Taliban Warn Afghan Voters Not To Go To The Polls Saturday

While the candidates hold huge rallies, the Taliban have been staging suicide attacks. They've targeted election offices and civilian compounds in Kabul in an effort to derail Saturday's election.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So, Renee, she said smooth transfer of power there. There's a big question, though, about whether this election can actually be carried out safely.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Well, the transition, of course, depends a little bit on how the candidates take losing - for those who will, inevitably. But, yes, real safety, physical safety is a big issue here. The Taliban promised weeks ago that it would disrupt the election. And our correspondent here in Kabul, Sean Carberry, has been looking into exactly that question, not only whether the election can be conducted without violence, but also whether it will be fair under the insecure circumstances here. And here's his report.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: As much as this has been the sound of the presidential campaign in Afghanistan in recent weeks...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

CARBERRY: So has this...

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

CARBERRY: While the candidates have been traversing the country, holding huge rallies, the Taliban have been staging suicide attacks. They've targeted election offices and civilian compounds in Kabul in an effort to derail Saturday's election. The militants have gone so far as to warn Afghans that they are risking their lives, should they go out to vote.

JAMES CUNNINGHAM: There's not going to be anyway to completely insulate the entire election structure from violence.

CARBERRY: U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham says that the violence, while expected, won't be enough to prevent or invalidate the election.

CUNNINGHAM: There are other places in the world where elections have been held under situations of greater stress than this.

CARBERRY: For example, recent elections in Iraq. And with the exception of an attack on the luxury Hotel Serena that killed five Afghans and four foreigners, the recent attacks have made a lot of noise and jangled nerves, but they haven't been that deadly by Taliban standards.

NICHOLAS HAYSOM: I actually remain optimistic.

CARBERRY: Nicholas Haysom, the number-two U.N. official in Afghanistan, says that while there have been more high-profile attacks in Kabul this year, there's actually less violence across the country than in the run-up to the 2009 vote.

HAYSOM: So, it seems to me there's at least a strong an argument that the Taliban are actually having difficulty in mustering the kind of violent campaign of intimidation to disrupt the elections.

CARBERRY: Though everyone expects the violence to escalate through election day. One major difference between the 2009 election and this one is that Afghan - rather than NATO - forces are now responsible for securing the elections. U.S. and U.N. officials expressed confidence that the Afghans have an effective security plan in place.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: Afghanistan's independent election commission just announced that about 10 percent of the 7,100 polling centers across the country will not be able to open due to insecurity. That's actually a significant improvement over the 2009 election. And according to Nader Nadery, the chairman of an Afghan election watchdog organization, the recent violence is creating a sense of defiance among Afghans.

NADER NADERY: People's reaction has been we vote. The results that I have seen in the past few days is unprecedented.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

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CARBERRY: And we found that resolve among Afghans who have been jostling all morning in a line outside a voter registration center in Kabul.

MOHAMMAD AMIN: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: Thirty-three-year-old shopkeeper Mohammad Amin says he's been waiting in line for three days. He's eager to vote, though he says it's clear there will be fraud, though even that fear isn't deterring Afghans. Past votes in Afghanistan have been notoriously fraudulent. This year, for the first time, there are bar-coded ballots and systems to prevent tampering and ballot box stuffing, though they are untested measures.

HAYSOM: One of the most effective ways of preventing fraud is by ensuring the fullest possible deployment of observers.

CARBERRY: Haysom with the U.N. says there will be thousands of Afghan election monitors across the country, though this year, there will be far fewer international observers. Two observer organizations pulled out after one worker was killed in the Hotel Serena attack. That's of concern to Nader Nadery.

NADERY: Fewer international observers is going to create issues with the transparency of the election.

CARBERRY: Perhaps the best hope the elections will be less fraudulent is that President Hamid Karzai isn't running for reelection. People say his hold on the levers of power is weaker, and he won't be able to throw the vote in favor of his preferred candidate. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

GREENE: And our colleague Renee Montagne has joined him there. And, Renee, you're going to be there for a couple of weeks.

MONTAGNE: Yes, David. I'll be covering the election, along with Sean, this coming Saturday. But also, I'll be doing stories on the people who will be shaping the future of this country and revisiting some of the people and places I've come to know over my years of covering Afghanistan at this really very key moment in its history.

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