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Cablegate: Working to Accomodate Religious Minorities

VZCZCXRO6965
OO RUEHDBU RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #3602 2961250
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 231250Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1068
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 4256
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS KABUL 003602

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA.FO DAS GASTRIGHT, SCA/A,G/IWI
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR KIMMETT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPOL KIRF PREL PHUM AF
SUBJECT: WORKING TO ACCOMODATE RELIGIOUS MINORITIES


1. (SBU) Summary: Hindu and Sikh leaders recently contacted
Human Rights Officer to register a complaint that local
Afghan residents had restricted ritual cremation rites. The
Afghan Ministry of Hajj and Islamic affairs assured us that
it will work with this small religious minority to balance
its needs against the interests of the larger community.
This incident sheds light on how nascent Afghan government
institutions are beginning to execute their responsibility to
protect minority rights. End summary.

SIKHS AND HINDUS IN THE AFGHAN CONTEXT
======================================

2. (SBU) Post Human Rights Officer recently met with Atwar
Singh and Ronder Singh, the chief representatives of the
Hindu and Sikh communities in Kabul. Both men were born in
Afghanistan and speak Dari, Pashto and Urdu. They requested
the meeting over a September 27 case in which local Muslims
blocked the ritual cremation of the corpse of an elderly
Hindu man, saying the ceremony would pollute the air and
frighten the children. Messrs. Singh told Human Rights
Officer the history of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan,
saying that both groups made up a significant part of
Afghanistan,s population in the past, but that numbers had
begun to drop in the 1970s and that there are now about 500
Hindus and Sikhs living in Afghanistan, mostly in Kabul.
During the 1990s, waves of attacks on Hindu temples by
ordinary Afghans complicated relations between the Sikhs and
their Afghan neighbors. Atwar Singh told Poloff that, under
the Taliban, security actually improved, but restrictions on
Sikhs increased. Sikhs and Hindus were shunned and made to
wear distinguishing clothing.

LAND DISPUTE AT ISSUE AS WELL
=============================

3. (SBU) Ronder Singh said he cremation issue is complicated
by a land dispute. The area where the Sikhs and Hindus live
and have their main temple -- Jada-e-Maiwand in southern
Kabul -- was granted to them in 1919 by then-Interior
Minister Arbatan Singh, but no clear title to the land
exists. Singh said that a petition was presented to local
authorities to build a modern crematory there but officials
suggested it be built much further out of Kabul.

MEASURED AFGHAN GOVT RESPONSE
=============================

4. (SBU) In an October 04 meeting with the Ministry of Haji
and Islamic Affairs, which is responsible for monitoring
religious freedom issues, Deputy Minister of Social Affairs
Qazi Sulaiman Hamid told Human Rights Officer that he knew of
the recent complaint, characterizing it as a neighborhood
dispute. He noted that Hindus and Sikhs had been allowed in
the past to burn their dead under special dispensation from
the ministry and that his ministry supported the Hindu and
Sikhs, desire to adhere to their customs. When Human Rights
Officer followed up on October 23, Hamid Edayatullah, the
director of the Religious Freedom Department, said that the
local residents who had blocked the September 27 cremation
had promised they would not interfere in future cremations,
and that there had been no further complaints to his ministry
from either Hindus or Sikhs.

5. (SBU) We will continue to reach out to the Hindus, Sikhs
and other minorities and encourage the ministry in its
efforts to protect the rights of religious minorities
generally.
WOOD

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