May 24, 2001
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Bush urged to take on Taleban

Aziz Haniffa
India Abroad correspondent in Washington

Over one hundred US law-makers including House Speaker Dennis Hastert (Illinois-Republican) and Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri, on Wednesday urged President George W Bush to take a stand on the Taleban's anti-Hindu agenda in Afghanistan.

The law-makers condemned the Taleban edict mandating that all Hindus in that country wear a two-meter yellow cloth to identify themselves. Jan Schakowsky (Illinois-Democrat), the driving force behind the letter, said, "The action of the Taleban towards Afghanistan's Hindu minority is disturbingly reminiscent of Nazi Germany's treatment of the Jews.

"The United States has a responsibility, as the world leader, to speak up now and to demand an immediate end to this policy, before its too late," the Illinois representative added.

"We are writing to you today," the law-makers have said in their letter to the President, "because we are extremely concerned after hearing news reports which indicate that the Taleban leadership in Afghanistan plans to force Afghan Hindus to wear labels on their clothing to differentiate them from Muslims. We urge you to immediately take steps that will convince the Taleban to withdraw this proposal."

The letter notes that "history has shown over and over that segregation of this kind can lead to genocide. This action alone is enough to raise that specter.

"Afghanistan is also the source of disturbing reports of persecution of religious minorities and women in particular, making the recent news all the more troubling," the law-makers added.

They informed Bush that "news reports also indicated that the policy was justified by Taleban officials as a way to protect the Hindu population in that country. We believe this action will be counter-productive to that goal."

"As the leader of the free world, our nation has a solemn obligation to lead in opposition to such dangerous plans," the letter exhorts President Bush. "We urge you to immediately fulfill that obligation."

On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher had signalled the US government's condemnation of the Taleban edict when he said, "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.

"This reported edict is only the latest in a long list of outrageous oppressions that have been inflicted by the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan and on the people of Afghanistan. These kinds of strictures only add to the suffering of people who have borne 23 years of war and natural catastrophe," Boucher said.

The State Department spokesman asserted that, "We remain committed to bringing the Taleban and other factions into compliance with international norms of behavior on all human rights issues, and those norms would certainly preclude any steps such as these."

Boucher noted that the US has "raised the issue of human rights repeatedly with Taleban authorities, and we are working with other countries and with the United Nations to bring about change."

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who met with members of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, promised to exert pressure on Pakistan and get that country to use its influence on Taleban to mend its ways.

Armitage agreed with the consensus among law-makers that this latest act by the Taleban was "despicable and horrible" and worthy of the strongest condemnation.

According to sources present at the meeting, Armitage's remarks implied that the previous US Administration had not pushed Pakistan hard enough on the Taleban issue, and that the Bush Administration would not have any such qualms.

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