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    South Asia
     Dec 19, 2009

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 presidential election.

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 president.

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 Iraqi Kurdistan.

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 world.

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 affair.

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 occupation.

Sreeram Chaulia is associate professor of world politics at the OP Jindal Global University in Sonipat, India.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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