Peter Galbraith has an op-ed in today’s New York Times in which he rightly points out that the Afghan elections were tainted by fraud, something which several election monitors have also reported. Indeed, many of the election monitors sent to disparate provinces were not allowed to leave the PRTs in which they were staying because of a communications “snafu” between the U.S. embassy in Kabul and the U.S. military. At any rate, Galbraith writes:
The biggest obstacle to fair elections remains the body that administers them, the Independent Election Commission. The only thing independent about the commission is its name. President Karzai appointed all its members, and six of the seven commissioners have routinely voted in favor of procedures to benefit the Karzai campaign.
Here’s the irony: Masud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, is likely guilty of the same fraud and abuse in the recent Kurdish election. Galbraith is intimately involved in Kurdistan and has never uttered a peep about the human-rights abuses and corruption ongoing there. He has never spoken about Barzani family members on the CIA payroll, or Barzani family members involved in drug and weapons smuggling. Why not? Since I posted on the issue last, Galbraith has confirmed to the Norwegian business daily Dagens Naeringsliv what he denied to the U.S. Senate: that he took money from Barzani (and Talabani) in addition to the oil interests which he also has sought to keep secret. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Parliament is now investigating the head of the Independent Election Commission of Iraq, a Kurd who once belonged to Masud Barzani’s political party, for taking bribes from Barzani in exchange for turning a blind eye to fraud. The new Kurdish government is yet to take the helm amidst the post-election maneuvering, and the corruption on the Independent Election Commission of Iraq may delay the January elections in Iraq.
Galbraith is doing good work in Afghanistan right now and I’m never upset to see the U.N.’s feet held to the fire for its ineffectiveness. It is too bad that Galbraith ignores the many others fighting against corruption for far longer in Afghanistan and instead makes the episode too much about Galbraith, but that’s been Peter’s style since he was a Senate staffer. Still, so long as Karzai doesn’t offer Galbraith a consulting or business relationship, Galbraith’s pressure will continue, which is good.
The larger point isn’t to pick on Galbraith. He has done great work over the years, and isn’t alone in cashing in on connections. But, as Tom Gross has shown with regard to Human Rights Watch’s fundraising in Saudi Arabia, it seems that the abusers have learned that the monitors can be bought off. Whether for the Kurds, the Saudis, or anyone else suffering election fraud and human-rights abuses, this is a tragedy, and one that the press should not stand for.
It’s time to speak up for election transparency and government legitimacy in Afghanistan. But we shouldn’t sweep the same fraud in Iraq under the rug.