Posts Tagged ‘Peter Galbraith’

Obama Snubs Abdullah During Latter’s Trip to Washington

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Margaret Warner interviewed Hamid Karzai’s opponent in the August 20, 2009 presidential elections in Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, on the Newshour on Friday, May 21. See “Karzai Opponent Abdullah Seeks to Bolster Afghan Opposition Movement,” Newshour Newsmaker Interview (video and transcript), aired May 21, 2010.

One of the more startling pieces of information to come from the interview was that Presdient Barack Obama and his administration have been snubbing Dr. Abdullah during his present week-long visit to Washington. The following exchange occurred:

MARGARET WARNER: You’re here for more than a week. You’re meeting with members of Congress. You’re leading an opposition bloc, a movement. Yet, you’re not meeting with anyone in the Obama administration. Why not?

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: I had put a request for meetings. And the meetings with the Congress and Senate and all the speaking events are scheduled. The administration has not come back with an answer. Perhaps they are busy. I’m OK.

It is difficult to understand why President Obama’s embrace of Hamid Karzai, who committed massive fraud in the first-round elections on August 20, and whose failure to take steps to ensure that the fraud would not be repeated in the second round led Dr. Abdullah to withdraw from the race, precludes meetings by the president himself and other high U.S. officials with the second most popular politician in Afghanistan.

In fact, the United States tilted hard in favor of Karzai, and against Abdullah, long before the results of the first-round election were announced–over two monts after they were held.

The United States has never publicly explained why it is against Dr. Abdullah, who in in his public statements appears to be moderate, pro-U.S., measured in his assessments of developments in the country, and on the whole eminently reasonable.

The Obama administration owes us such an explanation.

Given Karzai’s manipulation of the electoral law in February, seizing the power to appoint a majority of Afghans to the Electoral Complaints Commission–which will have a decisive voice in the National Assembly elections to be held on September 18, 2010–Abdullah may be seen as the leading democratic politician in Afghanistan.

He is, at the very least, an important player in the developing democractic process in Afghanistan. Obama and his administration should be embracing the opportunity to meet with a leading figure in that process, the leader of the principal opposition coalition contesting the congressional elections on September 18.

Instead, they have snubbed and are snubbing Abdullah.

While Abdullah is not meeting with U.S. officials while in Washington, he is meeting with a number of other people.

See, for example, the following:

Interview with Steve Coll, “Afghanistan’s Might-Have Been,” Foreign Policy, May 22, 2010

Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, “U.S. Rolls Up Red Carpet for Karzai Rival,” New York Times, May 20,2010

On electoral corruption in the 2009 presidential elections and the forthcoming September, 2010 congressional elections, see Peter W. Galbraith, “U.S. lost in Afghan vote” Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2010.

Glabraith writes:

Will we ever learn? In 2009, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who will meet with President Obama in Washington this week, ripped off American taxpayers for about $200 million. This is what the United States contributed to support presidential elections that Karzai himself admits were massively fraudulent. Now, the United Nations and the Obama administration propose to fund Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections in September, even though new rules pushed through by Karzai — over the opposition of parliament — make fraud even more likely this time.

Obama has, fatefully, cast his lot with Karzai. But the United States cannot prevail in Afghanistan without a good governance partner.

It is time for Obama to develop a Plan B. Abdullah could be an important part of that Plan B, should Plan A with Karzai fail to work.

Plan B would also involve returning to the democratic goals for which coalition soldiers fought, and international development agencies worked, for eight years.

It is worth thinking about.

The Trenchant Observer

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Understanding Obama’s Dilemma: Key Articles on Taliban Advances, CIA Role, Karzai’s Brother, Magnitude of U.S. and U.N. Failures

Friday, November 13th, 2009

The situation in Afghanistan is desperate. (Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, September 14, 2009).

