BBC BLOGS - The Editors
« Previous | Main | Next »

An important story

Post categories:

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 16:51 UK time, Thursday, 1 October 2009

Last night we led on the story of the sacking of a UN official.

The World TonightWhy did we judge that to be the most important story of the day on the The World Tonight? A question I've been asked.

Well the official in question is the American Deputy Head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith.

He was considered a close ally of the powerful US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, so the sacking is surprising.

But more important is the reason he fell out with his boss, the head of the UN in Afghanistan, Kai Eide.

They didn't agree on how to handle the widespread allegations of fraud in August's Afghan presidential election, where the Electoral Complaints Commission is investigating thousands of suspect ballots which has held up the official announcement of the result.

Peter GalbraithJust after Mr Galbraith was informed of his dismissal, he gave The World Tonight an interview (you can listen here) and alleged that he had seen evidence of widespread fraud in the voting, especially in the south of the country, and that he had also raised concerns that the elections commission was trying to manipulate the vote in favour of the the incumbent President Karzai, who has received the largest number of votes as things stand.

He alleges that Mr Eide told him not to share these concerns with international diplomats in Kabul and that was why he had been told to leave the country and had now lost his job.

In the interview he was also strongly critical of the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon for removing him. He said: "I think it sends a terrible signal when the UN removes an official because he was concerned about fraud in a UN-sponsored and funded election."

We also spoke to Mr Ban's spokesman, Farhan Huq, who denied the UN had sided with President Karzai or had minimised the fraud in the election. He said Mr Galbraith had been dismissed for the good of the mission, because it was necessary to have unity at the top in Kabul.

The elections in Afghanistan have been presented as a centrepiece in the Nato and UN strategy to demonstrate that Afghanistan can be turned into a viable, democratic state and that the military intervention in which thousands of civilians, more than 200 British troops, and more than 800 American troops have been killed since 2001 is worth it.

This is why we judged the resignation a very important story. I hope you agree.

Alistair Burnett is the editor of The World Tonight.


  • Comment number 1.

    It's a very important story and one which wasn't covered on the popular news programmes.

    Following that today was a long speech from the US General in charge of Afghanistan who seemed to be pleading for ideas to resolve the problems.

    After hearing a large part of his speech I am more confused than ever as to why we are there.

    It is as if he has just found out that the war is unwinnable which is something most of us already knew. He seems surprised that the insurgents are like hydras. Kill one and another two take their place.

    After so many years in the country they don't seem to have yet got to grips of knowing who their enemy is.

    Peter Galbraith could only have been sacked because he knew all of this and could see no end in sight in a fast deteriorating situation.

    The problems aren't in Afghanistan they are in Pakistan and no- one has yet come up with a solution to that either.

  • Comment number 2.

    The facts over the "fixed" election were in the public domain within days of the election having taken place.

    Why then should a conscientious official be sacked for speaking the truth?

    Is the whole NATO - UN set up so saturated in whitewash, that they are more concerned about the appearance of what they do, rather than the outcomes of their intervention.

    I'm still of the opinion that we pull our troops ( and the US boys ) out.
    Why should we risk the lives of military personnel just to prop up a corrupt regime, and not have the guts to blackball the Afgan election?

  • Comment number 3.

    Alistair Burnett :

    Than I have to agreed with you on this item..It was an prudent decision...

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 4.

    Sorry, but I have limited sympathy for this guy.

    Clearly he is legal, decent, honest and truthful.

    So what is he doing as American Deputy Head of the UN mission in Afghanistan ??

    It is a bit like a teetotaller getting a job running a bar. Or someone with strong religious convictions running a bookmakers.

    I thought the whole point of diplomacy was to go abroad and lie for one's country. Or maybe the UN feel that they are distinct from country.

    However, he should look on the bright side. In the current climate of chaos at banks which are packed to the gunwales with people telling all sorts of porkies, he could be a trouble-shooter par excellence.

  • Comment number 5.

    The losers in this are the Afghan people. Not only have they had western politics foisted upon them, they now have the probability on an "illegal" outcome of an election they didn't want.

    It is further evidence of the disaster that the illegal invasion of Afghanistan has been and it does no western involvement in this country any credit whatsoever. How on earth can we criticise the Taleban when our own involvement is corrupt, dishonest and disrespectful to every single Afghan?

  • Comment number 6.

    Imv, we are seeing the repositioning of the major participants in anticipation of the epilogue to the whole, messy debacle.

    Bush and Blair have still to be brought to account

  • Comment number 7.

    An important story certainly. It tells us that harmony at the top of the UN is more important than transparency and moral courage. Richard Holbroke is the tough talking and rather direct American diplomat who brokered the Dayton Accord so well by taking on and facing down the dreadful "creatures" called Balkan politicians. He has challenged Karzai in the past in public and I guess poor Mr Galbraith is part of the fall-out between the Holbroke led attempt to ram some transparency into Afghanistan and the UN's usual feeble balancing act. On this I am with Holbroke and Galbraith. If we are going to see this thing through over the bodies of our fallen servicemen, then some grit shown to those who want to govern the tribal soup of Afghanistan is necessary. We have to stay for the long haul and get on with nation building under strong leadership. Keep at it Mr Holbroke!

