Afghan Quits Election Panel, Claiming Foreigners are Making All Decisions

Resignation of local member of UN-backed commission looking at electoral fraud in Afghanistan is blow to credibility of election

A member of a UN-backed panel set up to investigate complaints of fraud in Afghanistan's
presidential election resigned today, blaming the "interference of
foreigners", in a setback to attempts to restore legitimacy to the
electoral process.

Maulavi Mustafa Barakzia, one of only two
Afghans on the Electoral Complaints Commission, claimed that the three
foreigners on the panel - one Canadian, one Dutch and one from the US -
were "making all decisions on their own" without consultation.

The panel is expected to decide this week how many votes to throw out, a decision that could force a run-off between President Hamid Karzai and his closest challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

UN spokesman, Aleem Siddique, said the resignation was "regrettable but
the work of the Election Complaints Commission must continue. The
Afghan people need to see an election outcome that faithfully reflects
their will as soon as possible."

The UN mission chief, Kai Eide, acknowledged on Saturday that "widespread fraud" had occurred in the 20 August presidential election and said the complaints commission was working to determine the extent of it.

deputy, Peter Galbraith, the top-ranking American in the UN mission,
was sacked last month after alleging that the mission chief played down
allegations of widespread ballot-stuffing by Karzai's supporters.

relations with Karzai, already frosty before the poll because of
widespread allegations of corruption, have been further strained by
claims of vote rigging.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton,
said today Karzai had been "very helpful on many fronts", and progress
in Afghanistan was often "overlooked". But she said that if he were
returned to office, there would have to be "a new relationship" between
Karzai and foreign governments.

Clinton, who is visiting Britain, also said the Obama administration was reassessing the relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaida, but denied any change of strategy on Afghanistan had occurred.

comments came after reports that the president's security advisers were
pressing him to shift the focus of the war from the Taliban in
Afghanistan to al-Qaida in Pakistan. The Taliban issued a statement last week claiming they posed no international threat, in an apparent attempt to put daylight between themselves and al-Qaida.

Asked whether the US was changing its focus, Clinton told BBC Radio 4's Today programme:
"We are not changing our strategy: our strategy remains to achieve the
goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaida and its
extremist allies and denying them safe haven and the chance to strike
us here in London, in New York and anywhere else."

But she added:
"We are doing a much more careful analysis of who is actually allied
with al-Qaida. Not everyone who calls himself a Taliban is necessarily
a threat to the UK or the US."

Clinton said the US was learning
from its experiences in Iraq, where people may have been "coerced or
intimidated" into fighting alongside al-Qaida. The US had approached
those people and persuaded them to change sides.

"There may well
be a number of people currently who are considered Taliban who are
there, frankly, because they get paid to fight or because they see no
alternative," she said.

Public opinion against the war in
Afghanistan has intensified in the US in recent months as the death
toll of US troops has mounted. Obama's apparent reluctance to provide
more soldiers, as requested by General Stanley McChrystal, commander of
US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, has been interpreted in some
quarters as a sign of a wavering commitment to the conflict.

said: "You should never doubt our commitment or our leadership. We will
not rest until we do defeat al-Qaida, but we want to be smart about how
we are proceeding."

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