28 May 2001, Volume 4, Number 20
CANDIDATE REJECTIONS SPARK CONTROVERSY. "According to the conditions registered by law, I am eligible and my rejection by the Guardians Council's decision does not have a legal bearing," disqualified presidential candidate Mohsen Sazgara told RFE/RL's Persian Service. "I also think I have represented the wants and will of the people in my agenda. Therefore, actions such as these are truly worrisome and represent the deepening friction between authorities and the people," he added. Sazgara is not the only person to indicate unhappiness with the vetting process used to narrow the field of 814 registrants down to 10 candidates for the 8 June presidential election, but there also were complaints about the time needed to declare the final list of candidates.
Article 99 of the constitution specifies that "The Guardians Council has the responsibility of supervising the elections of the Assembly of Experts for Leadership, the President of the Republic, the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and the direct recourse to popular opinion and referenda." In what has consistently caused great controversy, the Guardians Council has regularly used the power of "approbatory supervision" (nizarat-i estisvabi) over elections to make sure that only candidates who meet its standards actually serve in public office.
The vagueness of the law gives the Guardians Council broad latitude in its interpretation. Council member Seyyed Reza Zavarei, who is a former presidential candidate himself, said that the first thing the council considers when it reviews potential candidates is that "the president must be a religious figure." This does not necessarily mean that the president must be a cleric. Zavarei explained that being a religious figure means that an individual is "committed to upholding religious principles in a way that meets with our society's approval." Adding to the obscurity of his explanation, Zavarei added that "there are no absolute criteria for judging who has the necessary qualifications," state television reported on 11 May.
Hojatoleslam Qorbanali Dori-Najafabadi, who is a member of the election's Central Supervisory Board, indicated in an interview with the 9 May "Iran" that the rules on eligibility are vague. He said that until the parliament passes legislation that more clearly defines a religious-political individual (rejal-i mazhabi-siasi), people must rely on the Guardians Council. He added that "we can only call people religious-political personalities when they have a specific and clear record in some segment of the system."
The Guardians Council announced the names of eligible candidates on 16 May. They are: Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani, Hassan Ghafuri-Fard, Mustafa Hashemi-Taba, Abdullah Jasbi, Mahmoud Kashani, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami-Ardakani, Mansur Razavi, Shahabedin Sadr, Ali Shamkhani, and Ahmad Tavakoli.
There were questions about Shamkhani's eligibility to be a candidate, since he is a military officer on active duty. On the one hand, Article 115 of the constitution specifies the qualifications for being president, and being a military person is not mentioned. On the other hand, Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said that military personnel should not interfere in the country's political affairs, according to the 10 May "Iran News."
Both Sazgara and Ebrahim Asqarzadeh protested their disqualification in letters to the Council, according to the 19 May "Noruz." A statement from the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization asked how somebody like Asqarzadeh, who had served in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the parliament, and the Tehran Municipal Council, could be declared ineligible?
The Guardians Council caused even more controversy than usual when it announced on 12 May that it would postpone naming the final candidates by five days and cited Article 57 of the election law as giving it the right the do so. State television on 12 May ascribed the need for more time to the great number of registrants, as compared to previous elections. In the first election (1980) 124 people registered, 71 registered for the second (1981), 46 for the third (1981), 50 for the fourth (1985), 79 for the fifth (1989), 128 for the sixth (1993), and 238 for the seventh (1997). Several members of parliament, including Shahrud's Kazem Jalali, expressed concern that this delay would be used to change the definition of an eligible candidate, "Seda-yi Idalat" reported on 15 May.