The U.S. tilt toward Karzai during the electoral process may be related to CIA ties to his brother and operations in Kandahar and the South. (See Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, New York Times, October 27, 2009)

Reports of a U.S. deal with the Pakistani military to withdraw from negotiations with Karzai and Abdullah in exchange for Pakistan military mediation with the Taliban remain unrebutted, and should be fully investigated by U.S. and Western media. (Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan bureau chief, Asia Times Online, November 6, 2009)

A sharply critical analysis of U.S. policy, by a leading regional expert, details the catastrophic nature of U.S. and U.N. diplomatic failures in Afghanistan to date. (Chibli Mallat, Law Page Editor, The Daily Star, November 12, 2009)


Wednesday, October 28th, 2009


–Another Fraud and Then Five More Years of Karzai?
–The United States, NATO and the UN have several options, as
does Abdullah
–Advantages of the U.N. Taking Over the Elections
–Final Thoughts
–ANNEX–Elements of a Draft Security Council Resolution Authorizing
Immediate UN Control of the Electoral Process in Afghanistan

Another Fraud and Then Five More Years of Karzai?

With Afghan President Hamid Karzai refusing to replace members of the Independent Electoral Commission which certified the fraud in the first-round elections on August 20, prospects for a fair runoff election appear greatly diminished. Moreover, recent attacks on UN facilities in Kabul on October 28 and deteriorating security conditions elsewhere will now make it even more difficult for U.N. electoral officials and foreign observers to monitor the voting process. Seeing the U.S., NATO countries, and even the U.N. failing to take vigorous action to stop preparations for another fraud, some voters may conclude there is not much point in voting since the outcome is already clear. Against this background, it is quite possible that Abdullah will boycott the elections.

In any event, a second round election run by the same people who openly sanctioned the massive fraud in the first round cannot, and will not, produce credible results. A Karzai regime that is the product of fraudulent elections will not restore legitimacy to the government of Afghanistan.

But without a government seen as legitimate and offering real hope for meaningful change in the way the government operates, the advances of the Taliban are not likely to be halted.

What can be done, at this late hour?

The United States, NATO and the UN have several options, as does Abdullah

1) The U.S., NATO and the U.N. can proceed in supporting a runoff election which appears to be headed again for massive fraud, and which will have no credibility. Karzai may indeed emerge as the most powerful warlord in Afghanistan, with the most powerful allies (the U.S., NATO, and the U.N.).

Western countries may well believe that the “legitimacy” questions will fade away, or can be overcome by building up a stronger government under Karzai’s direction and control. Detailed knowledge of the last five years of experience with Karzai and how numerous similar hopeful expectations have been dashed might temper such a view, but curiously resurgent optimism–or willful forgetfulness–obscures these facts from public debate.

On the other hand, maybe Karzai will build a new kind of government with the capabilities the U.S. and NATO view as so essential. All one can say, as Afghanistan slips increasingly under the sway of the Taliban, is that the evidence supporting this proposition is slim.

2) Abdullah withdraws, with assurances brokered by the Americans that he will have an important role in the next (Karzai) administration

Abdullah could withdraw from the second round, with assurances brokered by the Americans that he will be brought into the Karzai government with important posts. The key fact here is that Karzai will be calling the shots, for the next five years, and if he finds reason to revise any such understandings, there is nothing the Americans, NATO or the U.N. will be able to do about it. He will remain in control. They will remain dependent on him.

3) Abdullah withdraws or boycotts the runoff on the ground that the election is already tainted by fraud, because officials responsible for the fraud in the first round have not been replaced.

Abdullah would have strong arguments to support such a withdrawal, as the Independent Electoral Commission members who certified the first round fraud have not been replaced, and indeed appear to be preparing another massive fraud (e.g., by increasing the number of polling stations in the South). Under this scenario, a period of prolonged political uncertainty would be likely to ensue, further weakening the authority of the government in Kabul.

4) The United Nations could assume immediate control over the elections in Afghanistan, and postpone the second round if necessary.

