ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Afghanistan's ruling Taliban Friday defended its plans to force Hindus to wear identifying yellow badges as a Muslim tradition dating from the era of the prophet Mohammad.
However, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, said the decree prepared by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice was awaiting the signature of the movement's supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
"The fact that Hindus are asked to have a symbol is not something new," Zaeef told a news conference. "In fact this is a tradition since the time of the holy prophet Mohammad for non-Muslims for their safety and immunity."
The plan, which would force Hindus to wear yellow badges on their chests for easy identification, has drawn condemnation from foreign governments that see it as a threat to the minority religion. Western governments have drawn parallels with the Nazi laws forcing Jews to wear yellow Stars of David.
The Afghan opposition alliance fighting the Taliban joined in the condemnation Friday. But Pakistan, the Taliban's closest ally, also issued a statement Friday saying it was checking reports about the edict but considered any discriminatory measures to be against Islam.
"We observe adverse reactions by some people, some nations -- some react out of ignorance and some for political reasons. Some...are making a comparison with the Star of David or with the emblems of the Nazis. But this is wrong," Zaeef said.
"Their objections are not correct," he said at the Taliban embassy. "The rights of non-Muslims are persevered in Afghan society."
SIKHS ALREADY IDENTIFIED
The Sikh and Hindu population has shrunk from as many as 50,000 before Afghanistan slipped into two decades of war to about 1,700 today. The order will apply only to Hindus because distinctive Sikh turbans already identify that religion, Zaeef said.
The plan to mark Hindus has fuelled fresh foreign criticism of the movement that had sparked international outrage by its treatment of women and a campaign earlier this year to destroy all statues, including the 1,500-year-old colossal Buddhas of Bamiyan.
Zaeef repeated the Taliban explanation that badges are to protect Hindus from religious police enforcing the Taliban's hardline interpretation of Islam. He said Hindus had sought the measure -- although many Hindus in Kabul told Reuters they were incensed by the plan.
Zaeef said Afghan Muslims had to follow all Islamic practices, such as observance of the five-time daily prayers, imposed in the 90 percent of the country under Taliban rule -- officially called an emirate.
"For this reason the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice patrols all the area to make sure that people observe this rule. Sometimes the Hindu citizens of Afghanistan, who in most cases resemble Muslim Afghans, were also stopped for questioning," he said.
The ambassador said the ministry had proposed the new law so police could easily recognize Hindus and stop forcing them to observe Islamic rules. He said the decree was awaiting approval by the Taliban's leader Omar.
"It will be presented to him for his signature," Zaeef said. "As soon as it is signed it will be published in the official gazette."