KABUL: Avtar Singh Khalsa will represent Afghanistan’s tiny Sikh and Hindu minority in the next parliament, where he says he hopes to serve the entire country.

Few Afghans are as invested in the government’s quest for peace and stability as the dwindling Sikh and Hindu minorities, which have been decimated by decades of conflict. The community numbered more than 80,000 in the 1970s, but today only around 1,000 remain.

Khalsa, a Sikh and longtime leader of the community, will run unopposed for a seat in the lower house of parliament that was apportioned to the minority by presidential decree in 2016.

After the October election, he will be a solitary voice among 259 legislators, but hopes his 10 years of service in the Afghan army can help him secure a seat on the defence and security committee. “I don’t only want to serve my Sikh and Hindu brothers. I have to be able to serve all the Afghan people, no matter which ethnicity or group they belong to.”

The 52-year-old father of four has lived most of his life in Kabul. He also served as a senator representing the minority, which has long had a seat in the upper house of parliament. Sikhs and Hindus have been driven out of many areas by heavy fighting. They have suffered widespread discrimination in the conservative Muslim country.

Khalsa will join parliament at a time when Afghanistan is struggling against a resurgent Taliban and an Islamic State affiliate. But Khalsa said he will continue to fight for his community’s survival. “I don’t care if I lose my whole family and I get killed for this cause. I will struggle until I get their rights.”

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