• Wednesday 3rd June 2020

The Battle For Sistan Baluchistan

The two million Baluchis, who are Sunni Muslims living in Sistan-Baluchistan, one of the largest and poorest of Iran’s 31 provinces, say the region belongs to them and they want more autonomy from Tehran.

People carried photographs of missing ethnic Baluchs as they marched towards Karachi from Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, Nov. 21

Where Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet, there’s a people that want their own independent homeland and groups claiming to represent them have fought a three-decade’s long insurgency to get it.

The two million Baluchis, who are Sunni Muslims living in Sistan-Baluchistan, one of the largest and poorest of Iran’s 31 provinces, say the region belongs to them and they want more autonomy from Tehran.

Iran regards the area as a top security priority because of Pakistan’s links to Iranian nemesis Saudi Arabia. The two rival Muslim nations have backed competing proxies across the Middle East.

Majority-Shiite Iran suspects Saudi Arabia of backing Sunni insurgents in the region in the fight for dominance over land and resources. Saudi Arabia has denied those accusations.

The insurgency – which has killed hundreds of Iranian soldiers, government officials, and Shiite civilians – erupted again at the end of October leaving 14 Iranian soldiers dead.

A lack of development and cultural repression in the area has fomented popular support for militancy, according to Baluchi activists.
“There has been development, but always for the use of the government, not for the actual needs of the people,” said Nasser Boladai of the Baluchistan People’s Party, a Sweden-based group of Iranian Baluchis advocating for Baluch autonomy.

Iran has cracked down on Baluch-language newspapers, and public schools throughout the country must teach only in Persian. Mr. Boladai says this means native Baluchi speakers fall behind their Persian speaking peers.

Baluchis in Sistan-Balucistan move between the three countries for work, the cross-border channels are also considered key smuggling routes for products including opium. With little economic progress and an unstable security situation, Mr. Boladai says, some Baluchis turn to smuggling drugs. Iran has more than two million drug addicts, and drug-related charges account for 74% of executions, the head of Iran’s Supreme Council for Human Rights was quoted as saying by the Agence France Presse news agency in 2011.

Baluchis, who are 2% of Iran’s population, have accounted for at least 20% of executions since 2006, according to figures gathered by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based group which tracks human rights abuses in Iran.


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