LATEST: “Groundbreaking” Opportunities for Iran’s Musicians

Iran has declared an escalation of security on the Pakistan border, a week after the Sunni insurgency Jaish ul-Adl kidnapped one of five kidnapped Iranian border guards.

Jaish ul-Adl, which has carried out a series of attacks on Iranian forces since last summer, seized the men on February 6 in Sistan Baluchestan Province in southeastern Iran. They then took the guards into Pakistan, according to Iranian officials.

On Saturday, Iran’s Chief of Police Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam said the Islamic Republic has begun constructing 120 watch towers along the border, as well as a 120-kilometer (75-mile) road.

Last week the elite Qods Forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were commission to ensure the security of 300 kilometers (186 miles) of the border near Saravan in Sistan and Baluchestan. The IRGC’s commander Mohammad Ali Jafari visited the region on Friday to assess his forces.

MPs, who have criticized Pakistan over the fate of the guards, called for Islamabad’s acceptance of Iranian leadership on the border.

Evaz Heidarpour of Parliament’s National Security Committee said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that since Pakistan is not capable enough of securing [its] common borders with Iran, it should entrust this arduous task to Iran.”

Heidarpour said Tehran has proposed that Islamabad hand over full responsibility for security, but “Pakistan has not yet given a response in that regard”.

Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussein said on Saturday, “I will do my best to pave the way for the freedom of the abducted Iranian border guards.”

“Groundbreaking” Opportunities for Iran’s Musicians

Even as hardliners press against President Rouhani’s campaign for cultural “openness”, musicians report an unprecedented space for their performances. Scott Peterson reports:

Iranian musicians say the growing openness of the past two years has now blossomed under centrist President Hassan Rouhani, enabling live performances today that would have been impossible not long ago.

Exhibit A is a groundbreaking show that just finished a 20-gig run in Tehran’s renowned Vahdat Hall. Redefining what is acceptable on stage, women sang solos; Western songs filled the playlist, from John Lennon to Frank Sinatra; and most lyrics were in English.

Audiences who crammed into the plush multi-story theater gasped at the spectacle, some singing quietly along as the lead female vocalist – wearing a maroon head scarf that fell to her waist – belted out Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black”.