Iran’s Struggle for Stability & Rising Violence and Killings

Iran has been riven by political upheaval and strife for many years, with numerous organizations and factions vying for power and influence. Protests have shaken the country, this has repeatedly resulted in unrest and bloodshed, including protests, bombings, and targeted assassinations. Other than sectarianism, protests by pro-democracy and women-led groups have also contributed to the broader unrest in the country. The latest crisis emerged from the sectarian tensions that rose up in the backdrop of peace brokered between Iran and Saudi Arabia. At a time when the peace talks signalled a regional reset between the two nations, incidents of sectarian killings and unrest in Sistan Balochistan deepened the same faultlines which the Saudi-Iran deal indirectly pledged to address.

In recent days, there have been several high-profile cases of violence and targeted killings in Iran. Ayatollah Abbas Ali Suleimani, a prominent Iranian Shia cleric, was shot and killed in the northern province of Mazandaran in the last week of April, Suleimani was a member of the Assembly of Experts, an 88-person theological chamber that oversees and appoints the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader. He was previously the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative in the volatile south-eastern province of Sistan and Balochistan. Iranian officials have frequently accused the US and Israel of the country’s political destabilization and bloodshed, including the recent executions of dissidents and protesters. Iranian authorities routinely accuse the United States and Israel of sponsoring and funding opposition groups and dissidents in Iran, as well as attempting to destabilize the Iranian regime through covert operations and other ways. Iran has also been a major supporter of the Gazans, and the recent tensions between Israeli forces and Gaza accelerate regional tensions.

There were multiple incidences of violence and fatalities in Iran in yesteryears, including a series of attacks against military and nuclear sites. Officials in Iran accused Israel of the assault and pledged retaliation. There have also been reports of executions and human rights violations against political dissidents and ethnic minorities, especially Kurds. The reasons for Iran’s escalating violence and killings are complicated and multidimensional, making it difficult to pinpoint a single source. Political conflicts, economic hardships, and religious and ethnic divides are all clearly significant elements. Furthermore, the involvement of foreign powers and their agendas in the region has exacerbated the conflict.

Despite the difficulties, the Iran government seems committed to a more peaceful future for the country and has been making efforts with neighbouring nations and friends as part of its border strategy to increase its regional influence and offset the impacts of US sanctions, and other pressures, and deal with the actors playing in the country. According to a report in the Economic Times of India, NSA Ajit Doval visited Tehran on Monday at the invitation of his Iranian counterpart Ali Shamkhani. Doval met with Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) secretary, Shamkhani, and Khamenei to discuss regional and international matters of mutual concern. According to an Iranian news agency report, Shamkhani emphasized that the launch of the financial transactions system using currencies of Iran and India would be a major step towards the fulfilment of the common purposes in the economic fields where Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the BRICS can also be effective in view of the global geopolitical changes.

The steps were recently taken by Iran to improve relations with Gulf Arab nations such as Qatar, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, with which it has had tense relations in the past. Iran has sought to establish economic and diplomatic connections with these countries in order to expand its regional influence and mitigate the impact of US sanctions. However, the US has expressed concern about Iran’s growing regional influence and support for proxy groups. The US regards these as destabilizing factors that could endanger its regional allies, such as Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, China’s growing involvement in the Middle East has complicated the region’s geopolitical dynamics. China has tried to develop its economic and strategic interests in the region, especially through the Belt and Road Initiative, as well as to strengthen connections with Iran and other regional entities. Iran’s efforts to improve relations with Gulf Arab states represent a significant shift in the country’s foreign policy towards greater regional engagement. These initiatives are motivated by both economic and strategic reasons, as Iran aims to play a more prominent role in the area and address long-standing tensions and conflicts. The recent negotiations between Iran and Saudi Arabia represent a step forward towards greater regional cooperation and stability, but the path ahead is likely to be complicated and plagued with difficulties.

Iran’s efforts to enhance connections with neighbouring nations reflect the country’s aim to play a larger role in the region and to offset the impact of external pressures on its economy and political system. However, the success of these efforts will be determined by a variety of factors, including neighbouring countries’ attitudes and policies, as well as broader regional dynamics and geopolitical considerations. The Iranian government might prioritize efforts to create a more open and participatory political system that upholds human rights and supports social cohesion. Furthermore, addressing economic disparities and providing opportunities for marginalized groups may help alleviate some of the grievances that lead to violence and unrest. It is critical to hold individuals responsible for violence and violations of human rights, including government officials, security personnel, and non-state actors, accountable. Furthermore, Iran should remain vigilant against foreign interference and work to reduce regional tensions through dialogue and peaceful means.

Iran’s deepening ties with China and its bold outreach to the Saudis only attributes to its regional ambitions, which will always be viewed by Israel and the US with suspicion. There is no easy solution to its domestic or sectarian problems but the situation can be potentially diffused in light of an honest dialogue with Saudi Arabia and China. The suspicion factor might persist but given the challenges Iran faces, Tehran needs to initiate the dialogue with its allies and potential friends in the region.

Syed Ahmed Ali Shah
Syed Ahmed Ali Shah
Muslim Youth University, Islamabad, MS International Relations scholar. His research focuses on the Strategic triangular relations between Pakistan-China-India and USA in the 21st century. His research area of interest further includes South Asian Studies, Extremism & terrorism, foreign policy of great powers, and Gilgit-Baltistan studies. He writes in World Strategic Insights, Modern Diplomacy, Parliament Times, Daily Country News, and NewsMart.