A fourth option would be for the United Nations to intervene, acting under the authority of a Security Council resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter. Such resolutions have binding effect. This option would depend on gaining the affirmative vote or abstention of the five permanent members of the Security Council. They have worked in harmony on issues relating to Afghanistan in the past.

Given the utter disarray following the attacks on the U.N. guest houses in Kabul on October 28, and the practical impossibility of putting adequate security measures into place before November 7 that would allow U.N. personnel and European observers to actively deploy to assist in and observe the elections, the U.N. could well decide to postpone the second round until the spring.

Such an option would reassert the authority of the U.N. precisely at the moment when many expect it to withdraw or greatly curtail its activities in Afghanistan. In 2003, when the U.N. headquarters in Bagdad were blown up, killing a potential future Secretary General, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the world organization withdrew from the country. Assertion of a more vigorous U.N. role now would serve to counter that unfortunate precedent.

Advantages of the U.N. Taking Over the Elections

A number of advantages would flow from pursuing the fourth option.

First, the decision on U.S. strategy and the deployment of some 40,000-45,000 additional U.S. troops could be decoupled from the second round election results. Deployments could begin as quickly as feasible, without the delay that review of alleged fraud and decisions on complaints might entail. In the first round, this process took two months, and the ECC’s decision was accepted by Karzai only under extraordinary pressures from the U.S., NATO and the U.N.

Second, Karzai would be given a chance to demonstrate that he actually could strengthen his government, and both attack corruption and end any complicity in the drug trade. He might be persuaded to bring Abdullah into a “transitional ” national unity government. His own legal mandate, which expired in August, could be extended until the final results of the second round were in and a new government, based on those results, was formed.

Third, Abdullah would have an opportunity to make his case to the Afghan people that he should be elected President in a free and fair election. He would have time to do this, as would Karzai, in a more stable atmosphere and under electoral arrangements established by the U.N. that are transparent and fair. Indeed, elections run by the U.N. for president n 2004 and for the National Assembly in 2005 were widely viewed as fair.

Fourth, the United Nations could recover from the terrible attacks that cost the lives of five U.N. staff on October 28, and have time to fully develop and deploy the appropriate security arrangements in light of the fact U.N. staff are now being targeted by the Taliban. Many move about in unarmored vehicles and are soft and easy targets. The U.N. would have time to protect its staff more effectively, and avoid asking idealistic young workers–who did not volunteer to be soldiers–to risk their lives to carry out their tasks during the next few weeks.

Fifth, the U.S. and NATO could proceed with plans to increase the number of troops deployed to Afghanistan, not only to avoid the collapse of major cities to the Taliban but also to protect the Afghan population going to the polls in the runoff election, as well as the international observers that need to be deployed throughout the country to ensure that a fair vote is held.

Sixth, while there would be many challenges in pursuing such an option, the payoff would be big–a government viewed by the population as the product of a fair electoral process, and therefore a government that represents them.

Final Thoughts

Many officials and observers assume that Afghanistan’s future will inevitably be like its past, with power controlled by warlords and tribes on a local basis. However, the world has changed and is changing, and the rate of change is accelerating. 44.5% of the population of Afghanistan is 14 years old or younger. They hold the key to the country’s future.

The future of younger Afghans, with cell phones and internet access, will not be like that of the past. The number of internet users in the country, 500,000 in 2008, is growing rapidly, as is that of cell phones. In 2008, there were 460,000 main line telephones and 8.45 million cell phones, in a country of 28.4 million inhabitants. The number of television satellite dishes is growing. Afghanistan is getting connected, and Afghans are becoming increasingly aware of what is going on in the world. Surely they observed the three million people who clogged Tehran’s streets following the June 12 elections in Iran, which were also characterized by massive fraud. Afghans and Iranians speak the same language, and share the same cultural heritage. Educated Pashtuns speak Dari as a second language, and Dari is the first language of 50% of the country. Dari is a dialect of Farsi, and educated speakers understand each other easily. Afghans know what is going on in Iran, and vice versa.