Meanwhile, several deputies from Tehran -- Majid Ansari, Elias Hazrati, Fatimeh Jelodarzadeh, Elahe Kulayi, and Ali-Akbar Musavi-Khoiniha -- approved writing a letter to the Judiciary in which they would request the prosecution of Guardians Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati. The deputies also asked that the Special Court for the Clergy pursue a lawsuit filed against Jannati by former Deputy Interior Minister Mustafa Tajzadeh and by the Interior Ministry itself, "Iran" reported on 17 May. (Bill Samii)
MORE CANDIDATES FOR PARLIAMENTARY BY-ELECTION. The Guardians Council reversed course in its rejection of parliamentary candidates when, on 15 May, it announced that 42 more people would be allowed to compete in the 8 June by-elections for 17 parliamentary seats. Its original rejection of 145 out of 356 applicants for candidacy was quite controversial (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 May 2001). The Council explained the new candidates by stating that "following expert examinations and surveillance of the complaints filed by those disqualified and holding talks with them, 42 more were endorsed," IRNA reported. Another by-election is necessary to find replacements for the seven Gulistan Province representatives who died, along with 23 other people including Transport Minister Rahman Dadman, in a 17 May airplane crash in Mazandaran Province. Members of parliament will introduce urgent legislation to fill the empty seats, parliamentarian Majid Ansari said, according to a 24 May IRNA report. (Bill Samii)
NO FEMALE CANDIDATES FOR ASSEMBLY OF EXPERTS. The Election Headquarters announced the names of candidates for the 8 June Assembly of Experts by-elections in Qom and East Azerbaijan constituencies. A woman registered for the Qom race, but her name was not among the ten reported in the 23 May "Siyasat-i Ruz" -- a conservative weekly. Two people are fighting for the East Azerbaijan seats. (Bill Samii)
SECRET MAHDAVIYAT CONVICTIONS SUGGEST COVER-UP. After some 20 closed-door hearings, the Revolutionary Court sentenced about 30 members of the Mahdaviyat Group on charges of acting against national security and trying to assassinate state officials, IRNA reported on 13 May. Originally scheduled to be an open trial, the closed hearings that began on 9 December 2000 could have shown the links between extremist groups and figures in the government and the religious leadership.
The 34 defendants were accused of trying to assassinate Tehran Justice Department chief Hojatoleslam Ali Razini in April 1999 and killing a bystander in the botched attempt as well as with stealing and stockpiling arms. When the Ministry of Intelligence and Security announced in November 1999 that it had arrested all 34 members of the Group, it said that they had links with supporters in other countries, and the Group was behind anti-Sunni violence in order to "sow religious discord." In addition to Razini, the MOIS said, other targets were President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and former Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi.
The MOIS rejected speculation that the Hojjatiyeh Society was connected with the Razini bombing (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 April 1999), but there were disconcerting similarities between the Mahdaviyat Group and the Hojjatiyeh Society. Hojjatiyeh leader Sheikh Mahmud Halabi moved to Mashhad after the group was forced to disband in 1983, and he was a leader of the Mahdaviyat Group. Mahdaviyat also was Mashhad-based, and it was led by a clergyman named Milani, the grandson of Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Hadi Milani. Ayatollah Milani was one of the founders of Qom's Haqqani School. Moreover, a February 2000 article in "Bayan" suggested that the former members of the Hojjatiyeh Society had become followers of Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is the intellectual leader of the hard-line Haqqani School.
Many members of the Hojjatiyeh Society were serving in the Iranian government at the time of its dissolution. The Islamic Coalition Association (Jamiyat-i Motalifih-yi Islami) absorbed its members when the Society was dissolved by the order of Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Former Hojjatiyeh members continue to serve in their government posts. And the extensive role of Haqqani alumni in many state institutions, particularly the Judiciary, has been described before (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 April 2001). An open trial of the Mahdaviyat Group, therefore, could have undermined many of Iran's most hard-line political figures. (Bill Samii)
FOREIGN RADIOS ACCUSED IN TELEVISED CONFESSION. During a 16 May televised "confession" that his family says was coerced, jailed student leader Ali Afshari said that foreign radios gave "extensive propaganda coverage" that made it seem that the "student movement is against the system." Afshari also said that "subversive elements" (the Liberation Movement of Iran, a.k.a. Freedom Movement) wanted to plant "seeds of doubt about the constitution" in interviews within and without the country.
Tehran's broadcasting of forced confessions in which repentant prisoners accuse foreigners of treacherous conspiracies is a not uncommon feature of Iranian state television. Persian Service Director Stephen Fairbanks, however, points out that RFE/RL aims to be neutral on Iranian politics. He said that "Unlike the way some in Iran try to portray us, our objective is not to overthrow the Iranian government.... Our objective is simply to be a reputable, accurate news source that concentrates on Iran." Fairbanks explained why Iranians listen to RFE/RL: "Iranians listen to us to hear uncensored news. We are a resource for international current affairs, or news about Iran and the numerous Iranian communities scattered around the globe."
The day after Afshari's confession, the Tehran Revolutionary Court said in a statement faxed to IRNA "Hassan Sassani, a founding member of the Radio Freedom/Europe [sic] funded by the U.S. government and sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency, had paid three liberal dissidents to overthrow the Islamic government."
