US ‘tried to eject Hamid Karzai in putsch’

January 11, 2014 - 7:16:12 am
WASHINGTON: The US government tried to oust the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, by manipulating elections in 2009, in what amounted to a “clumsy and failed putsch”, the former defence secretary Robert Gates has been quoted as writing in his memoirs.

Karzai has long claimed that the US tried to manipulate the poll to remove him from office, while Washington insisted it was an impartial supporter of democracy. The revelations in Gates’s account of his years in power, which is published next week and covers the war in Afghanistan, appear to vindicate the Afghan leader’s suspicions. The top US diplomat Richard Holbrooke supported Karzai’s rivals in the hope of pushing the poll to a second round that the incumbent would lose, the Foreign Policy magazine reported.

“It was all ugly: our partner, the president of Afghanistan, was tainted, and our hands were dirty as well,” Gates is quoted writing. Karzai has cited concerns about foreign interference in a vote to choose his successor later this year as one reason for the delay in signing a long-term security pact with Washington to keep troops in the country after their combat mission ends later this year.

The deal is unlikely to be signed on the timetable the US government would like, the ambassador to Kabul warned in a secret cable leaked to the Washington Post. US politicians and the military want it sealed early this year to allow for a smooth withdrawal and planning for next year if any troops stay on.

Ties with Kabul have been strained by a string of disagreements over civilian deaths, election planning and other issues, including the release of dozens of men Karzai says are innocent and the US claims are a serious security threat.

Washington insists that if there is no deal, it will resort to its “zero option” and take all troops home , but Karzai has argued that is an empty threat to bolster the US negotiating position.

Holbrooke, who died in December 2010, was the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and played a key role in 2009 efforts to remove Karzai from power. He paid public lip-service to the idea of a level playing field, but was working behind the scenes to ensure the opposite, Gates writes: “Holbrooke was doing his best to bring about the defeat of Karzai... What he really wanted was to have enough credible candidates running to deny Karzai a majority in the election, thus forcing a runoff in which he could be defeated.” Tactics included advising candidates, attending their rallies and organising high-profile photo opportunities, the memoir claims. Karzai soon noticed the efforts, it adds.

In the end, the election was plagued by serious fraud and worries about violence. The candidate who got through to a second round against the president eventually called off the vote and conceded defeat. White House spokesman, Caitlin Hayden, denied Gates’s claims. 

The Guardian
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