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There is renewed fighting in Kandahar as the outcome of the Afghan presidential election remains uncertain. And a new U.N. report says civilian casualties are up significantly from a year ago.

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Transcript

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In Afghanistan today, supporters of presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, held what they called a national day of protest. They came out to echo Abdullah's charges that last Saturday's presidential run-off vote was rigged against him. Abdullah has since declared that Afghanistan's two electoral commissions are illegitimate and that he will not respect the results that are due early next month. NPR's Sean Carberry reports on the growing political crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

Afghans went to the polls on Saturday to vote for a successor to Hamid Karzai who's ruled since 2001. Former foreign minister Adbullah Abdullah faced off against former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.

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On Saturday afternoons, sometimes with a coworker or two, Siavash Rahbari drives up a rutted side street in Kabul to visit the Window of Hope orphanage.

In the living room, there are a dozen boys and two girls. Some are playing, while others lie around on mats on the floor, clearly suffering from a range of disabilities. Rahbari, a Texan who works at an NGO in Kabul, gives the children a cursory inspection.

In 2000, Auliya Atrafi paid thousands of dollars and risked his life to escape Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. He spent 12 years in England getting educated and becoming a documentary filmmaker.

Last year, he gave up life in the West and returned home to southern Helmand province. Now, he's the father of twins and he's working in a rural government office while trying to readjust to life in a conservative society that he finds dysfunctional.

Afghanistan may be one of the world's poorest countries, but weddings are still a big — and expensive — deal. On most weekends, Kabul's glitzy and somewhat garish wedding halls are packed with people celebrating nuptials.

One of them is the Uranos Palace complex. On the night I attended my first Afghan wedding, all three of its halls were overflowing. I was one of two foreigners in a room of about 200 men. The female guests sat on the other side of a 7-foot-high divider in the middle of the hall.

Shiite Muslims gathered in Kabul last week to celebrate Ashura, one of the holiest days on their religious calendar. Hundreds of shirtless men chanted and flogged themselves with chains tipped with knife-like shards of metal.

In the past, these public Shiite commemorations have become targets of the Taliban and other Islamist extremists. In 2011, a suicide bomber killed 56 Shiites marking Ashura. But this year, security was particularly tight.

Shopkeeper Noor Aga said the celebration was magnificent, and he felt safe.

Lashkar Gah is the capital of the volatile province that alone grows half of Afghanistan's opium poppy. Cultivation here grew by 34 percent over last year.

On Fridays, hundreds of men gather at the bazaar along the Helmand River, the lifeblood of this arid province. Vendors sell everything from livestock to boxes of artisanal medicine.

There's no sign of poppy here. In fact, the farmers we talk to like 26-year-old Khairullah, who goes by one name, say they are actually too poor to grow it.

It's one of the most touted "positive statistics" about Afghanistan: Today, there are 10 million Afghans enrolled in school, 40 percent of them female.

Under the Taliban, about 1 million boys and almost no girls were attending schools. Western officials routinely point to the revived education system as a sign of success and hope for the future.

As the war in Afghanistan enters its 13th year, the political and security situation there remains precarious. But the country is hoping to reach a milestone next spring: the first democratic transfer of power in the country's history.

And there's no shortage of candidates vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai — who is barred from running for a third term.

I confess I'm not much of a museum tourist. On a recent visit to Croatia's capital, Zagreb, I strolled past three museums without feeling any urge to step inside. Then I came across one I just couldn't ignore: the Museum of Broken Relationships.

"It's a collection of objects donated by people who have broken up," says Drazen Grubisic, a co-owner of the museum. "Each item has an accompanying story."

Some are amusing, others sarcastic and a few are just plain heartbreaking.

It's 8 a.m. on a recent day at Forward Operating Base Nolay, a small Marine outpost in Taliban-infested Sangin District of southern Afghanistan's Helmand province. The Marines are in the process of caffeinating and preparing for the day.

Suddenly, explosions and gunfire ring out. The Marines don't run for their weapons or bunkers for that matter. They don't even flinch.

"We can sit here and we can have a cup of coffee when there's booms going on, we're not concerned about it," says Lt. Col. Jonathan Loney.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are better known for their verbal fights and occasional border clashes, but for the first time since 1976, they battled on a soccer field in Kabul.

Some 6,000 rabid Afghan fans cheered on their team, clad in red uniforms. There were horns, flags, and face paint. It looked like any soccer game in the world, except for all the riot police, snipers, and Blackhawk helicopters passing overhead periodically.

Ahmad Mirwais, a 27-year-old tailor, was one of those lucky enough to score a ticket.

Saturday Night Live. The Daily Show. Zang-e-Khatar.

OK, maybe you haven't heard of that last one. But the comedy-sketch television show is well known in Afghanistan, where Zang-e-Khatar, or Danger Bell, is one of the most watched programs.

The U.S. has been pushing the Taliban and the Afghan government to find a political solution for the past year and a half. But every time it seems the parties are close to starting peace talks, a new demand or controversy arises and nothing happens.

In the latest attempt, the Taliban finally opened a political office in Qatar, a move that was supposed to set the stage for negotiations. But when the Taliban envoys gave that office the trappings of an embassy, a furious Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, called off the talks, and they have yet to be re-scheduled.

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