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Asia-pacific

In a sharp rebuke, US calls Karzai's poll fraud outburst 'troubling'

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-02

The US is seeking clarification over Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s accusation that foreign observers committed "very widespread" fraud during last year’s presidential election.

AFP - Afghan President Hamid Karzai ran into stinging criticism Friday after accusing foreign powers of orchestrating enormous fraud in elections that returned him to power last year.

Karzai's outburst Thursday, just days after a fence-mending trip to Kabul by US President Barack Obama, met with disapproval in Washington while a former UN envoy said he was divorced from reality.

"There was fraud in presidential and provincial council elections -- no doubt that there was a very widespread fraud, very widespread," Karzai told Afghan election commission workers in Kabul.

"But Afghans did not do this fraud. The foreigners did this fraud," he said, accusing "foreigners" of interfering in his country's domestic affairs.

He went so far as to claim that such moves risked the 126,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan being seen as "invaders" -- terminology used by the Taliban -- and their nine-year insurgency becoming viewed as "a national resistance".


Karzai's once-close relationship with the United States and other allies, whose troops are helping his government contain the raging Taliban insurgency, have soured over his controversial re-election.

Afghan analysts suggested that he had lost control when he made his staggering remarks after being criticised by Obama and angered by the Afghan parliament, and could signal a shift in foreign policy.

This week Afghan lawmakers voted against his amendments to a law banning non-Afghans from the UN-backed watchdog that was integral to exposing last year's fraud.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled in Afghanistan in September and some Afghans believe Karzai is galled by the prospect of having to make embarrassing concessions to secure vital foreign funds.

The United States brushed aside the accusations and insisted the Afghan leader first had to get his own house in order, after Obama called personally on Karzai to get a grip on widespread corruption and invited him to Washington.

"Karzai has to step forward, lead his government in convincing the international community and the Afghan people that they are taking measurable steps to reduce corruption," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.

The White House later delivered a stern public rebuke to Karzai, describing his outburst as "troubling" and said it was seeking clarification from Kabul.

"Obviously some of the comments by President Karzai are troubling. They are cause for real and genuine concern," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"The president was quite clear with President Karzai over the weekend about the necessary steps that have to be taken to improve governance and corruption."

There was no immediate reaction from the Afghan presidency on Friday, nor was it clear whether Karzai's inflammatory outburst could affect Obama's invitation to visit Washington on May 12.

Karzai was declared re-elected in November by his own officials after his challenger Abdullah Abdullah abandoned a run-off.

He accused "embassies" of trying to bribe electoral members, and former UN deputy head of mission Peter Galbraith, and the head of the EU election observer mission, France's Philippe Morillon, of orchestrating the fraud.

Galbraith was sacked after arguing the UN was turning a blind eye to the electoral chicanery. At the time, he said that as much as 30 percent of the Karzai vote in the August election was fraudulent.

Interviewed by AFP, Galbraith said Karzai's comments were "absurd and preposterous" and showed that Karzai was not taking Obama's warnings seriously.

They could make the military mission even more difficult, he added.

Obama is sending thousands more troops into the Afghan war in a bid to end the Taliban insurgency as quickly as possible.

"I think there has been a shift in Karzai's foreign policy," said Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies, seeing his outburst as a loss of control and not the reaction of a statesman.

He pointed to recent talks between Karzai and the leaders of Iran, China and Pakistan, which have varying degrees of fraught US relations. The talks may signal a rapprochement between the countries and Afghanistan as Karzai's relations with his Western backers cool.

"President Karzai's reaction seems to be a reaction to the criticisms that he might have received from Mr. Obama himself," he added.

 

Date created : 2010-04-02

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