The report about an Iranian founder of the Persian Service is "ridiculous and baseless," according to Fairbanks. He explained: "I have never heard of Hassan Sassani or Masali [as he was named in some publications], other than what I read today in IRNA and some Iranian newspapers. It is interesting that they cannot even get the person's name right.... No Iranian was involved in founding our radio. The radio has no ties at all to any Iranian organization or individual, either inside or outside Iran."
As for supposed ties with the CIA, Fairbanks said: "Our radio has nothing whatsoever to do with the CIA. The radio was established by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1998 and is funded, openly, by Congress." (Bill Samii)
CONNECTION CANCELLATIONS: CONTROL OR CASH? The number of visits to the RFE/RL Persian Service website -- http://www.radioazadi.org -- climbed sharply, from 61,639 in March to 139,285 in April, after its recent upgrade. A new BBC website has been launched in Persian, too. Iranians may find it more difficult to visit these websites due to the mass closures of Internet cafes in mid-May, but so far it is not clear if the closures are linked with government repression or with the state communications company's concern about lost revenues.
It is estimated that Tehran is home to about 1,500 Internet cafes, many of which have just one computer. Details varied on the number of Internet cafes that were closed -- "Iran" reported five closures, while "Tehran Times" reported 400 closures. The "Financial Times" reported on 13 May that the Internet cafes were closed because they did not have permits, although no such permits actually exist. An unnamed Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone official told IRNA on 15 May that the Internet cafes were closed because they did not comply with Islamic standards. "The move seems to be for more control and supervision on the activities of Internet cafes, in order to purify materials which go awry of Islamic norms," he said. The same official denied that the PTT had anything to do with the closures.
But in fact the closures will benefit the state. Many Iranians, particularly younger ones, use the Internet to make low-cost international telephone calls. Some Internet cafes were offering long-distance calls at 350-500 rials (20-29 cents at the official rate, 4-6 cents at the unofficial rate) per minute, "Entekhab" reported on 3 May. This means that the PTT is losing significant revenues. Indeed, the unnamed PTT official said that closures were appropriate because that could protect some $400 million in income.
Privately owned Internet service providers allege that PTT is trying to monopolize the Iranian Internet sector. According to a 16 May report in "Iran News," the Internet will be controlled by five major firms in which the main stakes are held by ISIRAN (the Defense Ministry's computer branch), DADEH PARDAZI (Department of Management, Planning and Human Resources), and the Parliamentary Research Center. A parliamentary deputy said that Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting would take over the provision of Internet services so it could "block some sites using filters," "Iran" reported on 16 May.
The timing of the closures and the proximity of the presidential election may not be coincidental, however, because Iranian entrepreneurs said in an Internet survey prepared by Pyramid Research (a division of the Economist Intelligence Unit) that they expect the Internet cafes to reopen "shortly after the June election." The same survey adds that the reformists and the hard-liners worked together to close the cafes. Supporters of President Mohammad Khatami back a project in which Internet cafes would pay for access through a new satellite service that will become available later in 2001, and the reformers got hard-liners' support when the Internet cafes did not show the appropriate enthusiasm for the new satellite. (Bill Samii)
CLOSURES AND CONVICTIONS. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said during the 18 May closing ceremony of the Tehran International Book Fair that Iran's press should enjoy the law's support. He added "it is unfair to close the press merely because it has failed to act in keeping with our taste and ideas," according to IRNA. But even as he uttered these words, more publications were being closed and journalists convicted.
Some 570 national and local periodicals participated in the press exhibition that coincided with the book fair, but temporarily banned periodicals were not allowed to participate in the event. Iran's Judiciary has closed -- both permanently and temporarily -- almost 50 publications from Tehran and the provinces since April 2000. This does not include student publications, which would raise the number of closures closer to 60. The most recent student publication closure came on 9 May, when Shahid Rajai University's "Kavir" magazine was closed following its publication of an article in which God was put on trial. Magazine chief Hamid Jafar-Nasrabadi and author Mahmud Mojdai were interrogated and then sent to prison.
Moreover, reformist journalist and author Hamid-Reza Kaviani disappeared on 21 May, according to his wife. Kaviani, who wrote for "Salam" and more recently wrote for "Asr-i Ma," was abducted and beaten in mid-April, too. Reporters Without Frontiers expressed its concern about Kaviani in a letter to Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi. Kaviani reappeared on 24 May, but he refused to comment on his disappearance and his wife said that he was undergoing medical treatment.
