UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations on Wednesday dismissed the top U.S. diplomat at the U.N. mission in Afghanistan after he quarreled with his European boss over the Afghan presidential election.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had decided to “recall” Peter Galbraith, deputy to U.N. special envoy Kai Eide, and end his appointment, said a statement issued by Ban’s press office.
Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia and ally of Richard Holbrooke, the outspoken U.S. point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan, angered his Norwegian boss with an aggressive and outspoken line on charges of fraud in the August 20 election.
Ban thanked Galbraith “for his hard work and professional dedication” and recognized his “important contributions to the work of the (U.N.) mission” but made the decision in the best interest of the mission, the statement said.
Galbraith left Kabul two weeks ago after he and Eide quarreled. U.N. officials acknowledged the dispute at the time but played it down as a difference over “style,” and said they expected Galbraith to return.
Speaking from his home in Vermont, Galbraith told Reuters that while he had expected to have to go, he was only formally notified on Wednesday when he called the United Nations after seeing it reported in the media.
“I find it extraordinary that the United Nations would dismiss an official because he was concerned about fraud in an election funded by the United Nations,” Galbraith said.
“(The Afghan people) deserved to have their votes honestly counted and that is at the heart of this dispute,” he said. “In the end, I felt I could not be complicit in the cover-up or downplay of fraud.”
Galbraith said Afghan President Hamid Karzai did not appreciate him raising his concerns and that “the leader of the mission (Eide) was frankly unwilling to do anything that would upset his relationship with Karzai.”
He said he would return to Kabul next month to “pack up and say goodbye,” adding that while he had been friends with Eide for many years — the pair sailed together and Eide introduced Galbraith to his wife — their ties were “a bit strained.”
The dispute has exposed divisions among Afghanistan’s Western backers over how to deal with the presidential election, which was marred by allegations of widespread fraud and locked Afghanistan in a prolonged period of uncertainty.
Holbrooke had a difficult meeting with Karzai after the election.
Preliminary results gave Karzai a 54.6 percent lead, but a U.N.-backed fraud watchdog has ordered an audit of results from 12 percent of polling stations where suspiciously large numbers of votes were cast or one candidate received 95 percent.
The process could last until mid-October.
If enough of Karzai’s ballots are nullified because of suspected fraud that he no longer has 50 percent, he must face his main rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, in a runoff.
Abdullah, who says fraud took place on a massive scale, expressed concern that Galbraith was pushed out for campaigning to prevent electoral fraud.
“If the firing of Mr. Galbraith was on some technical issue, I have no say in it. If the issue was based on the fact that he was for a vigorous look into the issue of fraud, in that case, I would say that he has been talking on behalf of the people of Afghanistan,” Abdullah told reporters.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was chairing a U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday, told reporters the Galbraith affair was “a United Nations matter.”
Arsala Jamal, a Karzai campaign official, also called Galbraith’s removal an internal U.N. issue.
Reporting by Patrick Worsnip and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Peter Graff, Sayed Salahudding and Maria Golovnina in Kabul; Editing by Peter Cooney