A senior Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) commander has called on Sunni religious leaders in the southeastern Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan to help the country’s security forces in maintaining stability in the volatile region. “In the southeast region, particularly Sistan and Baluchestan, which is at the center of focus of the regime’s enemies, we need more participation of Friday prayer leaders, and all people pay a role in maintaining security,” Commander of the I.R.G.C. Ground Forces' Quds Base Brigadier General Mohammad Marani said.
He added that the Quds Base has implemented nearly 5,000 projects to alleviate poverty in the province, and more than 3,000 additional projects in the fields of construction, rural development, irrigation systems, power supply, assistance to mosques, housing schemes, and job creation. According to the I.R.G.C. commander, 79 percent of these projects have been implemented in Sunni regions. “Our expectation from Friday imams are to preserve regime’s integrity, advance regime’s goals, and [foster] unity between all ethnicities and faiths,” he said at the 24th seminar of Sunni Friday prayer leaders of Iran’s southeast region. I.R.G.C. Deputy Commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami was also present at the event.
Comment: Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan, one of the country’s most impoverished province, has been a hotbed for low-intensity Sunni insurgency for a long time. It shares borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan and is a key drug trafficking route in the region. The Iranian government considers the restive region a top security priority. Hundreds of Iranian security forces have been killed in the fight against insurgents and drug smugglers in the province over the past decade. And the emergence of the so-called Islamic State in neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan and its potential spillover into Iran’s Sunni-majority southeast has forced the Iranian government to pay more attention to the once-neglected region. Both the I.R.G.C.’s ground forces and the Basij units have conducted large-scale military exercises in the southeastern region in the past one year.
Sunni Baluchs, who constitute a majority of the population in the province, have long suffered state-sanctioned discrimination, economic marginalization, cultural repression, disproportionate executions, torture, detention without trials and extra-judicial killings. While Marani and other I.R.G.C. generals often talk about the implementation of large-scale development projects in the region, Baloch residents of Sistan and Baluchestan say they have not benefited from such programs. They also claim that the government continues to rule them with an iron hand.
Last month, the top religious leader of Iran’s Sunni minority wrote to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to express his community’s concern over reports of a “secret order” issued by the country’s Judiciary to speed up the execution of Sunni death-row prisoners. Mavlana Abdolhamid, who is the most prominent spiritual leader of Iranian Sunnis in the country’s southeastern Sistan and Baluchestan Province, added that the latest spate of executions of Sunnis convicted on drugs-related charges reinforces the notion that the Judiciary’s directive actually exists. One reformist outlet claimed at least 50 Sunnis will be executed as part of the Judiciary’s latest order. Last year, an Iranian lawmaker revealed that about 5,000 prisoners were awaiting execution in Iranian jails, and 90 percent of them were first-time drugs offenders between the ages of 20 and 30.