On April 15-16, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and an accompanying delegation paid a visit to Sistan-Baluchestan, Iran’s southeasternmost province, bordering on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sistan-Baluchestan has suffered over the years as a result of various historical, ethnic and geostrategic issues, leading to it becoming the country’s most deprived region in modern history. One of the first statements by Rouhani during his visit underlines the related sensitivities: “We don't have second-class citizens. All Iranians are equal.”
The people of Sistan-Baluchestan have a number of reasons to feel like second-class citizens. The region is currently in the midst of a deep economic crisis, with unemployment at 50%, according to the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare, and the majority of the province’s rural population ranks among the lowest 30% of national income groups. The province’s official annual household expenditure levels — 84 million rials (approximately $3,600) in urban areas and 46 million rials (around $1,900) in rural areas — are additional indicators of the poverty in the region. This degree of underdevelopment is attributable to four factors.