KABUL (Reuters) - President Hamid Karzai accused the West on Thursday of trying to ruin Afghanistan’s elections, intensifying a showdown with parliament over whether foreigners will oversee a parliamentary vote this year.
Karzai’s international reputation took a beating after a U.N.-backed fraud watchdog threw out a third of the votes cast for him in last year’s presidential election. He is now wrangling with parliament and the United Nations over fraud protection measures for a parliamentary vote due in September.
“Foreigners will make excuses, they do not want us to have a parliamentary election,” a defiant Karzai told a gathering of election officials. “They want parliament to be weakened and battered, and for me to be an ineffective president and for parliament to be ineffective.”
“You have gone through the kind of elections during which you were not only threatened with terror, you also faced massive interference from foreigners,” Karzai told the officials. “Some embassies also tried to bribe the members of the commission.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley rejected Karzai’s accusations the West wanted to see the Afghan parliament weakened and for him to be ineffective.
“We do not accept that judgment,” Crowley said.
What was important, said Crowley, was that Karzai be seen by his own people as governing effectively and that he take “measurable” steps against corruption. “Karzai has to step forward,” Crowley told reporters.
Karzai singled out Peter Galbraith, the American former deputy of the U.N. mission in Kabul, sacked after accusing his boss of turning a blind eye to fraud, and French General Philippe Morillon, head of an EU vote monitoring mission.
“There was fraud in the presidential and provincial election, with no doubt there was massive fraud. This wasn’t fraud by Afghans but the fraud of foreigners, the fraud of Galbraith, of Morillon and the votes of the Afghan nation were in the control of an embassy,” Karzai said.
He accused Galbraith of telling an election official he would be “digging himself an early grave” if Karzai was declared first round winner and said Morillon had tried to block the announcement of results to force Karzai to accept a political alliance.
Galbraith told Reuters in a telephone interview that Karzai’s accusations were “ludicrous.”
“It’s preposterous of him to accuse me of fraud,” said Galbraith, who also denied telling election officials anything except to follow published guidelines.
Last year’s election stand-off — which ended when the U.N.-backed body ordered a second round but Karzai’s opponent quit — eroded support in the West for the eight-year-old war.
A new election confrontation could further sour public opinion in a decisive year, when Washington is sending an extra 30,000 troops.
Ahead of September’s parliamentary poll, Karzai issued a decree in February revoking the power of the United Nations to appoint the majority of members of the election fraud watchdog.
The lower house of parliament rejected Karzai’s decree on Wednesday, a move diplomats described as a rebuke for the president, although the motion would still need to pass in the upper house to restore U.N. oversight of the vote.
Karzai told the election officials and reporters his decree was vital to Afghanistan’s sovereignty.
The United Nations has called for reforms to Afghanistan’s election commission to prevent fraud before it will agree to free up donor funds needed to pay for the September 18 vote.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the world body would not comment on Karzai’s accusations. “We have made clear the efforts by the United Nations to determine and to deal with allegations of fraud and we stand by that,” Haq told journalists on Thursday at U.N. headquarters in New York.
Karzai said: “The foreigners have said if you don’t dismiss these men, we will not give you any money.” He added that he would announce changes to the election commission next week.
The fraud watchdog is a separate body, which was led by a Canadian during last year’s election and ordered the election commission to overturn Karzai’s first round victory.
New U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura accepted a compromise offer from Karzai this month that would let the United Nations appoint a minority of members of the fraud watchdog, rather than the majority as it did last year. Parliament’s rejection of Karzai’s decree means the status of that deal is now in doubt.
“I am working on it. That’s all I can say,” de Mistura told Reuters late on Wednesday.
Additional reporting by Basil Katz at the United Nations and Sue Pleming in Washington; Editing by Peter Graff, Ron Popeski and Mohammad Zargham