Meanwhile, at least 20 journalists are behind bars. Mustafa Izadi of the banned "Ava" weekly was summoned to the Special Court for the Clergy even though he is not a cleric, "Noruz" reported on 15 May. Naqi Afshari of the banned "Hadis-yi Qazvin" weekly appeared in court on 13 May to face accusations that he lampooned the Judiciary in a cartoon. Ali Hamed Iman, managing editor of "Shams-i Tabriz" weekly was fined 2 million rials on 13 May following a complaint from the local Basij unit. A Basij representative claimed that the weekly quoted the Tabriz University chancellor's derogatory remarks about the Basij, while the chancellor denied ever making the remarks.
Abbas Dalvand, the editor of "Luristan" weekly, received a prison sentence of nine months and one day and a three-year ban from journalistic activities, "Kayhan" reported on 10 May. The jury found Dalvand guilty of slander, libel, and insulting the former head of the Aligudarz health network, as well as printing falsehoods about the Law Enforcement Forces and the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee. Moreover, he was found guilty of "publishing satire in prose" (presumably, satire in verse is acceptable).
"Hambastegi" editor Qolam-Heidar Ebrahimbay-Salami was released from prison on 21 May after posting $6,330 in bail. He told IRNA the next day that the public prosecutor has filed a 120-page complaint against him. Other plaintiffs in the case are the Islamic Coalition Association, state broadcasting, and the head of Yazd Province Justice Administration. The death sentence against "Iran-i Farda" contributing editor Hojatoleslam Hassan Yusefi Eshkevari was reversed by the appeals court, "Hambastegi" reported on 20 May. Eshkevari was arrested in August for his participation in a controversial Berlin conference. Journalist Akbar Ganji was declared eligible for release if he could post a 600 million rial bail, IRNA reported on 19 May. Ganji's lawyer said that the original jail sentence of ten years was reduced to six years, and the sentence of five years internal exile in Bashgard was struck down.
Many Iranians see the press closures and the treatment meted out to journalists as a negative development. Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezai reminded the 23 April "Aftab-i Yazd" that "newspapers are the intermediate institution between the people and the government." He pointed out that newspapers cannot be told not to write about important national issues -- "newspapers have to write," he said. Rezai suggested that press problems stemmed from bad management, so the managers should "consult" with the government regularly so they know what they should write about. A commentary in the 25 April "Noruz" asked why the "temporary" press bans have lasted over a year without the issuance of verdicts. Moreover, the daily asked, have the courts considered the fate of the over 1,000 journalists who now are unemployed? (Bill Samii)
'NOT A DROP TO DRINK.' The drought ravaging Iran is getting worse, and the approaching summer makes it likely the situation will deteriorate further. President Mohammad Khatami was asked how he intended to deal with the water shortage in a televised question-and-answer session on 23 May. He described the dams that had been built in the last four years (in other words, during his term) and said that 13 percent of the development budget focused on water. He called for the improvement of water transportation projects and urged people to practice conservation. Building dams does not accomplish much, however, when there is little water behind them or when existing water resources are managed badly.
Bushehr Water and Sewage Organization head Shahpur Rajai said that rationing has commenced, IRNA reported on 21 May, and people get water for only five and a half hours a day. Bojnurd farmers staged a protest in which they demanded the fair distribution of water in district villages. "Tehran Times" reported on 16 May. Tehran officials warned of a "large-scale water shortage" because the capital's increased consumption is not matched by its share of national water resources. "Experts with the sewage company" said that Tehran has 60,000 new water consumers every year, IRNA reported on 12 May. And during the 2 May session of parliament, Khomeinishahr representative Nematollah Alirezai said that his city has no drinking water at all. (Bill Samii)
ELECTRICITY SHORTAGES LIKELY TO CONTINUE. Energy Minister Habibollah Bitaraf blamed the worst power outages to hit Iran since the 1980-1988 war with Iraq on "tripping," but for many months there have been warnings that the electrical sector is suffering from serious funding shortfalls, and the continuing drought only makes the situation more dire.
