MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (Reuters) - The most powerful militant leader in Pakistan’s North Waziristan border region has threatened to tear up a peace accord and turn his fighters against the Islamabad government.
Hafiz Gul Bahadur has an unofficial non-aggression pact with the military, focusing instead on attacking U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistan can’t afford new militant enemies. The army’s hands are full with the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), or Taliban Movement of Pakistan, blamed for many of the suicide bombings across the South Asian country.
Bahadur is known to have links with notorious militant groups in tribal North Waziristan, including the Haqqani network, which has emerged as the most high-profile threat to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Bahadur criticized Pakistani leaders for allowing the United States to conduct drone missile strikes in North Waziristan and said the council of militant groups he heads would no longer hold talks with the government.
“We have been showing patience because of problems being faced by common people but now the government has also resorted to repression on our common people at the behest of foreigners,” Bahadur, who heads a Pakistani Taliban faction, said in a statement distributed in North Waziristan.
He accused the government of firing mortar bombs and cannons on civilians and demolishing a hospital and other buildings in North Waziristan. Army officials were not immediately available for comment.
Local military officials said “terrorists” had used public buildings to launch rocket attacks at military checkpoints.
“We are disbanding the jirga (council) set up for talks with the government. If the government resorts to any repressive act in the future then it will also be very difficult for us to show patience,” said Bahadur.
Pakistan has come under intense pressure to tackle militancy since U.S. special forces in May killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani town, where he had apparently lived for years.
Admiral Mike Mullen said before retiring as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September that the Haqqani network -- blamed for several attacks on U.S. targets in Afghanistan recently -- was a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence.
Islamabad denies the allegation.
The United States wants Pakistan to encourage militants to pursue peace in Afghanistan, and go after groups who don’t cooperate.
But the government must tread cautiously in a country where anti-American sentiment over issues such as the CIA-operated drone campaign runs deep.
Pakistani leader criticize the drone attacks, saying they play into the hands of militants. But analysts say strikes which kill high-value al Qaeda and Taliban figures would not be possible without help from Pakistani intelligence agencies.
Bahadur, believed to have thousands of fighters, reached a peace agreement with the Pakistani government in 2007. But it has been strained lately.
Two clerics who are leaders of the committee that overseas the pact, Maulana Gul Ramazan and Hafiz Noorullah Shah, suggested the army had violated the deal.
Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Sugita Katyal