  • Comment number 8.

    This important story that The World Tonight has brought to our attention -- barely touched by TV news - is yet another example of how, if you really want to be informed, you need to listen to radio news and current affairs, not the BBC1 version which goes out at the same time.

  • Comment number 9.

    This is such a huge issue and there are many stories behind it. I'd guess there must be an interesting debate within the BBC itself as to how to handle it. There has to be some disappointment that this has been up for 3 days and has only attracted eight contributions. That's probably ammunition for those editors who see news about about celebrities as more interesting.

  • Comment number 10.

    A correct decision by the BBC to five prominence to the story.

    Also gave good coverage to both sides of the story.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 11.

    This is a real explosive-nanothermite of a story, keep it up. Why should people be sacked when they are doing their job!?

  • Comment number 12.


    Indeed. It is a pity the BBC have not given prominence to every deceitful move that the US and its allies (including Israel) have made in the lead up to and the delivery of their strategy to make disagreeable states pay. 911 has shown up the BBC for what it is.

    Bush obtained his presidency undemocratically and he wanted the world to have identical capability. In Iraq and Afghanistan he sure delivered.

  • Comment number 13.

    This is from the BBC in March 2008:

    "The former British politician and High Representative in Bosnia, Lord Paddy Ashdown, was initially lined up for the UN special representative job, but his appointment was blocked by President Karzai in January."

    So Kai Eide is some opponent when he is a substitute for a famous UK political lightweight. Obviously weak enough to do whatever he is told....

  • Comment number 14.

    What is this about voting it does what con the Afghans that they have chosen a leader like Bush was chosen by the people of the USA like Blair was chosen again please get real all voting in this country will be fraud because its being paid for my the CIA and its done to get whom they want in power like Karzi it is the insulting of peoples intelligent that get people back up enough what is not understood about we do not want you in our country never wanted you in it never threatened you or any other country until you began to kill my people go and interfere in Israel and their voting I dare you. as for them sacking another white man so what? it is not him or his sons who will be shipped out to what is now hell.

    The old chestnut of the West knows all about democracy is bunken always has been we are not free here because we have to give up our freedom to be safe I am feed up of this rubbish we are the aggressor they are defending a Muslim country just as we would defend a christian one, grow up.

  • Comment number 15.


    'I'd guess there must be an interesting debate within the BBC itself as to how to handle it. There has to be some disappointment that this has been up for 3 days and has only attracted eight contributions.'

    Isn't it disturbing to see the people who have some integrity ousted from the circle of mass murdering administrate? Yes, it is, yes it is.

    Important story after important story.

    Pray tell, what is worse? Torture or election fraud? Public servants, public service... failure of disclosure, one after another, collusion, complicity... failure on all accounts.

  • Comment number 16.

    It was a very important story and one which wasn't covered on the other news programmes.

    I found it surprising that no one else is talking about it as bringing a stable government to the region is probably the most important factor to being able to withdraw our troops.

    If we are giong to stay in Afganistan for the long haul and get on with nation building then it needs to be under strong leadership.

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] Iva

  • Comment number 17.

    I think the limited number of posts may have something to do with the fact that no-one is surprised by this.

    Everyone knows the war in Afghanistan is a sham, has nothing to do with 9/11, peace or democracy and is actually little more than several Western nations trying to gain political and economic control over the region.

    Why then should it be a surprise when the UN sponsored elections turn out to be rigged in favour of the pro-Western candidate ?
    Why should we be surprised when the only people who speak out against it are fired from their jobs ?

    We had massive voter fraud in the 2000 U.S. election and nothing was ever done about it.
    We had massive postal voting fraud in the 2001 UK elections and nothing was ever done about it.

    Why then should anything be done about this ?

    Democracy is an illusion, we're all nothing more than modern day Serfs and our votes and opinions are irrelevant to our political masters.
    If anything the Afghans should be happy that their elections are now as free and fair as ours.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    In view of President Obama's recent Nobel Peace Prize is the BBC planning to be sharper and more neutral as to what is actually happening in Iraq and Afghanistan? We know the elections in Iraq have failed to deliver as required; why believe that Afghanistan is any different?

    However this cake is sliced up, and however long it takes to do it, the moment the Coalition leaves, "normality" will be restored because that is what the citizens of these countries want. Unless the majority want a western style democracy there will be no democracy.

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    Glad you went with it. As commented, almost nothing of this in TV news. I realise they are more limited to what they can show, but for the real news I always head online, where the possibilities and journalist commentary are limitless

  • Comment number 23.

    So why are we at war with Afghanistan. Why don't we hear any other side of the story except the government's. Is it because we don't want to be letting our boys down? Or is it because the other side of the story is so stark, so clearly obvious, that we should not be there.

    An Afghan Warlord, a Pashtun regional commander and former prime minister has said that no Afghan was involved in the 9/11 attacks on the United States and accused Washington of using a false pretext to launch its wars.

    He said the attacks were planned in Europe and the U.S. and not in Afghanistan or Iraq and that no Afghan has taken part in any attack against the American nation.

    That sounds er... strangely rational. Why doesn't the BBC do an interview with the guy?

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.