Cablegate: Pressing Karzai for Electoral Reform
OO RUEHDBU RUEHPW RUEHSL
DE RUEHBUL #0699/01 0571138
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 261138Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5887
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 KABUL 000699
EO 12958 DECL: 02/25/2020
TAGS PGOV, PREL, AF
SUBJECT: PRESSING KARZAI FOR ELECTORAL REFORM
REF: A. KABUL 645 B. KABUL 692
Classified By: Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (S) Summary: Ambassador Eikenberry and Deputy Ambassador Ricciardone demarched President Karzai and his inner circle on the problems of the final version of the electoral decree February 24-25, stressing the need for an independent Electoral Complaints Commission with international commissioners, protection of the vetting process, and change in Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) leadership. They cautioned that a successful U.S. visit hangs in the balance. End Summary.
To the Advisors: Protect Democracy and the Relationship
2. (S) On February 24, Deputy Ambassador Ricciardone separately called on Presidential Chief of Staff Omer Daudzai, Education Minister (recently named as the Peace Jirga coordinator) Farouk Wardak and Agriculture Minister Rahimi. Ricciardone made the following points with each:
-- the election issue is a potential spoiler to a successful U.S. trip - and fixing it should be an urgent priority. Worse, it threatens to turn 2010 back into 2009 - derailing the strategic course agreed on and established from Karzai’s inauguration through the London conference. -- for elections to be credible the ECC and IEC cannot be seen to be in the pocket of the President. -- what matters now is how Karzai acts on the IEC, ECC and candidate vetting process.
He left a non-paper (para 15) with Daudzai and Wardak, who promised to raise this issue “the Afghan way.”
3. (S) Daudzai made excuses for having “missed the import of the decree,” which we had raised with him prospectively on February 8. He said it had been discussed in the Cabinet but gotten changed before its final presentation. He had spoken to Karzai-supporting Parliamentarians who were concerned about it and had told them to make their concerns public so the President understands. Ricciardone noted Parliament is confused over its right to review the decree, and this adds to our concerns about undue expansion of the President’s powers. Daudzai said he would add further Palace signals to Parliamentary leadership that they are empowered to review the decree. Ricciardone reiterated that this issue could undermine the prospective Karzai trip to the U.S. by compelling Karzai to explain and defend his actions at every turn, rather than focusing on the strategic opportunities and challenges ahead of us in 2010. Karzai must act in the next week or so (on the items cited above) in order to remove U.S. and Afghan concerns over the meaning of the decree. Daudzai alluded elliptically to his dinner meeting the previous evening with Minister of Interior Atmar and other supporters of the President who shared “serious concerns” about Karzai’s actions.
4. (S) Minister of Education Wardak agreed that the decree gives Karzai’s critics the evidence they want that he is not committed to democracy, and that it posed a serious problem in Karzai’s standing abroad as well as at home. Ricciardone noted that Afghan democracy would look different from other versions but that the foundation has to be based on credible institutions. He reiterated the need for changes at the IEC, a “genuinely independent” ECC, and a vetting process which can ensure no unreconstructed Taliban are eligible for office. Wardak agreed with these points and claimed that our “inseparable partnership” would be greatly served by a good U.S. visit. He promised to go directly to the President and to press Karzai to withdraw the decree in its entirety, and “improve it” before it is resubmitted. Frankly, Wardak said, this behavior was comparable to the power-grabs of the mujahedin in 1991-1992 - and he and Zakhilwal had already protested against it.
5. (S) On February 25, Ambassador Eikenberry called on Minister of Finance Omer Zakhilwal who told him that he could “almost guarantee” that he could persuade Karzai to act as we had urged regarding the ECC, candidate vetting, and Ludin,s replacement. He affirmed that the Ambassador was pursuing this agenda in the best way, by approaching Karzai clearly but respectfully and then allowing his inner circle of Ministers to prod him in the right direction. Zakhilwal noted that he was then meeting with Parliamentarians on the issue of the Presidential decree and that he was building support and a case for the points that Eikenberry had raised.
6. (S) Apparently echoing Daudzai, Zakhilwal went on to speak
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candidly about Karzai, saying that he was an “extremely weak man” who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to him to report even the most bizarre stories of plots against him. Whenever this happened, Karzai would immediately judge the person to be loyal and would reward him. He warned against former FM Spanta pursuing his narrow self-interest at the expense of national ones, but in general affirmed to Eikenberry that the “inner circle” -- now including Daudzai -- had decided they must collaborate to influence Karzai when they see him going astray on such matters. They reportedly pledged that if Karzai took umbrage at them raising such sensitive issues, they would defend each other.
Message to Karzai: Don’t Put Success on the Line
7. (S) Meeting with Karzai, National Security Advisor Spanta and Deputy NSA Spinzada February 25, Ambassador Eikenberry asked Karzai what he wanted his trip to be about and how he wanted it to be perceived in the United States. He said he hoped it has become obvious to Karzai that the U.S. wants Karzai and Afghanistan to be strong. Eikenberry noted that the success of the visit would require that Americans to gain confidence that we have a reliable partner who is leading Afghanistan forward.
8. (S) Eikenberry went on to explain that democracy-building in Afghanistan could be among Karzai,s strongest legacies to the future and what he will be remembered for; and democracy promotion is in America’s “DNA” and how we judge institutional strength in any country. Reminding Karzai of the political risks our own President took on December 1 when he announced his strategy of deepened engagement in Afghanistan in the face of very real domestic opposition, Eikenberry pointed out that Karzai has always reminded us of Afghanistan’s domestic politics -- now it is his turn to be aware of American domestic politics.
