The Baluchis, who constitute the majority of the population in Baluchestan va Sistan (also known as Sistan and Baluchestan), numbered approximately 600,000 in Iran in the mid-1980s. They were part of a larger group that forms the majority of the population of Baluchistan Province in Pakistan and of some areas in southern Afghanistan. In Iran the Baluchis are concentrated in the Makran highlands, an area that stretches eastward along the Gulf of Oman coast to the Pakistan border and includes some of the most desolate country in the world.
The Baluchis speak an Indo-Iranian language that is distantly related to Persian and more closely related to Pashtu, one of the major languages of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Historically, Baluchi has been only an oral language, although educated Baluchis in Pakistan have developed a written script that employs the Arabic alphabet. Unlike the majority of Persians, the majority of Baluchis are Sunni rather than Shia Muslims. This religious difference has been a source of tension, especially in the ethnically mixed provincial capital of Zahedan. Religious tensions came more to the forefront following the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War.
About half of the Baluchis during the 1980s were seminomadic or nomadic. The remainder were settled farmers or townsmen. Tribal organization remained intact among nomadic and seminomadic Baluchis. Tribal patterns of authority and obligation were also retained by the majority of settled Baluchis. The Baluchis have been one of the most difficult tribal groups for the central government to control in Iran (as well as in Pakistan), in large part because of poor communications between Tehran and Baluchestan va Sistan. With the exception of the city of Zahedan, neither the monarchy nor the Republic invested any significant funds in local development projects. As a result, the Baluchis were one of the poorest and least educated peoples in Iran. Most of the principal Baluchi tribes in Iran border Pakistan or Afghanistan. They include the Yarahmadzai, the Nauri, the Gomshadzai, the Saravan, the Lashari, and the Barazani. Along the coast of the Gulf of Oman live the important tribes of Sadozai and Taherza.
In 2001 Iran, ostensibly as part of a major counter-drug operation, conducted a series of major military operations in Baluchestan va Sistan, and reportedly borders areas of Afghanistan. As of 2008 Baluchis made up 2 percent of Iran's population. General concerns about the porous border with Pakistan and Baluchi sovereignty movements led Iran to put a permenant military base in Sistan va Baluchestan in 2006.
In March 2006 a Baluchi group called Jundullah was responsible for an attack on a government motorcade that left twenty dead, kidnappings, and the reported execution of at least one member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. Jundullah (Army of Allah) is a cross border group that had also been part of the independance movement for Balochistan in Pakistan.
In 2007 Amnesty International published a document reporting instances of torture, arbitrary arrests, and other human rights abuses against the Baluchi minority by Iranian authorities. Baluchis also continued to be the target of economic and social discrimination, further exacerbated in many cases because of their Sunni Muslim faith.
The United States have been reported to be funding groups like Jundullah, because of their attitudes toward the Iranian government, despite their destabilizing actions in Pakistan, a nation the United States has historically had good relations with. Iran claimed these accusations were corroborated by information gathered from captured Jundullah members in 2007 and 2008.
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