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Afghanistan’s angry Norwegian bites back
It is both fascinating and horrifying to overhear a bad argument between two old friends. The drama is compelling but you shudder at the pain of each wounding criticism.
I doubt Kai Eide, the U.N.’s top man in Afghanistan, will be holidaying again with his former deputy, Peter Galbraith, after a lacerating row between them over electoral fraud. Once the best of friends, the two have fallen out spectacularly over what should have been done to prevent the ballot stuffing, vote rigging and intrigue that Western powers now publicly admit badly marred the August 20 poll in Afghanistan. Were the stakes not so high, the fight could be brushed off as the consequence of clashing egos and the vagaries of human nature. But the dispute has cast doubt on whether any outcome of the vote can be considered legitimate. A second round may still happen, depending on a recount of suspect votes likely to conclude in a few days. On current trends President Hamid Karzai will emerge the winner, but will look like spoiled goods in the eyes of many in the Obama administration. Obama needs a credible political partner in Kabul to help him sell to Americans the cost in blood and treasure of whatever approach he eventually decides to take on continuing the counter-insurgency fight in Afghanistan.
Galbraith had been making the public running in the argument, charging that his efforts to prevent fraud were blocked and that he was muzzled by Eide, a veteran Norwegian diplomat. When he refused to keep quiet, says Galbraith, he was sacked. Eide’s actions or inactions have helped give the Taliban its greatest strategic victory in eight years of fighting Western forces, Galbraith has told anyone who would listen, including the op-ed pages of major American newspapers.
When Eide finally bit back in public he lined up a silent chorus of Western ambassadors to sit on a podium beside him in Kabul to demonstrate the solid support of ‘the international community.’ (The British, French and U.S. ambassadors seated beside Eide did not take questions, despite one being tossed deliberately at Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. envoy). The mild-mannered Norwegian roused himself into indignant righteousness and, without ever mentioning Galbraith by name, fought back against the charges of having winked at massive fraud by agents of Karzai and castigated his former deputy for discourteously breaching confidences.
From my chair in the room it seemed Eide was most hurt by what he said was Galbraith’s use against him of remarks made while the former US diplomat was a guest in his house for over two months. “My view is that private discussions around the dinner table should remain private.”
The allegations “have been an attack on my integrity,” said Eide. “It’s not dignifed, not fair and not true,” he said, adding in a resigned finale, “but that’s the way it is.”
While watching the Eide/Galbraith friendship dissolve in such a public train wreck I wondered how Afghans were reacting to the squabble. I’m back in Kabul after a year’s absence. The distance, alienation and distrust between Afghans and their foreign helpmates that I saw last October, and which the Taliban promotes, sustains and thrives upon, has not much eased and will not have been helped by this undignified row.