9. (S) At this point, before the planned one-on-one session, Karzai said he wanted Spanta to remain present. However, Spanta demurred, apparently sensing a difficult message would follow. Alone with Karzai, the Ambassador told Karzai that we want his visit to be about long-term strategic and political issues, including Karzai,s political vision and reintegration/reconciliation. It should lead us towards a stronger Afghanistan and a stronger Karzai. Eikenberry said that the sooner Karzai addresses pressing issues like electoral reform, the sooner he can remove distractions from his agenda in Washington. If he did nothing before his departure to allay our concerns about his decree and intent on electoral reform, he wouldn’t be able to talk about reintegration and reconciliation with Congress, with the media, or with anyone in Washington. Karzai said he wanted to speak in Washington about “civilian casualties” but then added the long-term, strategic partnership as well.
10. (S) Karzai appeared more attentive and Eikenberry went into greater detail. He said that the election is very important for us and that if Americans and our allies believe that Karzai is weakening in the building of democratic legitimacy in Afghanistan, our support inevitably will weaken. He urged Karzai to make and announce well before departing for Washington the needed changes regarding the Chair of the IEC, placing internationals on the ECC, and retaining internationals from UNAMA and ISAF as observers on the candidate vetting board (DIAG). He asked Karzai if he had anyone else in mind for the IEC Chair. Karzai said he did not and that he couldn’t make a “quick decision” about it. Eikenberry suggested that he could easily make an announcement prior to his visit to Washington about having accepted Ludin,s resignation and having begun a talent search for Ludin,s replacement. Karzai agreed that that was something he “could” do and said he would meet with Ludin on February 27.
11. (S) Eikenberry continued that Karzai could also announce before his trip that he would be appointing two internationals to the ECC to which Karzai, apparently confused about the law, said he could not make this announcement now, he could only form the ECC three months before the election date. The Ambassador told Karzai he was mistaken on this point (according to the new Presidential decree, the ECC must be established no later than three months before the election date. There is no injunction against establishing it earlier than that.) Karzai alleged that the ECC had tried to “steal the election” and had not performed well in the Provincial Council audits. Eikenberry replied that while the ECC had not performed perfectly, looking to the future with some high-quality international commissioners (such as Justice Kriegler) was very important.
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He added that the IEC had performed poorly, a point Karzai agreed with.
12. (S) He then asked Karzai to keep UNAMA and ISAF on the candidate vetting commission as observers. He pointed out that there are a lot of very bad actors who want political power and that it was always good to have impartial internationals available to be the ones drawing the line against those people. Karzai challenged the Ambassador on the grounds that the USG pays the contracts of some of these “bad actors” to which the Ambassador responded that while that was a fair point, it didn’t mean Karzai shouldn’t keep UNAMA on the candidate vetting commission.
13. (S) The Ambassador then pointed out to Karzai that the appointment of independent internationals on these electoral bodies could be helpful to Karzai politically: if Karzai appointed every official involved, he would be the one blamed entirely for an election which will certainly be flawed. Eikenberry noted again that this was Karzai’s legacy and would be judged by future generations, and then asked Karzai if he was really completely positive that Afghanistan and its institutions are strong enough to not need any foreigners playing any roles. Karzai ended the meeting by saying that Ludin had told him he wanted to step down. Eikenberry replied that that was good and once more pressed Karzai to ensure the ECC Commissioners are independent, reminding him that Karzai had separately told SRSG Eide and Eikenberry several weeks prior unambiguously that he would retain two foreigners on the ECC in accordance with a formula developed by Eide.
14. (S) Comment: We will continue our engagement over the next several days with key Karzai ministers supportive of pragmatic electoral reform, as well as with interested Parliamentarians. As noted above, Minister Zakhilwal told Ambassador Eikenberry he would rally like-minded ministers and attempt to reach a favorable outcome by Monday. The electoral reform issue provides a good test of the future potential and limits of Karzai as a partner. U.S. interests, the imperatives of Afghan-statebuilding, and Afghanistan’s long-term developmental interests will occasionally require Karzai to make difficult choices. This is such an instance. Also to be validated is his coterie of reform-minded ministers’ ability to adroitly manage Karzai behind closed doors as occurred during his decision to accept a second round in last fall’s election. A strong, empowered group of such ministers will be crucial to U.S.-Afghan success in the months ahead.
15. (U) Begin non-paper text:
President Karzai made a firm commitment at the London Conference to put in place meaningful electoral reforms which reflect lessons learned from 2009 and to ensure measures are in place to tackle the electoral abuses witnessed last year. Strengthening the independence of the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) is vital to ensuring that these institutions are impartial and effective.
The following three key measures are essential to ensuring the credibility of the Parliamentary electoral process and the success of the future Parliament, an institution integral to strengthening Afghanistan’s democracy. They are also measures that will enable the international community to convince their governments to help fund and otherwise support these and future elections.
-- Replacing the IEC chair with an independent and qualified official -- Maintaining the integrity of the ECC through a combination of independent Afghans and international experts -- Establishing a strong candidate vetting process that involves the participation of both Afghans and the international community
The following key reforms would represent important steps towards constructive electoral reform that draw on the lessons learned in 2009:
-- IEC staff committing or complicit in electoral offenses are dismissed -- IEC sessions are opened to accredited observers -- IEC-recommended fraud deterrence plans are implemented -- A comprehensive Ministry of Interior and IEC-endorsed security plan is established 60-90 days before the election -- Polling stations are announced at least 90 days before elections -- Conditions are in place to maximize the participation of
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women and vulnerable groups in elections, both as candidates and voters -- Domestic observers and political party agents are supported and their participation in election day activities is facilitated.
End non-paper text. RICCIARDONE