Why Saudi Arabia is still vital to US interests

Why Saudi Arabia is still vital to US interests

US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia must be seen as a balancing act in the Middle East Syed Ata Hasnain THE speed of events in the Middle East is faster than can be absorbed by an increasingly complex strategic environment. The apparent cooling of US interest in the region, emanating from perceived failure of the Arab Spring, improving potential of control over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the steadily declining energy ties between US and the Saudi Arabia, among many other issues appears to create a conflict of interests for the US, and hence, the necessity to restore balance. This is all the more important in view of the emerging confidence of Russia and its ability to punch above its weight in mutual international standoffs. President Obama’s second visit to Saudi Arabia during his presidency is obviously far more important than his first which preceded his visit to Egypt in 2009 for what appeared then as a path-breaking outreach to the Islamic world. Smitten first by the events in Syria which saw US hand over diplomatic advantage to Russia and then by the recent surprise acts by Russia in Ukraine, the US is obviously in the process of a major reconsideration of its Middle East policy. Central to its considerations is the feasibility of losing the advantage of a long-standing strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia which was based upon the oil for security equation. Progressively, over the past 10 years or so, US-Saudi ties have weakened leading to perceptible differences about commonality of the strategic aim. The most important security consideration for Saudi Arabia is its long-standing fear of Iran and the Shia power that emanates from it. The onset of this current standoff can be traced back to 2003 and the handling of post-Gulf War II scenario in Iraq, which saw the emergence of Shia dominance. The Saudis always feared that the Shia linkages were stronger than the pan-Arab loyalties of Iraq and that it was Iran which had achieved strategic gain because of the Shia revival in Baghdad. The subsequent emergence of the strength of the Shia Hizbullah in Lebanon, once again backed by Iran, did not bring any comfort level...

Tosa Maidan: Avoiding Triggers in Kashmir

Tosa Maidan: Avoiding Triggers in Kashmir

Syed Ata Hasnain  The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) land case of 2008 is well outside public memory because Kashmir is always looked at from the ‘crisis to crisis’ point of view. Yet, we have another similar case looming on Kashmir’s landscape as the winter ebbs and spring is upon the Valley in all its finery.No one took the SASB case seriously until it hit us in the face and led to all kinds of incorrect decisions taken in the vacuum of realistic information about the Valley, the aspirations of its people and the propensity for mischief which exists from time to time. This time it is all about a faraway meadow on the very same Pir Panjal range on which exists Gulmarg; the meadow is called Tosa Maidan. It has nothing to do with shrines and gods but this time it is all about the people who live around it and the Army which uses this small tract of ground as a field firing range. Tosa Maidan, as stated before, lies on the Pir Panjal Range South East of Gulmarg. Access to it lies via the same road leading from Srinagar to Gulmarg; the drive has to be diverted from Kunzar towards Beerwah and then to Gogaldhara from where a mountain track(road) maintained by the Army takes you up the winding slopes to one of the most exhilarating landscapes in Kashmir. Since 1964 the area has been leased to the Army and the Air Force for use as a field firing range and the 50 year lease runs out on 18 April 2014. For the less informed on military detail, a field firing range is a tract of ground to be used for live firearms practice depicting battle conditions. Weapons are usually fired at optimum ranges as against the restrictive ranges in cantonments and military stations. Such ranges also provide scope for conduct of restricted tactical maneuvers in realistic settings under battle conditions. All the formations of the Army in the Kashmir Valley are dependent on this tract of land at Tosa Maidan which measures approximately 3000 kanals, to conduct their annual field firing which is a compulsory part of annual training. There is no population which is allowed to reside within the...

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