Afghan president blames Western officials for election fraud

President Hamid Karzai on Thursday lashed out at American and European officials, saying they bore responsibility for fraud in last summer’s presidential election, fraud his supporters were accused of engineering.

Karzai’s angry rhetoric marked a sharp escalation of tension over parliamentary elections that are scheduled to take place in September. The vote is seen as yet another test of Afghanistan’s struggling democracy, and for the U.S.-dominated military coalition that supports the Afghan government.

International officials have said that the September balloting must meet far more stringent standards of fairness than did the presidential election in August in which Karzai’s camp was alleged to have carried out massive vote-rigging.

Karzai was eventually declared the winner and inaugurated to a second five-year term, but only after a bruising battle over the outcome. A runoff vote was canceled when his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of the race.

The Afghan leader’s relations with the West deteriorated markedly in the wake of the flawed election, and have yet to recover.

Karzai’s comments, at a meeting of election officials, came four days after President Obama visited Kabul with a dual-edged message: a coveted invitation for Karzai to visit the White House next month, coupled with a stern call to rein in rampant corruption.

The Afghan president’s incendiary rhetoric also came a day after the lower house of parliament unanimously rejected a decree Karzai had issued that gives him the authority to exclude foreign participants from a fraud-monitoring panel, which last year threw out nearly a third of the ballots cast for him.

The parliamentary vote was in some respects symbolic, because the measure now will go to the upper house, which tends to be more compliant to the president’s wishes.

Karzai also had already reached an accord with the United Nations that would allow the world body to appoint two of the five members of the Electoral Complaints Commission, though the status of that compromise is now in doubt.

In his remarks Thursday, Karzai singled out American Peter Galbraith, the then-No. 2 U.N. official in Afghanistan, and Gen. Philippe Morillon of France, who chaired a European Union monitoring body, as bearing responsibility for the fraud in the presidential election.

“Foreigners . . . do not want us to have a parliamentary election,” Karzai told the election gathering, citing “massive interference” from the international community in the August vote.