U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon fired the top U.S. official at the U.N. mission in Afghanistan on Wednesday over differences the official, Peter Galbraith, had with his boss over how to deal with charges of fraud in the Afghan presidential election.
A statement issued by Ban's office said the secretary-general had decided to "recall" Galbraith and end his appointment as the U.N.'s deputy special representative to Afghanistan. Galbraith, the former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, was publicly critical of apparent corruption in the Aug. 20 presidential election, and was at odds with his boss, Special Representative Kai Eide, over how the U.N. should have responded to the election.
Preliminary results from the Aug. 20 election show that President Hamid Karzai won a majority, but final results have been delayed by fraud allegations that prompted a partial recount.
Galbraith tells NPR's Robert Siegel that the disagreement with Eide centered on "ghost" polling stations — set up in insecure areas and that could be used to produce votes that were never cast. He says he also disagreed with Eide on sharing U.N. data on fraud with Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission.
Eide, Galbraith says, opposed sharing data, and decided that the U.N. would say nothing about the polling centers after the Afghan government complained about Galbraith's call to close them.
"The dispute was whether the United Nations should do anything about the fraud that took place," Galbraith says.
The U.N. Mission in Afghanistan had a mandate to support the Afghan government in conducting the elections. It also has a mandate to back the Afghan government to improve governance and the rule of law, and fight corruption, as well as facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Galbraith was outspoken in his criticism of the election. He has been in the U.S. since mid-September, when he left Afghanistan after a dispute with Eide over how best to handle fraud investigations. Galbraith tells Siegel he has never seen a U.N.-supported election with such a high level of fraud and blatantly partisan behavior by the Independent Election Commission.
The Karzai government had reportedly been put off by Galbraith's approach. But Abdullah Abdullah, the presidential candidate who received the second-highest number of votes in the election, criticized Galbraith's dismissal.
"When somebody who is considered to be serious about this issue is being fired, then the impression it leaves with the people will not be good," Abdullah told The Associated Press.
Galbraith rejected suggestions that he was backing one candidate over another in the election, saying he only wanted the votes of the Afghan electorate to be counted in an honest way.
"I had no favorites in the Afghan presidential contest," he says. "When the question of fraud came up, I simply could not ignore it, I could not be complicit in the cover-up, I could not downplay it."