Outages were reported on 20 May in the major cities of Hamedan, Isfahan, Kermanshah, Qazvin, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Tehran. All the provinces, with the exceptions of Khorasan and Mazandaran, were hit by blackouts. Bitaraf explained in an interview with state television that "[a]fter a power cut in Tehran, power plants in other major cities were cut off from the national power network and the whole nation lunged into a blackout." Mr. Nematollahi, the electricity advisor to the Energy Minister, told state television that they discovered a "number of technical problems with the electricity grid network." He went on to explain that "there were some problems with a couple of electricity lines in the nationwide grid network which caused a voltage drop in the network and caused it to go off line. This, unfortunately, caused blackouts in a number of areas in the country."
Power was restored in most places by 22 May, and to prevent future problem, Bitaraf asked the public to conserve energy. Yet this will not be a permanent solution. London-based water expert Bijan Gulshayan told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the blackouts in Iran can be traced to water shortfalls and the continuing drought. There is not enough water available to generate hydroelectric power.
The electrical power sector, furthermore, does not have enough funding. The most recent issue of the magazine put out by the state power generation and transmission management company (Tavanir Corporation) reports that Iran's electricity industry needs $1.1 billion in credit to build 22 power plants. $450 million of that is needed to establish the Shahid Rajai, Khoy, Fars, Shariati, and Nishabur combined-cycle power plants. $500 million is needed to develop steam power plants in Iranshahr, Arak, Sahand, Bandar Abbas, Shahid Rajai, Azerbaijan and Gharb. The magazine went on to say that an estimated $100 million in foreign exchange credit is needed to implement development projects and complete the hydroelectric power plants at Gatvand, Karkheh, Karun 3, Karun 4, Kuhrang, Marun, Masjid Simreh, Moqan Shahid Abbaspur 2, and Suleiman. By 20 March 2002, power transfer and distribution projects will cost $50 million.
Yet Tavanir already owes 8 trillion rials to the state banking system and it cannot repay its debts, parliamentary Energy Commission member and Shiraz representative Ahmad Azimi told "Hambastegi" in December. Azimi added that credit for the electricity sector would be reduced in the new budget. (Bill Samii)
AFGHAN OPIUM BAN WON'T BE FELT FOR A YEAR. Recent surveys by the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) and country visits by U.S. officials found that opium poppies were not planted in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan this year, but the impact of this development probably will not be felt in Iran for at least one year. This is because opium stockpiles still exist, economic circumstances may force Afghan farmers to resume poppy cultivation, and there are persistent shortcomings in Iranian counter-narcotics strategy.
The UNDCP said recently that it saw no signs of poppy cultivation in the fertile eastern and southern areas which last year produced three-quarters of the world's opium crop. Instead, the farmers are trying to grow wheat, following a Taliban edict banning opium cultivation. Two officials from the State Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration spent eight days in Afghanistan, and although they are still reviewing satellite imagery, according to "The New York Times" of 21 May, they agreed that so far they had found nothing to contradict the UNDCP statements.
This does not mean that there is no more opium. UNDCP spokesman Sandro Tucci told the "RFE/RL Iran Report" that opium and opium products probably are stockpiled in Afghanistan: "We can make a reasonable assumption that there are enough stockpiles of [opium], morphine-base, and semi-refined heroin to supply the market probably for the next 12 months." Earlier this year the head of the International Narcotics Control Board, another UN-affiliated body, said that the stockpiles could be sufficient for European demand for the next 3-4 years (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 March 2001). Whatever the size of the stockpiles, opium prices have skyrocketed already.
Suppliers will try to make their stockpiles last by cutting the purity of the refined morphine and heroin, Tucci suggested. "One possibility is that, with the lack of opium supply, you will have the same amount of heroin in the market, but at a very much lower grade of purity. Heroin is mixed with aspirin, with fish scales, with talcum powder, with all sorts of rubbish. It could be that the shortfall in supply will be compensated for by the criminal organizations who deal with this by an increase in impurity."
Furthermore, wheat cultivation may have less staying power than opium cultivation, in spite of Taliban decrees. Wheat requires far more water than opium, which will make growing difficult under current drought condition. The war-struck infrastructure of the country also makes it difficult to get the wheat to market, so farmers will be hard put to earn any money. So although most of the farmers do not oppose the opium cultivation ban, its suddenness has dislocated the rural economy and left them somewhat in doubt about the future.
Mohammad Amirkhizi, a special advisor on West Asia to the UNDCP's general director, told "RFE/RL Iran Report" that "The farmers [we talked to] were not against the decision not to cultivate opium. They were, let's say, dissatisfied with the effects on their lives. So, if one can mitigate the consequences and if they can live on licit trade -- and I don't mean very comfortably, but at least at the same level they used to, which is not much but is subsistence -- then perhaps on the farmers' side there would be no need to go back to cultivating."
