Campaign Of Fear Heats Up Against Afghan Voters Final preparations are underway in Afghanistan on the eve of the country's presidential election. It's the first such election in five years, and security increased dramatically over the past few days. That's particularly true in the capital of Kabul, which has come under a number of attacks by the Taliban.
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Campaign Of Fear Heats Up Against Afghan Voters

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Campaign Of Fear Heats Up Against Afghan Voters

Campaign Of Fear Heats Up Against Afghan Voters

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

In Afghanistan, one of the ways the government is hoping to make people feel safe enough to vote tomorrow is by stopping journalists from reporting the violence. It's also increased security, dramatically, over the past few days in the capital, Kabul, which has been shaken by a series of deadly bombings and other attacks by the Taliban.

NPR's Jackie Northam joins us, now, from our bureau in Kabul. Good morning.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, there have been more attacks in Kabul - why don't you tell us exactly how that has gone?

NORTHAM: Well, there were three attacks yesterday – two rocket attacks and then a suicide bombing just on the outskirts of Kabul, in which several people were killed and scores went injured. And today, there was a shootout at a bank in the city center and it went on for several hours. The police say at least three heavily armed gunmen overran the bank and that they were just criminals. Taliban spokesman, however, said it was some of its militants. And he also said that a number of suicide bombers have been sent into the city ahead of the elections. You know, either way, whether it was criminals or militants, today's incident didn't do much to lift the mood in this city. You know, after yesterday's attacks, the city streets were dead, like, everybody just went inside and locked their doors.

And this is what election officials and the international community fear the most. That these suicide bombings and rocket attacks will dissuade voters from coming out. So - just have to wait and see if there are more attacks and how the people will react.

MONTAGNE: Well, how serious is this security? Are you talking about army on the streets or lots more police?

NORTHAM: You're talking about both. There are more check points on the street. But (unintelligible) with the feeling that they are stringently checking vehicles or people going by, quite often, soldiers and police would just wave people, or you know, cars through. The Afghan government's answer seems to be to just prevent the media from reporting that violence. And so in that way voters don't get scared off on the day. There were two decreed issue today, one by the foreign ministry and other one by the interior ministry, barring any coverage of violence on Election Day.

The English version of the decree requested that there be no coverage. The local version, the Dari language version, said journalists were strictly forbidden from covering any trouble. And already, two journalists have been arrested. The government said it is taking these steps in order to control the media from having a negative impact and to somehow lift the voter's morale and encourage them to vote.

MONTAGNE: Well, Afghanistan has developed quite a lively press, a local press, and especially there in Kabul. What's been the response generally, and also by the U.S., to arresting journalists for reporting, basically, the news?

NORTHAM: Well, as you said, I mean it's a very lively press here and so this sort of decree that come down – it's very confusing. And it's also slightly worrying for the local press that, that they might be intimidated from going out and covering any of the violence, you know, because they're going to get arrested. I spoke with a very high level American official, today, about this. And he said the embassy, the U.S. Embassy is very, very angry about this. First, it's against the constitution, here; it goes against press freedoms. But the official also said – why is the government, here, wasting its security efforts, going after journalists, rather than trying to track down the Taliban or trying to prevent any attacks.

MONTAGNE: And then of course, the big question is also the countryside, where there – especially in the South and the East - where there's a lot of Taliban presence. We're within a day of the election, how good is the security, at this point in time, for those areas to stand a chance of letting people vote.

NORTHAM: Well, I just came back from a press conference with the election commission. And they said that there are eight districts where polling stations are not going to open because they're under Taliban control. But the interior ministry also said that about one-third of the country is still at risk from attacks. They haven't been able to get election materials to some places in the country, in part because they're so remote, they're having to move them in by donkey and that type of thing. But in other parts, because of the violence, they've not been able to get through for fear of attacks or because of attacks - and so they're having to helicopter these materials in - ballots and that type of thing. And they're going to try and get that all done today. But it's not a done deal by any means.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Jackie Northam speaking to us from Kabul. Thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Renee

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