Fraud Looms Over Afghan Elections

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Afghanistan announced preliminary results in their presidential elections this week. Election officials say President Hamid Karzhai received more than 54 percent of the vote, and his chief challenger, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, about 28 percent. But more than 200,000 of the nearly 5.7 million votes cast have been thrown out by officials, and European Union observers have raised questions about 1.5 million more. Host Scott Simon speaks to Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Afghanistan announced preliminary results in their presidential elections this week. Election officials said President Hamid Karzai received more than 54 percent of the vote; his chief challenger, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, about 28 percent. And if those numbers hold, Mr. Karzai would be reelected without a runoff.

But observers from the European Union have raised questions about 1.5 million of the 5.7 million votes that have been cast.

We're joined now by Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations. He's now a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and joins us from his offices. Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. ZALMAY KHALILZAD (Counselor, Center for Strategic and International Studies): Well, it's great to be with you.

SIMON: Do you think the U.S. can accept the results of any election in Afghanistan when there have been so many allegations - strong allegations - of fraud?

Mr. KHALILZAD: Well, I think there is a process that determines whether the results are going to be legitimate or not. And that is that there is an election complaint commission made up of three U.N.-appointed officials and two Afghans, and they are going to look at the allegations of fraud. This is a strong and independent commission.

If they confirm that President Karzai has won after they have looked at the allegations, then the U.S. will have to accept, as would the rest of the world. And then if alternatively they decide that no substantial number of votes or enough votes were fraudulent, that brings President Karzai to below 50 percent, then of course there will have to be a second round.

SIMON: If we could ask you about Iraq.

Mr. KHALILZAD: Sure.

SIMON: You've been ambassador to most countries I can think of, but certainly Afghanistan and Iraq. Vice President Biden has been in Iraq this week in Kurdish areas and seemed to be pressing Kurdish leaders to reach a compromise in the next few months with the central government on oil revenues.

Mr. KHALILZAD: Right.

SIMON: To your mind, what would a workable compromise look like?

Mr. KHALILZAD: Well, a workable compromise, in my judgment, would be one in which the expansion of the pie - and that is the development of more oil resources - is divided between the center and the region. In other words, the region can develop the oil fields that are in that region, sign the contracts with some supervision by the center.

But that the revenue, the wealth generated by it, is shared centrally across Iraq, that all Iraqis benefit from that, would be sort of the cutting of the pie, the pieces that are distributed, is done more centrally, based on population of provinces and needs. That is a fair way to proceed.

But having said that, there is so much mistrust between the center and the region that working out the details of that will be difficult. And I think the vice president being conscious that our leverage is higher now and we have a lot of forces and will diminish as our forces come down, is pushing for the resolution of these political issues now.

SIMON: Do you think, having dealt with Kurdish leaders, that they are sincerely in favor of a federated Iraq and they'll be a part of it, or are they holding out ultimately for their own nation?

Mr. KHALILZAD: I believe that the Kurdish leadership at the present time wants to have a federal Iraq in which they ran their own regional affairs and some issues are dealt with by the center. Because if they were to separate now, they would lose financially - because they get 17 percent of the central governments' budget, which is in the neighborhood of six, seven billion dollars that they would lose.

They would be isolated, 'cause they would hostile relations with Iraq, hostile relations with Syria, hostile relation with Turkey and Iran. So I think that rather than being independent and poor and at war with all neighbors, they prefer a federal arrangement. But if they were pushed back to a centralized control by Baghdad, I think they will resist that, and I think they would then consider possibly a declaration of independence.

SIMON: Zalmay Khalilzad, now counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, thanks so much.

Mr. KHALILZAD: Well, it's very nice to be with you.

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