Campaigning for the first round of Afghanistan's presidential election was generally amicable, with contestants steering clear of personal attacks. But the two remaining candidates and their supporters have taken off the gloves ahead of the final showdown on June 14.
Followers of Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani -- the last two candidates standing -- have resorted to mudslinging on the social-networking sites Facebook and Twitter. And the candidates' campaign teams, meanwhile, have traded insults and threats on an almost daily basis.
In the latest episode, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Ghani's first vice-presidential running mate, engaged in some saber-rattling during a rally in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif on June 3. "We will accept death but not defeat," he said. Juma Khan Hamdard, the governor of Paktia Province who was standing alongside Dostum, added that "if voters make a mistake, the country will face war."
The tough talk came after Abdullah's second vice-presidential running mate, Mohammad Mohaqeq, insulted Ghani during a televised campaign rally
on May 31, calling him a "ruda qaq." In Dari, the word is slang for a person who is underweight. It literally means dried-up intestine or gut, and means that the object of the insult is weak and sick. Mohaqeq could have been referring to Ghani's reported health problems.
The attack has attracted a strong backlash on social media.
Some Twitter users have uploaded photos of themselves holding messages to Mohaqeq.
One of them reads, "I'm also skinny, but at least I have a clear conscience." That's a reference to Mohaqeq's checkered past. A powerful Hazara former warlord, Mohaqeq has been accused of human rights abuses carried out during the country's brutal civil war.
The Independent Election Commission, in a statement on June 1
, urged the two teams to steer clear of "discriminatory issues, defamation, and irreverence" that have been "stirred up in rallies, press conferences, and on TV and radio advertisement."
And President Hamid Karzai jumped into the fray on June 3 when he assembled officials from state and private media to stress the importance of maintaining a "friendly atmosphere in the electoral atmosphere." As for the two candidates and their supporters, he advised that they "avoid all such words or actions that cause unpleasant electoral circumstances."
The Afghan media have echoed those sentiments. An editorial in the independent "Hast-e Sobh" newspaper on June 4 said rival campaign teams were "making remarks that have created concerns for people" and urged them to make "responsible" remarks and take "constructive stances."
Meanwhile, the private "Mandegar Daily" wrote the same day that the rival campaigns were "beating the war drum" by intensifying their attacks against one another.