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Afghan Government Approves Reservation for Sikhs/Hindus in Parliament

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani invited members of the Sikh community to the palace for Eid celebrations last week. Credit: ARG - ارگ/ Facebook

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani invited members of the Sikh community to the palace for Eid celebrations last week. Credit: ARG – ارگ/ Facebook

Kabul: After years of iteration, Afghanistan’s National Unity Government (NUG) approved the reservation of a seat for Sikhs and Hindus in the Afghan parliament, late on Sunday evening.

The Wire has received confirmation from officials close to President Ashraf Ghani that such a bill has indeed been approved by the cabinet and assented to by the president, allowing Afghanistan’s prominent minority group to find representation in the nation’s parliament. “We can confirm that the bill has indeed been approved, but are yet to publish the official gazette,’ said Haroon Chakhansuri, spokesperson to the president.

This comes at a crucial time when the minority group is finding its interests underrepresented in the Afghan development process. While Afghan Sikhs do have a representative nominated to the upper house, there are no elected representatives in the lower house of the parliament.

Members of the Afghan Sikh community at the presidential palace for Eid celebrations. Credit: ARG - ارگ/ Facebook

Members of the Afghan Sikh community at the presidential palace for Eid celebrations. Credit: ARG – ارگ/ Facebook

The Afghan Sikhs, however, are not holding out a lot of hope. “Similar initiatives and decrees were undertaken in the past as well, but once they reached the parliament they were not endorsed by the elected representatives,” says Afghan Sikh activist Raoul Singh, referring to a similar attempt by former president Hamid Karzai that was shot down by the parliament in 2013. The legislative committee’s decree failed to secure the required endorsement in the parliament, slowing down the process of including minority representation in the government.

A constitutional clause, however, prevents the parliament from affecting such amendments and bills in their last few months. “We hope that’s this time it sticks, otherwise there is little left for us in this country if we can’t even secure the right to represent ourselves,” Singh says, adding that the Afghan Sikh population has dropped significantly in the last two years.

“There are only about 3000 of us that remain in Afghanistan, most having been driven out due to deteriorating security and discrimination,” he adds. While a majority of the Afghans Sikhs and Hindus are based in Kabul, a large number also reside in Nangarhar and Ghazni provinces. “Until earlier this year, there were a number of Sikhs in Helmand as well. However, recent conflicts have forced them out,” Singh explains.

About 75 Afghan Sikh families are believed to have migrated to India in the past year.