Afghanistan revives fears of holocaust

Despite its decade-long battle to drive out totalitarian invaders, Afghanistan is becoming more totalitarian by the day, rekindling some of the 20th century's most heinous practices.

The latest sign is an edict by the Islamic Taliban regime that will force members of religious minorities to wear patches of yellow cloth marking them as non-Muslim. It's reminiscent of the Nazis' deadly color-coding, under which Jews were forced to wear yellow Stars of David; homosexuals, pink triangles; Jehovah's Witnesses, purple patches; and so on. Or the domestic practice of the Soviets who occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s, under which non-Russians' identity papers stated their ethnicity or religion, so they could be tracked and persecuted.

The USA, along with other countries, has expressed outrage at the Taliban's edict. But the extremist group has been defying international critics for years. As long as its acts are met with mere words, the Taliban is unlikely to change course.

The edict against Hindus and other minorities crosses an ominous historic line, but as was the case with the Nazis, the Taliban escalated to that point step by step. In March, it destroyed a pair of cliff-size, 1,500-year-old Buddhist statues. It has shuttered women, blocking them from going to school and most jobs, forcing them to wear head-to-toe covering, and driving out female international aid workers. It also forced thousands of refugees to flee to neighboring Pakistan.

On the international stage, the Taliban has resisted U.S. demands that it hand over terrorist Osama bin Laden, who from his Afghan base directed the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings and trains followers there.

The State Department could put some force behind its objection to the Taliban's "outrageous oppressions" by:

suspending the $43 million in emergency food aid for Afghanistan, which it approved last week, until the Taliban makes concessions on human rights and terrorism.

better enforcing the commercial sanctions and travel restrictions on the Taliban.

using U.S. aid to pressure Pakistan, the Taliban's only friend, to force reform.

pressuring Muslim countries and clerics to condemn the Taliban's acts as a perversion of Islam.

Such efforts may not succeed. But pressure had better be ratcheted up soon. Hitler's next step was the systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews and nearly as many gypsies, Slavs and other "undesirable" minorities.

That certainly is not beyond the Taliban's thinking.

Not so long ago, Afghanistan, with U.S. help, rejected and trounced the oppressive Soviets. The U.S. should now seek to prevent Afghanistan from surpassing the sins of the enemy it once defeated.