KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan played down on Wednesday recent anti-Western remarks by President Hamid Karzai, saying they were not aimed at specific countries and would not affect relations between Kabul and the international community.
A war of words between Karzai and the White House escalated on Monday following accusations by the Afghan president last week that the West carried out election fraud in Afghanistan.
Karzai has not backed down from his remarks and appeared to sharpen the criticism further by singling out the United States
for blame. Washington said it was frustrated by the comments and attempts to settle the feud had so far failed.
On Wednesday, Karzai’s chief spokesman, Waheed Omer, said the statements were aimed at individuals who had made fraud allegations and were “not necessarily” directed at any specific country.
“When it comes to fraud in elections, you know, there (were) lots of discussions over the past six or seven months ... one-sided views mainly made by certain figures that I will not name here,” Omer told a news conference in Kabul.
Those figures “do not necessarily represent the country or represent any international organization,” he said.
Karzai made his remarks, Omer said, to avoid a repeat of these fraud allegations in the upcoming parliamentary election.
“So that’s why the president did that, and that was not necessarily targeting any specific country or any specific group of countries,” Omer said.
NO EFFECT ON RELATIONS WITH WEST
In his speech last week, Karzai said foreigners had bribed and threatened election workers to carry out fraud in last year’s presidential election, and singled out the former deputy head of the U.N. mission in Kabul -- U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith -- as well as the French head of a European Union monitoring team.
Omer played down the effects Karzai’s remarks could have on relations with the West.
“It did not have any effect on the strategic relations with the United States and the international community. Our stance and position are the same,” he said.
“Issues that create conflict should be discussed and we hope that these relations get strengthened and reinforced.”
U.S. President Barack Obama met Karzai in Kabul last month during a brief night-time visit to Afghanistan but that visit has largely been overshadowed by Karzai’s remarks.
On Tuesday, the White House suggested it might cancel a meeting between the two leaders in Washington next month.
Omer said Washington needed to clarify whether the trip would be canceled.
“Regarding its cancellation, we don’t have anything specific. This (the visit) is the proposal made by the United States, they should give clarification,” he said.
ELECTION OFFICIALS STEP DOWN
In a development that could help placate Western concerns over fraud ahead of a parliamentary poll in September, Omer said the head of the country’s government-appointed election body and his deputy were to be replaced.
Last year’s presidential election damaged Karzai’s standing among Western countries with troops in Afghanistan after allegations of widespread fraud, including that carried out by officials in the Independent Election Commission (IEC).
It led to months of political limbo, with the IEC declaring Karzai the winner but a separate U.N.-backed body rejecting enough ballots to lower Karzai’s total below 50 percent and force a second round.
“The working period of Mr. Azizullah Ludin, director of the Independent Election Commission, has finished and will not be extended,” Omer said.
“Daoud Ali Najafi has also resigned from his position which has been approved by the president,” he added, referring to the body’s chief electoral officer.
There have been several calls for Ludin to step down since last year’s August 20 vote, and Western diplomats have said the international community would not be pleased if Karzai reappointed him.
Opponents accuse Ludin, a presidential appointee, of favoring Karzai.
Omer said both IEC officials would be replaced soon, adding they would be offered high-ranking positions elsewhere. He did not give more details.
Holding a free and fair parliamentary election is seen as a crucial test for Afghanistan, which faces a resurgent Taliban, despite the presence of tens of thousands of Western troops, more than eight years since the militants’ removal from power.
Editing by Jerry Norton
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