A spokesman for the U.S.-funded group Democracy International said
on Thursday it and other similar organizations had planned to carry
out opinion polls as Afghanistan prepares for the April 5 election.
The U.S. embassy in Kabul later confirmed the funding cut.
"Statements by some electoral authorities and candidates' camps
suggested that there was ... a perception that the polling results
were somehow biased," a U.S. embassy spokesman said.
"In order to avoid any perception — however baseless — of U.S.
interference, we have decided to forgo additional U.S.-funded
polling regarding the upcoming election," he said.
The cut in funding comes as relations between the United States and
Afghanistan have been severely strained over President Hamid
Karzai's refusal to sign a bilateral security pact that would enable
U.S. troops to stay beyond this year.
The election is seen as crucial to Afghanistan's efforts to build
stability, months before most foreign forces are due to withdraw,
leaving Afghan forces to battle a resilient Taliban insurgency.
Democracy International program officer Mohammad Atta said the group
had planned three rounds of opinion polls. It published its first
results in December but its findings provoked a public outcry and
accusations of interference.
"There were a few agencies that were responsible for conducting the
polls but all of them have been canceled at the moment," Atta said.
Karzai has long suspected the United States of having interfered in
the last presidential election in 2009 and has warned against
Former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates recently published a
memoir appearing to confirm Karzai's suspicion, saying the then top
U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan had been "doing his best to
bring about the defeat of Karzai".
Karzai's spokesman said Washington may try to use polling as a means
to influence the outcome of the April election.
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"It is now crystal clear that there was interference in the election
in 2009," said Aimal Faizi. "It puts the U.S. role behind such
funding under question. Why would the U.S. fund surveys on Afghan
The United States is Afghanistan's biggest aid donor, despite the
difficult relationship with Karzai, but it is committing about 15
percent less for the 2014 election fund than it did in 2009,
pledging $55 million.
Democracy International's first poll showed the front-runners to be
West-leaning intellectual and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani
and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main
challenger in 2009.
Hostility between the United States and Karzai, who has served two
terms and is not running again, has escalated this month over two
The first is a plan to release prisoners that Washington says have
killed coalition forces and pose a threat to security. The second is
a military operation in Parwan province that resulted in a number of
The United States has threatened to pull out all of its troops
unless Karzai signs the security deal promptly.
(Editing by Robert Birsel and Raissa Kasolowsky)
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