With the bloody tribal warfare of recent days, this town seems barely big enough to contain such strong-willed people as the Baluchis and Sistanis.

Yet a third ethnic group not only exists, but dominates the commercial life of this provincial capital.

A tiny community of Indian Sikhs has quietly lived here since World War I, playing an active role in the city while maintaining a separate identity.

In a province heavily populated by a rare breed of Baluchi Sunnite, the Sikhs have the distinction of being a minority within a minority.

There are just 250 Sikhs in Zahedan, but what they lack in numbers, they make up in wealth. The province's richest businessmen are Sikhs who own motor parts distributorships, construction firms and import-export companies.

Although they have helped build large parts of Zahedan, the Sikhs have remained a tightly knit community separate from the other ethnic groups. They have their own temple and schools and live together in the center of town.

A small and successful community living alongside a poor and proud majority, the Sikhs have been fortunate to remain a protected minority. Religious leaders of the Baluchis and Sistanis have traditionally assured the Sikhs of a secure life in Zahedan.

When the Islamic revolution toppled the shah last February and outlawed sales of liquor, the Moslem leaders of Zahedan gave a Sikh wine shop owner five days to disburse his merchandise. The deadline was extended another 10 days to give him more time.

The Sikhs, thankful for their security, respond in kind. They invite Moslem friends to pray in their colorful temples and join in their feasts. They give charity to the needy and loaned money to Baluchis and Sistanis before the revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini outlawed usury.

Most important to their continued well-being, according to Sikh leaders is staying away from Sistani-Baluchi revalry.

"It is not in our intent to get involved in politics," said Mahendra Singh Sahny, 65, who is regarded as the wealthiest man in Zahedan. "We are businessmen, not political men."

The Sikhs first started arriving here in the 1920s when Indians helped build the railroad running across what are now Pakistan and Iran. The immigration continued until partition of India in 1947 created an independent Pakistan.

Although some young Sikhs leave Zahedan for India and Europe, others are content to make it their permanent home.

Ranjit Singh, 18, who has lived all but one year of his life in Zahedan, says he intends to stay here.

"It's no different than living in a small village in India," said Singh who spent his only year away from Zahedan in India. "Everybody knows everybody else and I have plenty of opportunities in business here."