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Don't Forget the Plight of Iranian Balochs

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Iran is all over the news again. It is not possible to stray away from Iran if your daily routine includes reading newspapers and visiting opinion websites. Iran and controversy have been wedded together since the Islamic revolution in 1979. In recent months, however, Iran has become the center of global attention thanks to the madness of its regime to build a nuclear weapon.

While the world's attention is focused towards the time Iran will take to build a nuke or if it will be allowed to do so, another storm is brewing on its eastern front. Sistan & Baluchestan province in Iran has become a hotbed of insurgency and counterinsurgency efforts. The Iranian regime, with its iron-fist and often brutal suppression of the Baloch people, has ensured a superficial calm in the region.

Underneath this calm, there is massive unrest and frustration. Balochs have been denied their rights even before the revolution. The Shah dealt with them aggressively and their sufferings have trebled under the mullahs. While the element of insurgency has remained present in the region, most Balochs remain loyal to Iran. They want to be treated as equal citizens with economic and social development -- and religious freedoms. Ethnic Balochs, which are around three to five million of Iran's population, are denied of their basic human rights and political representation.

As for the language, it is not just the Balochs that are denied the right to education in their native language. Azeris, despite their dominance in the religious and political classes of Iran, have failed to incorporate Azeri language even in the provinces where they are in majority. Persian reins supreme in Iran although the country does not have an overwhelming majority of native Persian speakers.

Azeris, however, have been assimilated well into Iranian cultural and economic milieu given their religious affinity -- both Persians and Azeris are Shiites. Balochs, Kurd, Baha'i, Zoroastrians, Jews and Arabs do not have this religious affinity and thus are at the receiving end of state-sponsored hatred and discrimination.

Iran has accused the United States, Israel and United Kingdom of helping the Balochs in their insurgency. It has failed to provide any substantial evidence but since has carried out numerous offensives in the Baluchestan area. It even threatened to attack Pakistani Balochistan if the latter failed to hand over the extremists that it said were hiding in Pakistan. Iran accused Pakistan of hosting Abdul Malik Rigi, head of the militant Jundallah faction. There have been conflicting reports about Rigi's location of arrest with some saying that Pakistan has handed Rigi over to Iran (Pakistan has rejected these claims).

Rigi will most likely be hanged within a few days or weeks without receiving a fair trial. Iran has a history of 'speedy' trials and dozens of Balochi men have already been sent to the gallows. Jundallah has embarked on confrontational and rather gory struggle for Balochi rights but Iran is clamping down on the entire Baloch population. It may quell the armed struggle but it cannot continue denying basic human rights to millions of Balochs. These poor people wield no political power and no support from any quarter of Iranian society, including the so-called liberals and that is their real tragedy.

It is about time that the international blase towards the plight of Iranian minorities should transform into a deep concern. They cannot help them much as long as the mullah dictatorship is controlling Tehran but they can ensure some safeguards in the future talks or sanctions. It is an issue of human rights and needs to be addressed seriously.