Maulvi Nazir, one of Pakistan's most influential militant leaders, speaks during a news conference in Wana, the main town of the South Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan, in this file photo taken April 20, 2007. -Reuters Photo

DERA ISMAIL KHAN/ISLAMABAD: One of Pakistan's most powerful militant groups plans to step up its fight against American troops in neighbouring Afghanistan in response to intensified US drone missile strikes on its territory, two of its commanders said on Wednesday.

The Central Intelligence Agency has been pounding an area of South Waziristan along the Afghan border controlled by Maulvi Nazir, one of Pakistan's most influential militant leaders.

Since Friday, at least 34 militants have been killed in four drone strikes, intelligence officials say, possibly launched because high value al Qaeda or Taliban figures were spotted.

An escalation by Nazir's men in Afghanistan could complicate the United State's efforts to pacify the country as it starts a gradual troop withdrawal in July.

“Because the United States is launching these strikes we will send more fighters to Afghanistan and step up our operations against US forces,” Maulvi Younus, one of Nazir's senior commanders, told Reuters.

“We have no other option. We have no weapons which shoot them (drone aircraft) down so we will fight the United States in Afghanistan.”

Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said there could be political talks with the Afghan Taliban by the end of this year, if the US-led Nato alliance continued to make military gains on the ground, putting pressure on the insurgents.

Pakistan, which the United States wants to act more decisively to help its war on militancy, has no strategic reason to attack Nazir and his fighters.

They are among the so-called “good Taliban” militants not opposed to the Pakistani state who focus on trying to defeat US-led Nato and Afghan forces across the border.

Pakistan struck a deal with Nazir's men in 2007 under which they would not harbour anti-government militants in exchange for not being targeted when the army started mounting offensives on the Pakistani Taliban, which is close to al Qaeda.

Military officials in Islamabad say the government is building a road for Nazir's fighters so they can avoid moving through an area controlled by rival militants.

Since it was discovered that Osama bin Laden had been living in the country long before he was found, Pakistan has come under mounting US pressure to go after militants who enjoy sanctuaries in Pakistan and cross over to fight in Afghanistan.

Commander Younus called on the Pakistani government to end the drone strikes, but said his group had no intention of breaking the pact.

He declined to say how many fighters Nazir has at his disposal but Pakistani intelligence officials put the figure at about 1,200.



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