LAHORE, Jan 17: Former army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg says both Iran and Pakistan are on the “hit list” of the United States, and before attacking the two countries the world’s only super power is trying to isolate them at the international level through diplomatic moves.

Talking to Dawn on Wednesday, he said Iran would be targeted first and Pakistan at a later stage. But to prevent Pakistan from extending any kind of assistance to its neighbour, Washington was trying to keep Islamabad under constant pressure. Repeated allegations that infiltration from Pakistan into Afghanistan was still going on should be seen in that context, the general said.

He said Pakistan and Iran should enhance mutual understanding and cooperation to be able to face the challenge ahead. Also, he said, both countries should approach their respective allies and seek their cooperation to prevent what he called a dangerous situation for the region.

He believed that together the two Islamic countries would be able to counter what was being planned against them.

Gen Beg said the US knew that Iraq did not have nuclear capability and still it attacked Iraq with its superior air and naval power. He said now the US would go for massive strikes on Iran, using all satellite bases it has in the neighbouring countries of the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

According to him, the US could also use F-117 Stealth, which can take off from the US bases, hit targets in Iran and go back. He said the US had plans to destroy thousands of targets in the first 24 hours. The former army chief said the US threats to Iran were a precursor to attack.

About the moves to isolate Iran even among the Islamic countries, he said, the visits of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defence Robert Gates were meant for the same purpose.

They were telling the Arab countries in particular that Iran was misbehaving and must be punished. The Iraqi president’s visit to Syria was also aimed at driving Damascus away from Tehran, and the ongoing secret talks between Israel and Syria were also significant, said Gen Beg.

He said learning a lesson from its experience in other countries, the US would avoid land battles and use the air and naval power and the rapid action force instead.

To bring Pakistan under pressure, he said a senior US official John Negroponte had alleged that Pakistan was still supporting the Taliban and the NATO commander had said that after peace accord between the government and the tribesmen in Waziristan, infiltration into Afghanistan had also gone up manifold.

It was because of these allegations, Gen Beg said, that Pakistan had launched a fresh operation against ‘militants’ killing several people on the very first day.

He said the US had been defeated both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, in his opinion, the US would not like to completely pull out from Iraq and Afghanistan like the Soviet Union had done.

They would withdraw from both the countries, but at the same time maintain their strong military presence there for the sake of influence in the Gulf, Central Asia and South Asian region.

For this purpose, he said, the US troops were being redeployed and the number of military bases being reduced around the world. Satellite bases had been activated to facilitate the operations of the rapid action forces, deployed at the satellite bases, he said. He said the US also could go for the option of regime change in Iran, which appeared more probable through military intimidation and coercive diplomacy.

President Ahamadinejad’s weak economic policies, rising inflation, poor showing in the last elections, UN sanctions due to his unbending nuclear policy, anti-American rhetoric and many other factors made him very ‘vulnerable’.

The former army chief said the US ‘unilateralism’ was harmful for the global peace. He said the US was bypassing the United Nations in all its decisions because of which the world body was getting irrelevant. He said the sanctity of the UN should not be violated in any situation.

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