Afghan Hindus and the Taleban Edict
By Suresh Jaura
Within a few weeks after disregarding
the worldwide call for restraint and the wanton destruction of ancient
Buddha statues in Bamiyan, the Taleban have decided to DARE the world
once again. This time the target is not the statues but human beings.
Afghanistan’s ruling Taleban said on
May 22, they would require Hindus to wear identity labels on their
clothing to distinguish them from Muslims.
The Taleban said the measure, which
would also require Hindu women to be veiled, was aimed at keeping
non-Muslims from being harassed by religious police enforcing Islamic
law. Unlike Muslim women, Hindu women in Afghanistan, until now, have
not been forced to wear the head-to-toe covering called a burqa.
The Taleban’s Bakhtar news agency
said the latest measure was intended “to prevent disturbance to
non-Muslim citizens” who might be stopped by the religious police.
Wali, the religious police minister,
said Islam required the restrictions. “Religious minorities living in
an Islamic state must be identified,” he said. “This is a tradition
since the time of the holy Prophet Mohammad for non-Muslims for their
safety and immunity,” said Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taleban ambassador
“This order was issued on the demand
of Hindus who were concerned all the time because the workers of the
Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice would
always ask them to grow a beard or go and offer prayers in the mosque,”
said Mullah Abdulhanan Himat, a senior Information Ministry official.
The Taleban decree was the latest
sign of its growing hostility to the outside world and an increasingly
tough line in enforcing its austere version of Islam. The Taleban
defend their plan as being consistent with sharia, the Islamic legal
secretary of Pakistan’s Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami
praised the Taleban move. “Providing protection to religious
minorities is a must in any Islamic country and this step seems in
line with this concept,” said Munawaar Hasan.
Hindus and Sikhs first came from
India to Afghanistan in 1747. They numbered some 50,000 in the 1970s,
but most left after the Soviets sent troops into Afghanistan in 1979.
Fighting in 1992 destroyed five of the seven temples used jointly by
Hindus and Sikhs in Kabul. Till this time, Hindus in Afghanistan have
not been the target of persecution and have been allowed to practice
their religion without interference, even using music, which is
otherwise banned. In a nation of 26 million Muslims, they number about
The Taleban’s decree conjures up
horrible memories of Jewish persecution in Nazi Germany in the 1930s
and 40s. They faced mounting international condemnation.
India denounced the order—which was
aimed primarily at Hindus living in Afghanistan—as racist and called
for international pressure on the Taleban. “We absolutely deplore such
orders which patently discriminate against minorities,” Raminder Singh
Jassal, an Indian foreign ministry spokesperson, said in New Delhi.
“It is further evidence of the backward and unacceptable ideological
underpinning of the Taleban.”
Pakistan publicly took a strong line
on the Taleban’s decision to make the Hindus wear distinctive cloth
badges. A statement by the ministry of foreign affairs said last
Thursday that Pakistan deplored “all discrimination against religious
or any other group or minority anywhere in the world.”
The statement was issued four days
after the Taleban ordered all Hindus to wear separate badges to become
distinct from the Muslim population.
The carefully worded statement said
that Pakistan was looking into the “veracity of the reports of the
edict,” adding that “as a matter of policy Pakistan upholds the
principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including the
principle relating to religious tolerance and equal rights and
opportunities for all.”
In an apparent reference to the
controversial edict, the statement said: “We consider this against the
spirit of Islam.”
This is the first time that Pakistan,
which besides Saudi Arabia and the UAE is the only country in the
world to have recognised the Taleban, has taken such a tough stand
towards the government in Kabul. If countries like Saudi Arabia,
Indonesia and Pakistan severely condemn, the Taleban may back down.
A Pakistan Muslim League leader,
Hamida Khuhro, has said this action smacked of crude barbarism and
inhumanity and was a contravention of Islamic teachings, which went
without saying. What was surprising, she added, was that Pakistan,
which helped Afghanistan in its time of need, was not now using
whatever clout it had to bring Afghanistan to its senses.
She claimed that Muslims were under
siege both physically and intellectually everywhere in the world and
such an action in Afghanistan would bring Muslims into further
disrepute the world over. Hence, Hamida suggested, the government of
Pakistan must condemn this step of the Taleban absolutely and do
everything it could to prevent such acts.
the world’s only Hindu kingdom, the Foreign Ministry as “a
reprehensible act, which defies all norms and universal principles of
human rights”, denounced the Taleban edict.
Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General,
expressed dismay and appealed for the order not to go into force,
saying it “recalls some of the most deplorable acts of discrimination
practices in the past—from Nazi Germany in the 1930s to Rwanda in the
early 1990s—have led to the most horrible crimes,” Ms. Robinson said
in a joint statement with UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura.
In Washington, a U.S. State
Department spokesman called the requirement “the latest in a long list
of outrageous oppressions” by the Taleban.
“We want to make quite clear that
forcing social groups to wear distinctive clothing or identifying
marks stigmatizes and isolates those groups and can never, never be
justified,” spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington.
All European governments have
deplored the edit and asked the Taleban to re-consider.
Canada joined the chorus of
international anger. “We condemn what we’ve heard. These actions run
against accepted norms of religious tolerance that are valued by all
Canadians,” said Marie-Christine Lilkoff, a spokeswoman for the
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
It is also a violation of the principle
of freedom from discrimination in the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, as well as the provisions of the International Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.”
Canadian Alliance MP Deepak Obhrai
called on Ottawa to push for a United Nations resolution condemning
the Taleban. “The Taleban must be told in no uncertain terms its
behaviour is unacceptable to the world community.”
“This is an edict that should be
condemned by all who support religious freedom and the rights of
minorities,” Keith Landy, national president of the Canadian Jewish
Congress, said in a statement. Landy urged the Canadian government to
speak out against the edict, which he called “a chilling reminder” of
the Nazi regime.
“We must help put maximum pressure on
Afghanistan and stand at the ready to accept refugees if the need
arises”, wrote Keith Landy in The Toronto Star.
Ian Stewart, a former correspondent,
writing in the Globe and Mail, hits the nail on the head, “If we do
not tell them (the Taleban) that enough is enough, we may regret a
missed opportunity to pre-empt a massacre. Let’s act before the
saffron-badged Hindus begin disappearing from the streets of Kabul and
Afghanistan’s other cities.”
Canada opened its doors to the fleeing
Asians from Idi Amin’s Uganda and at the time of Kenya’s
Africanisation campaign. If the Taleban government implements the
decree, Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s government should make
arrangements through Pakistan’s help to move Hindus and Sikhs, who may
wish to come here.
It is not a question of 1700 or so
Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan. As Jim Karygiannis, MP (Scarborough-Agincourt)
writes, “If this is let go unnoticed and unchallenged, other regimes
might also get the same idea and start threatening minorities in their
© Copyright GlobalomNet Media