We should not be so condescending or naive as to believe that international human rights have no appeal to the people of Afghanistan, including the leading elites. The United States insists on absolute fidelity to democratic forms in Honduras, fosters the new democracies of West Africa, supports the democratic government of Pakistan, and proclaims its democratic ideals in President Obama’s speech to the Arab and Islamic world in Cairo. Still, American decision makers should never forget that people in the region and around the world are not only listening to what they say, but also watching what they do.

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Elements of a Draft Security Council Resolution Authorizing
Immediate UN Control of the Electoral Process in Afghanistan

The United Nations Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, should adopt at the earliest opportunity a binding resolution which provides, inter alia, the following:

1. The United Nations, acting through the Security Council, shall immediately assume direction and control of the timing and conduct of the second round in the Presidential elections in Afghanistan, which are currently scheduled for November 7, 2009.

2. The Security Council, acting through the Secretary General, shall replace the current Afghan members of the Independent Electoral Commission with international elections experts of outstanding and unquestionable qualifications, impartiality and integrity.

3. The reconstituted IEC shall conduct the elections under procedures established by Secretary General to ensure transparency and fairness in the conduct of the elections, the collection of the ballots, and the tabulation of votes cast for each candidate.

4. The Security Council, acting through the Secretary General, may determine that it is not feasible to hold a free and fair second round of elections on November 7, and may postpone the second round to a date by which it expects such free and fair elections can be held. Such date may be postponed until the spring of 2010 or such other date as the Secretary General may decide.

5. The mandate of the current President of Afghanistan, which under the terms of the March decision of the Afghan Supreme Court expired in August, is extended until such time as the second round elections are held, complaints are heard and decided by the Electoral Complaints Commission, and the corrected results are announced by the ECC. The decision of the ECC shall be final, immediately binding, and not subject to judicial review.

6. The Security Council may encourage both parties to participate in the transitional government until the elections are held, and the final corrected results are announced by the ECC.

7. International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) forces and other international forces should be augmented by further contributions from the respective members states and NATO countries, in order to ensure, inter alia, that the second round in the Presidential elections are held in a transparent, free and fair manner, resulting in the transfer of power to a new government that expresses the will of the people of Afghanistan.

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Did the degree of transparency and fairness of the elections in Afghanistan have any impact in Iran?

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

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The Observer


Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

The situation in Afghanistan is desperate.

As President Obama and his advisors debate how many additional troops to send to Afghanistan–at this time–it seems, once again, that the most important questions are not being asked or receiving the attention they deserve. The debate, framed in the media at a high level of abstraction as a question of whether or not to send more troops, does not address the diplomatic and political failures which have led to our current predicament. These failures bear directly on the choice of any future strategy we might pursue. If their critical nature and root causes are not grasped and addressed, the dispatch of additional troops to Afghanistan will not reverse a deteriorating situation, just as the dispatch of additional troops in 2008 and earlier this year failed to halt the advances of the Taliban.

Diplomatic and Political Failures

We have eight years of experience with President Karzai, and it is absolutely clear that he cannot or will not establish a government that elicits the support of the people, as the August elections confirm. Our real policy now appears to be to allow the massive fraud in the August elections to stand, as the Administration’s response to Amb. Peter Galbraith’s battles with United Nations Special Representative Kai Eide and Galbraith’s dismissal reveal.

Note, however, that accepting this fraud is equivalent to accepting Ahmadinijad’s fraud in Iran. Are our diplomats connecting the dots? Do they understand the impact such a policy is likely to have on the opposition in Iran?

How did we get here?

To an unusual degree, key players in the decision making process on Afghanistan have been military men. National Security Council Advisor Gen. James Jones worked on Afghanistan previously as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe from 2003-2006, while the present U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Gen. Karl Eikenberry, was the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2005-2007. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, after outstanding successes in Iraq, is now in charge of our forces in Afghanistan. Gen. David Petreus, following a brilliant tour and reversal of strategy in Iraq, is now McChrystal’s superior as head of CENTCOM. These are four extraordinarily talented generals, but their professional experience has been largely confined to the military. We should not be surprised if, as military men, they tend to see the military elements and dimensions of the situation in Afghanistan in sharper relief and as more important than would, let us say, professional diplomats with 20 or 30 years of experience negotiating with different political factions and government officials in the region.

