Afghan President Hamid Karzai has reportedly granted himself powers over a key electoral watchdog, a move likely to aggravate relations between his government and NATO allies fighting insurgents in the war-torn country.
In a presidential decree published last week, Karzai gave himself the power to appoint all five members of Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), according to the BBC and U.K. newspapers the Guardian and Telegraph.
The commission, headed by Canadian Grant Kippen, helped expose massive fraud in last year's presidential poll, forcing Karzai into a second vote.
Under a previous law, the United Nations appointed three foreign experts to the five-member commission, which would work alongside Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court of Afghanistan appointed the remaining two members.
The new decree was not unexpected. The Washington Post had reported on Feb. 14 that the Afghan government had drafted changes to the country's election law, including the possible removal of the three foreigners on the commission.
The BBC said Tuesday that Kai Eide, the outgoing UN representative to Afghanistan, had struck a private deal with Karzai that two of the five commission members would remain foreigners.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said he is troubled by Karzai's apparent move to give himself power over a key electoral watchdog.
"We'll collectively look at this decree, and if need be, pressure will be applied upon … President Karzai's government so that he will respond in a correct way," Cannon told CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon on Tuesday.
Cannon declined to specify the kind of pressure that might be applied and said he is still waiting for an official translation of the presidential decree.
NATO aims to bolster training
Karzai's announcement comes at an awkward time for NATO military officials, who are meeting with allied nations Tuesday to work out how to appoint 2,000 new instructors to train Afghan security forces.
Alliance members have said they would commit the number of troops needed, but it is unclear if they will have enough trainers with the qualifications requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
European allies in December pledged more than 7,000 more soldiers for the international force in Afghanistan, which is aiding the Afghan government in its fight against Taliban-led insurgents in the country.
With the 30,000 U.S. reinforcements committed by U.S. President Barack Obama, the total number of foreign troops should reach about 140,000 members by next summer.
U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that Europeans' aversion to military force is limiting NATO's ability to fight effectively.
In remarks to a forum on rewriting the basic mission plan for NATO, Gates called for far-reaching reforms in an organization created 61 years ago as a political and military bulwark against the former Soviet Union.