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Afghan Voters Left With Images of Negative Campaigning

The Afghan incumbent, election officials, and even Western officials have repeatedly urged each of the candidates to steer away from smear campaigning, to no avail
KABUL -- The campaign is over, but evidence of mudslinging remains.

Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani took the low road as the Afghan presidential campaign wound down, with their teams and supporters engaging in petty name-calling, and exchanging personal insults and threats.

They also got some final, and lasting, words in, despite a two-day "silence period" under which candidates are barred from campaigning ahead of the June 14 vote.

A number of negative posters and billboards were placed around Kabul ahead of the ban, as smears emerged on social media, ensuring that voters would have something to think about as they head to polling stations.

One billboard from Ghani's campaign features an image of a pile of books, a pencil holder, and a laptop juxtaposed to a black-and-white photo of a group of Afghans standing and sifting through debris.

The caption on the billboard reads: "Is your future with Ashraf Ghani or … with …??? Your vote, your future."

The implication is that the country will prosper if Ghani, a Western-educated technocrat, is elected. But if Abdullah -- a former resistance fighter during the Soviet invasion and a commander in the former anti-Taliban Northern Alliance -- is elected the country will again be plunged into violence and poverty (Abdullah was a member of the Jamiat-e Islami, one of the warring factions of the mujahedin, which destroyed much of Kabul during the civil war).

Another billboard erected in Kabul's Shar-e Naw neighborhood bears the same slogan: "Is your future with Ashraf Ghani … or ???" But this time on one side of the billboard there is a light bulb. On the other, there is darkness.

Ghani Tarred As 'Western,' Even 'Christian'

For their part, supporters of Abdullah (it is not clear who, exactly, is responsible) used social media to smear Ghani.

The top of this poster, posted on Facebook, reads, "Islamic nation of Afghanistan!"

It is accompanied by a caption in blue that reads: "Participation in the election and selecting the country's leadership is the duty of every Muslim. We have the right to choose our new president on June 14 by going to the polls. But choosing the right candidate is important because it will define our future. Do you want the president of an Islamic country to be someone who doesn't know about Islam and Shari'a law?"

On the top-left corner there is a photo of Ghani posing with what appears to be a Roman Catholic clergyman who is described in the caption as the "pope." Together they hold a piece of paper that is described as a document confirming Ghani's conversion to Christianity.

The bottom-right corner has an image of Ghani apparently standing before another high figure from the Roman Catholic Church.

The bottom-left corner of the poster features a photograph of what appears to be Ghani's wife, Rula, who is of Lebanese Christian descent. Next to it is a photo purportedly showing Ghani's daughter. The caption above the photos reads, "Do you want this family to determine your destiny?"

Throughout the campaign, Ghani has come under a barrage of attacks on online forums in Afghanistan and on Twitter and Facebook over his perceived Western leanings.

Some Afghans have expressed alarm that, should Ghani win the election, Afghanistan would have its first non-Muslim first lady. Others have criticized Ghani for letting his daughter appear in public without a head scarf.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, election officials, and even Western officials have repeatedly urged each of the candidates to steer away from smear campaigning. But despite the warnings, negative images will remain in public view as Afghans determine their next president.