At the same time, the appointment of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Amb. Richard Holbrooke, another superstar, seems to have distorted the normal flow of information, coordination and decisions in the State Department, as well as the accountability of officials before Congress. With this outstanding cast, one is left with the impression that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has been far removed from day-to-day decision making on Afghanistan.

While Gen. Eikenberry is a distinguished military leader, his lack of previous diplomatic experience is a serious handicap in Kabul, where the ambassador both leads reporting to Washington and must persuade and lead the Afghans, NATO and the UN, and all of the various U.S. agencies with their conflicting perspectives and agendas. Moreover, experience may be a two-edged sword in Kabul, where everyone seems to have become quite accustomed to doing business with the incumbents. Indeed, many U.S. and international officials and contractors may come to be dependent or co-dependent on their Afghan counterparts, with even the “metrics” they report tending to support both their own and their counterparts’ programs.

In addition, the UN and a number of our NATO allies tend to view their tasks as peacekeeping and development work, as if they were in Kosovo or Bosnia, whereas the U.S. military is engaged in a very “hot” war. These competing perspectives generate bureaucratic and organizational behavior that results in dysfunctional decisions and outcomes. Such behavior is not surprising, but should be recognized as contributing mightily to the situation we now face.

Catastrophic Failure

One overriding fact remains. Our diplomacy in Afghanistan has not been successful. It has failed. It has failed in a catastrophic way.

The bad decisions are becoming evident, with no sign they will not be followed by even more bad decisions. They include:

1) Failure to understand that the NATO and UN templates from Bosnia and Kosovo were utterly unsuited to the realities of Afghanistan, where fresh analysis and program development was required.

2) Failure to change an electoral law that makes the development of national political parties almost impossible.

3) Agreeing to Afghan elections conducted by a Karzai-appointed commission, instead of sticking with the UN-conducted elections that worked so well in 2004 and 2005.

4) Not insisting, as Galbraith wanted, that the fraud being prepared by the Karzai government be stopped.

5) Acquiescing in the election fraud, and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) looking the other way while the fraud occurred.

6) Failing to insist on a correct vote tally and a second round of voting, as required by Afghan law, thus showing Afghans what we, NATO and the UN really believe about democracy in their country.

7) More broadly, throwing out the whole democratic rationale for being in Afghanistan by going along with the election fraud.

Legitimacy–First Things First

The failure in Afghanistan has been a diplomatic and political failure, not just a military failure. Military strategy will falter if diplomatic and political strategy does not keep pace. We cannot succeed in Afghanistan by proceeding on the naive belief that we can “stand up” a legitimate government born of fraud, or that we can “stand up” an Afghan army both capable of defeating the Taliban and loyal to a government lacking in legitimacy and losing public support. Legitimacy is the key to developing both a more effective government and a more capable army and police. Without legitimacy, both possibilities appear to be but chimeras in the desert sand.

As we commit additional troops, we need to investigate and understand the specific causes of our diplomatic and political failures, first, to develop a viable government in Kabul and the provinces, and, second, to organize and hold elections recognized as fair, thus conferring legitimacy on the government.

Following catastrophic diplomatic and political failures, we may need a new diplomatic team in Kabul, better decision-making structures and personnel at State, more vigorous Congressional oversight, and a whole rethink of whether the “aid and development” element of our strategy in Afghanistan, as currently implemented, makes any sense given our experience on the ground. Certainly we need to bear in mind that our counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq, to the extent it has been successful, has depended in critical part on free elections and the development of a legitimate government that could gain the support of the population. Finally, we should never lose sight of the fact that what we do about the election fraud in Afghanistan will have profound repercussions in Iran, and beyond.

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