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Afghan Candidates Locked In Game Of One-Upmanship

Abdullah Abdullah (left) and Ashraf Ghani are trying to convince voters they are the best candidate whether it be in the eyes of women, the devout, or war veterans.
Afghanistan's two remaining presidential hopefuls are engaging in a serious game of one-upmanship as campaigning heats up.

The stakes are high as the June 14 runoff between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani approaches, and both men are trying to convince voters they are the best candidate whether it be in the eyes of women, the devout, or war veterans.

Take the debate over who has more support among women. On June 5, a women's rally in support of Abdullah was held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. The same day, a group of burqa-clad women endorsed Ghani during a gathering in the southern province of Khost. Both sides have claimed to have the upper hand.

Then there is the contest within the contest over which candidate is more "Islamic”" and has the support of the mujahedin, the Islamist groups that once fought the Soviet Union and the Taliban and whose leaders retain powerful positions in government.

Ghani held a large gathering at the Loya Jirga hall in Kabul on June 5 where prominent religious and mujahedin leaders voiced their support.

Ghani told the crowd he would consult with religious leaders on all government-related issues.

That came just two days after former Energy and Water Minister Mohammad Ismail Khan -- the vice-presidential running mate of first-round presidential candidate Abdul Rasul Sayyaf -- voiced his support for Abdullah.

Khan, a powerful former warlord, said he hoped his endorsement of Abdullah would bring back an "Islamic government" led by the "mujahedin family." Abdullah, Khan, and Sayyaf are from different groups within the mujahedin.

The two sides have also clashed over the holy war against the Soviet Union.

Former Afghan President Sibghatullah Mojadedi, who has endorsed Ghani, has claimed it was he who started the jihad.

Abdullah has said that while Ghani left Afghanistan and moved to the West, he stayed and fought against the Soviet Union and later the Taliban.

Last month, Ghani, a Western-educated technocrat, challenged Abdullah, a former mujahedin fighter, to a debate on Islamic issues. Abdullah declined the offer, saying it was a "lame joke" and "unnecessary," thereby suggesting that his religious credentials were not comparable to Ghani's.

-- Frud Bezhan