Between Afghans And Political Milestone, Threat Of Violence Looms

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Afghans vote Saturday for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. It could be the country's first ever democratic transfer of power, but fraud and violence are expected.


To Afghanistan now, where tomorrow voters will choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai who was barred from running again. The election will mark the country's first democratic transition of power. The Taliban have been calling the election a Western-backed sham and have been waging a campaign of violence to disrupt the vote.

NPR's Sean Carberry joins us now from Kabul. And, Sean, today there's news that an Afghan policeman shot two AP journalists - one was killed, the other injured. And, again, an incident highlighting the many security concerns that are surrounding tomorrow's vote.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Yes, Melissa. AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus was killed today as she and correspondent Kathy Gannon, who is receiving treatment, were covering election workers preparing for tomorrow. And the Taliban have staged a number of in high-profile attacks in recent weeks against Afghans and foreigners in an attempt to disrupt the election.

Most Afghans say they still intend to vote. But the concern is that the violence could shut down more polling stations, already about 10 percent have already been closed because of security concerns. And if more are closed, it raises further concerns about the issue of fraud and how that will impact the outcome.

BLOCK: And when we think about fraud, Sean, back in 2009, there were more than a million votes thrown out because of fraud. Most of those votes at the time were for Hamid Karzai who was running for reelection. With Karzai out of the race now, what's the expectation about fraud this time?

CARBERRY: Well, there's still a very high expectation. A recent survey said that Afghans think that this election will be even less clean and transparent than the last election. There have been some new measures put in place to try to reduce the fraud, but there are still many vulnerable points in the system where ballot stuffing can take place or manipulating of the count.

There is a hope that with Karzai not running, that he doesn't have the same power that he had in past elections to direct the state institutions to commit fraud. He is, by all accounts, backing one of the candidates Zalmai Rassoul and the expectations are that he will try to push things to support Rassoul. But, again, there's hope that he doesn't have as much influence, and at least fraud will be more uniformly distributed and hopefully minimizing the impact.

BLOCK: And, Sean, what can you tell us about the voting process itself and when we'll know the result?

CARBERRY: The voting will be fairly straightforward. Polls will open at 7 am tomorrow and close at 4 pm. But it will take days to actually get any initial results. And the formal results will be released April 20th. But then after that, there are several weeks of challenge and review period to look at fraud. So mid-May is when we know the results of that. But even then, if no candidate gets more than 50 percent, it goes to a runoff. And so it could be somewhere July to August before we actually know who's going to be the next president.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about the implications for the United States. The U.S. has been trying to get President Karzai to sign a security agreement. It would allow American troops to stay beyond next year. Karzai has refused. Is there any indication that a new Afghan president would sign that agreement?

CARBERRY: Well, all of the candidates have given assurance that they will sign the agreement and they're not looking to renegotiate any of it. But the question again is the timing. If a new president isn't in office until late summer or early fall, that might not be enough time for the U.S. and then NATO to put this plan into effect to have forces after 2014. They might be at the point of no return of their drawdown. So that's the concern is the timing and a hope that, one way or another, the election gets resolved in time to sign the agreement and move forward.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Sean Carberry speaking to us from Kabul. Sean, thanks so much.

CARBERRY: You're welcome, Melissa.

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