The ban on opium cultivation -- which is labor-intensive -- has left thousands of people who used to help harvest the sap from poppy bulbs without work. This has led to open unrest in some parts of Afghanistan. UNDCP Afghan project officer Barbara Brueckmeyer said that anger with the ban is widespread in some areas. She told "RFE/RL Iran Report": "We saw in some areas, especially in the east, that the people were extremely angry about the poppy ban. There was one district in Nangarhar province in the east where there was a demonstration of people who played their musical instruments and shaved their beards and refused to implement the ban."
Brueckmeyer admitted that this could be an isolated incident, but it happened in an area where many people were angry. She elucidated: "we spoke to people of many districts in this province and people were very angry. I couldn't predict what will happen next planting season, but the mood of the people in this area was different than the mood of people in the southern areas, where they are more compliant with the ban."
UNDCP's Amirkhizi met with Taliban representatives and they assured him that they will continue the ban. "In talks with us they insisted that their policy would not change and that their policy is to implement the ban this year and, they told us, the next year and in the future. They have no plans to change their policy."
In spite of the ban and the end of opium cultivation, drugs continue to reach Iran with devastating effect. In Gilan Province, provincial Welfare Department deputy chief Mohammad Reza Parsi said that the average addiction age is now 10-19, whereas it used to be 25-29, "Tehran Times" reported in mid-May. Hamedan Province Coroner's Office chief Amir-Mohammad Kazemi-Far said that 97 addicts have died in Kerman in the last year, IRNA reported on 15 May, and drug-related deaths have increased 30 percent a year over the last three years.
The government's conflict with so-called bandits in the eastern provinces continues, too. On 23 May, 10 bandits, one policeman, and four Basijis were killed in Khorasan Province. The bandits ambushed a border police patrol in Sistan va Baluchistan Province on 19 May, killing one officer and wounding four others. Khorasan Province Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Qodratollah Mansouri announced that 22 bandits had been killed, wounded, or captured during early-May "mopping-up operations" in Bushehr Province. The LEF's largest operation ever, called Moharram, was launched in Khorasan Province in early May, according to state television.
Fifty-five villages and 25 nomad districts along the border with Turkmenistan have been supplied with weapons, Faisal Danesh-Pejoh, district governor of Kalat in Khorasan Province, told IRNA on 21 May. Khorasan Province Governor-General Mohsen Mehralizadeh told a gathering of clerics that "Since the end of last year, security has improved markedly in the province," and the measures that have contributed to this improvement include "arming more than 1,000 villages, arresting bandit collaborators, and spending large sums on sealing the border," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 16 May. The interior minister announced during a speech to Law Enforcement Forces personnel at the Arkhand Desert Camp near Torbat-i Heidarieh that a special LEF task force would be deployed soon, IRNA reported on 13 May.
Shoot-outs and special units may only serve as window-dressing, so the Iranian government can show the rest of the world how much it is doing to intercept narcotics. It seems that Sunni insurgents are active in the east, too, and they have locals' support. The Khorasan LEF issued a statement banning locals from having any links with Afghan criminal groups and warned against providing them with "food, cash, information, and other facilities," IRNA reported on 3 May. The Ahl-i Sunnah Wal Jamaat, which recruits Iranian Sunni militants from Turkmen, Baluchi, and Afghan minorities, has been getting aid from the Taliban since 1996 and is active in the east.
A lack of cooperation between government agencies is hindering counter-narcotics and security activities, also. Brigadier General Mehdi Aboui of the LEF complained on 28 April that state broadcasting, the prisons organization, and the ministries of Islamic Culture and Guidance and of Education and Training have not contributed to the state counter-narcotics efforts, IRNA reported. Five days earlier, LEF chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf called for changing the counter-narcotics campaign, IRNA reported, and he said that "more effective law enforcement" was necessary.
Moreover, lasting security and tranquility in the east requires a "comprehensive plan" that would link counter-narcotics, the campaign against banditry, and stemming the flow of refugees, according to parliamentary National Security Committee member Mohsen Armin. He said that "limiting the campaign to military campaigns against the bandits is not sufficient and to better secure the border, there should be political, economic, and even diplomatic efforts," IRNA reported on 2 May. (Bill Samii)