The second highest-ranking U.N. official in Afghanistan, Peter W. Galbraith ’73, son of the late Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith, was dismissed last Wednesday after he expressed disagreement to his superior about how best to address allegations of fraud in the country’s August presidential elections.
In results released in mid-September, incumbent Hamid Karzai won 54.6 percent of the vote, enough to win re-election. But extensive reports of fraud mean that the final results will depend upon investigations and recounts already underway.
Galbraith, an ex-U.S. diplomat, said that his former boss, Kai A. Eide, a past Norwegian diplomat and U.N. special representative, is not correctly addressing the issue of fraud.
“The approach [Eide] took at each critical stage in the process was to oppose doing anything about the fraud,” Galbraith said. “He is denying that fraud took place or is downplaying it.”
Galbraith went on to accuse Eide of serving in the interest of Karzai rather than that of the U.N.
“Eide has a case of clientitis. It’s a diplomat’s disease; you end up representing the head of state of a country to your organization rather than representing your organization to the country,” he said.
Galbraith was also critical of his dismissal, saying that he was fired “because he was concerned about fraud.”
“It’s pretty chilling that what I was recalled for was private dissent within an institution,” he added.
When asked about Galbraith’s dismissal, a U.N. spokesman, Farhan A. Haq, stated that the “bottom line for [the U.N.] is not to be distracted by this issue,” he said.
In a press release, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon reaffirmed his full support for Eide.
Haq said that the U.N. is currently attempting to give the Afghan people more control over the situation.
“Clearly fraud took place, and we’re making sure all the relevant data gets to Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaint’s Commission,” he said.
The U.N. now has the difficult task of finding a middle ground between two extremes, according to Tad J. Oelstrom, an Adjunct Lecturer and expert on the Middle East at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Oelstrom said that both extremes present their own challenges.
“If [the U.N.] throws out the whole election, Afghanistan’s going to go without an effective government for some period of time,” he said.
But according to Oelstrom, the other option, to endorse the election, could be just as hazardous.
“There’s a real risk that the [Afghan] people and much of the rest of the world will have a tough time embracing that government.”
Oelstrom seemed unconcerned about the controversy around Galbraith’s dismissal.
“My suspicion is that it will slowly go away and the U.N. will find someone else to take his place, pick up the pieces, and carry forward with the mission of sorting out the election.”