22, 2001, 4:20pm EDT
Under the new rules, the hundreds of Hindus living throughout the impoverished, war-torn country will have to label themselves as non-Muslim whenever they are out of doors.
"[T]he non-Muslim population of the country should have a distinctive mark such as a piece of cloth attached to their pockets so they should be differentiated from others," religious police chief Mohammed Wali said.
Wali told the Associated Press the new law would also require Hindu and Sikh women to veil themselves in public as Muslim women do.
The policy, which was based on a fatwa, or religious decree from Islamic leaders, still needs the approval of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar before it becomes law.
Many in the international community, including the United States, balked at the move, which some see as reminiscent of the Nazi-era repression of Jews in Europe.
U.S. officials said the decree was "the latest in a long list of outrageous repressions."
"We want to make it quite clear that forcing social groups to wear distinctive clothing or identifying marks stigmatizes and isolates those groups and can never, never be justified," State Dept. spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Taliban leaders said Muslim law requires them to identify all non-Muslims living among them.
The badge requirement would not be applied to Sikh men, who are already easily identified by their turbans, officials said. Sikhs and Hindus are believed to be the only sizable religious minorities living in Afghanistan.
It is unclear whether the new law would apply to foreigners living in the country.
| International concern over the badge requirement comes
amid a continuing diplomatic battle between Taliban leaders and the United
Taliban leaders forced the UN to shut down its offices in four Afghan cities Sunday to protest the closing of Taliban political offices in New York and Pakistan.
The UN imposed sanctions against the Taliban in January in a bid to force the handover of alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden. The U.S. wants bin Laden to stand trial for his alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Among the sanctions are restrictions on travel by Taliban leaders, a ban on weapons sales to Afghanistan and the closure of most of the Taliban's overseas political offices.
The Taliban also faced international criticism in March for the destruction of ancient statues of Buddha. Critics cited the statues' cultural and historical merit, but Taliban leaders said the carvings were heathen idols and had no place in an Islamic society.