President Hamid Karzai issued a Legislative Decree that would jointly entitle the Hindu and Sikh populations of Afghanistan to a single seat in the National Assembly, increasing the total number of seats from 249 to 250. Many welcomed the decision as a major step by the government to better serve religious minorities in Afghanistan.
However, President Karzai's Decree can only be implemented if it is first approved by the Lower House. The Minister of Justice and the State Minister in Parliamentary Affairs are set to present the mandate in the first meeting of the Lower House upon representatives' return from holiday.
Numerous civil society organisations welcomed the Decree and called it a "bold" move on the part of the government in addressing inclusion issues faced by minorities in Afghanistan.
Several MPs also lauded the step taken by President Karzai. The MPs said that it would please the Sikh and Hindu populations and incentivize them to stay in Afghanistan, or return in the case of those who have left.
"Me and all the other Hindus are happy with this decision of President Karzai," said MP Anar Kali Hunaryar, a Hindu representative in Parliament currently. "This will encourage Hindus who have left to come back to Afghanistan and live here and invest."
There are over 2,000 Hindus living in Afghanistan.
"If their rights are given, they will take part in the political process and can help in bringing peace," said Mer Ahmad, a civil society activist. "Their rights need to be protected."
Several Hindu and Sikh residents praised President Karzai's move and said that finally the government has started taking steps to address the many issues they face.
"We were really happy when we heard about it. Now, we can have our own representative in the Parliament and get our problems solved. The representative will ask us about our problems and bring it up in the House," said Randar Sing, a Hindu resident of Kabul. "We have a number of problems, such as the lack of burial locations and schools for our kids."
The Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan have been subjected to persecution for many years. Now, as the 2014 Presidential and Provincial election draws near and President Karzai's term as president comes to an end, he has decided to address their issues.