WASHINGTON - A former UN envoy appealed Monday for action to stop Afghanistan's parliamentary elections later this year, charging that President Hamid Karzai could trigger civil war through vote-rigging.
Peter Galbraith - a vocal critic of Karzai, whom he described as a "weirdo" - also said the United States and its allies should consider sharply reducing troop levels as it lacked a credible partner in Kabul.
The United Nations fired Galbraith last year as number two in its Afghan mission after he accused Karzai's forces of ballot-stuffing in presidential elections, although a UN watchdog later released similar findings.
Galbraith warned of a "looming train wreck" in September's elections for parliament, which has provided an outlet for Karzai's opponents and members of ethnic groups other than the Afghan president's Pashtuns.
"As bad as it is, the situation in Afghanistan is going to get immeasurably worse in September unless something is done to stop the parliamentary elections," Galbraith told a forum in Washington.
"What is a certain result of all this is increased chaos in Afghanistan, and what is a very possible result is civil war between the Pashtuns and the other groups," he said.
Galbraith, a former US ambassador to Croatia, urged Congress to use its power as funder of the election to stop the vote without strict conditions including removing Karzai appointees from the Independent Election Commission.
The election was already delayed in January due to lack of funding. The vote as initially set for this Saturday.
"More Americans will die as a result of fraudulent parliamentary elections. The military mission will become more difficult, to have our troops in the middle of a civil war," Galbraith said.
President Barack Obama last year ordered a surge of 30,000 more troops to fight insurgents, hoping to pave the way for an exit from the nation where the United States overthrew the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Obama last week gave Karzai a red-carpet welcome at the White House, in a choreographed show of unity after the Afghan leader made a series of strident remarks criticizing the West.
Karzai had accused Galbraith and other Westerners of orchestrating election fraud and mused about switching sides to the Taliban, although his aides said the remarks were misinterpreted.
"I don't know how to put it diplomatically, so I guess I won't - Karzai is a weirdo," Galbraith said.
"We have a government with an eight-year track record of ineffectiveness and corruption, now in office by virtue of fraud and therefore handicapped by illegitimacy, so why would we think things would get better?"
Galbraith's recommendations go against the view of the Obama administration, which is preparing an assault on the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar after a major offensive in Marjah.
General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has led a strategy of fighting insurgents on the battlefield and then trying to bring in government institutions.
Afghans "don't have to believe that the government that they have today is perfect. What they have to believe is that the government we are working towards is better than what an alternative would be," McChrystal said last week
on the "PBS Newshour."
But Galbraith said foreign powers should consider narrowing goals to counter-terrorism operations or ensuring stability in the comparatively peaceful north and Kabul.
Such an effort would require some 15,000 to 20,000 troops, down from the 130,000-strong foreign forces now in Afghanistan, he said.
Galbraith argued that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was improbable as the United States could pressure Pakistan, the regime's former backer, not to support them again.
"If winning is defined as defeating the Taliban insurgency, we're not going to do that. But if losing is defined as a Taliban victory, that isn't going to happen either," he said.