author bits of the Iraqi constitution and meddle
in delicate political issues at a time of turmoil won him
few friends in the Iraqi central government. His polarizing
personality seemed to reify fears that the US was meddling
beyond tolerable limits in the post-Saddam Hussein
dispensation. Now, with Eide's revelations of Galbraith's
attempts to act as a coup-maker in Afghanistan, the
impression will intensify that he was interfering in an
unacceptable manner in internal affairs of the country.
Galbraith was placed in the saddle as the UN deputy envoy on
the strong recommendations of the Obama administration's
special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard
Holbrooke. Both Holbrooke and Biden are now denying directly
meeting or talking to Galbraith about his "evict Karzai"
design, but the fact that these two American policymakers
were outspokenly angry with the Afghan president does lend
some credence to Eide's fresh salvos.
A senior UN official is on record that one of Holbrooke's
staff members was present at meetings in which Galbraith
discussed his anti-Karzai maneuvers. The US vice president's
staffers have also admitted to being contacted by Galbraith
while he was with the UN to "talk about" Afghanistan.
Unfortunately for the UN, the whole imbroglio is likely to
tarnish its image further as a neutral organization that
works for the benefit of all. The precedent of several UN
agencies and funds having an American "number two" in the
hierarchy is well-established and understood inside the UN
system as a quid pro quo for the enormous financial
contributions Washington makes to the organization's budget.
That the US tries to pull the strings via its political
nominees in various UN missions is also clear.
Galbraith's example adds fuel to the fire that the UN is
subservient to American interests and allows itself to be
suborned far too often in different strategic regions of the
The present brouhaha over Galbraith on the UN's credibility
bears echoes to the discovery by the Iraqi government in
1998 that the international weapons inspection program (UNSCOM)
was fatally infiltrated by American and British spies. The
then-American administration of president Bill Clinton had
deliberately placed these people undercover inside UNSCOM to
penetrate Saddam Hussein's security apparatus with the
possible intent of overthrowing his government.
Karzai, however dubious his own re-election, is bound to
react with as much indignation at the Galbraith affair as
Saddam did after detecting American moles in UNSCOM. The UN
has slowly admitted that one of the reasons for Galbraith's
dismissal in September was Karzai's lividness at the whole
The biggest loser from this fracas is the United Nations,
far more than the US. Given the historical track record of
the US using devious methods to capture international
organizations to serve its self-interests, the Galbraith
saga would not redound that badly on Washington. But it does
throw egg on the face of the UN as a Trojan Horse that is
compromised by American machinations.
Despite nominal rule by some kind of elected local
representative, Afghanistan is today very much under
informal American suzerainty and military occupation. The
UN's washing of dirty linen in public over Galbraith
confirms the worst-case public relations disaster of the
world organization being perceived as buttressing this
Sreeram Chaulia is associate professor of world
politics at the OP Jindal Global University in Sonipat,
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