Leader of the Pakistan's Islamic hard line Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Qazi Hussain Ahmed (L) addresses to tribesmen during a protest in Landikotal, a town on Pakistan's northwestern border with Afghanistan. -AFP Photo

LANDIKOTAL: Hundreds of Pakistani tribesmen on Tuesday threatened the United States with holy war, lashing out at demands for action against Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani extremists based in Pakistan.

There is growing unease in Pakistan about US pressure to take on the Haqqani network or face the consequences, with the military saying it is too over-stretched fighting local Taliban to open a new front against a US enemy.

Having accused the network of orchestrating recent attacks on its embassy in Kabul and a Nato base in Afghanistan, with Pakistani intelligence involvement, Washington now says it is considering branding the network a terror group.

Any such move could complicate future efforts to negotiate a settlement in Afghanistan and, given US claims about government ties to the network, risk Pakistan being branded a state sponsor of terror, local analysts warned.

On Tuesday, hundreds of tribesmen gathered in Landikotal, a town on Pakistan's northwestern border with Afghanistan, mobilised by religious party Jamaat-e-Islami to protest against the United States.

Waving party flags and wearing ribbons inscribed with Koranic verses, dozens of tribesmen joined the throng armed with Kalashnikovs, an AFP reporter said.

“We announce the holy war against America if they attack Pakistan,” Siraj-Ul-Haq, the party's deputy head, told the gathering.

“The whole nation will wage a jihad against America and will fight against them shoulder to shoulder with Pakistani armed forces,” Haq added.

JI has no seats in the national assembly, but anti-Americanism is rampant in the country of 167 million, fuelled by beliefs that Islamist militancy is a direct result of the US war in Afghanistan.

Before setting off for Landikotal, the crowd chanted slogans such as “Death to America”, Allah Akhbar (God is great) and al-Jihad (holy war).

Although nothing suggests the United States is considering a cross-border incursion, Pakistanis fear action from American ground troops.

The alliance between Pakistan and the United States in the 10-year war in Afghanistan and against Al-Qaeda hit rock bottom this year in the wake of the unilateral American raid that killed Osama bin Laden near Islamabad on May 2.

The Haqqani group was founded by former CIA asset turned Al-Qaeda ally Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was close to Pakistan and the US spy agency during the 1980s anti-Soviet resistance, and its leaders are based in North Waziristan.

Today the United States depends on Pakistan, largely for shipping the bulk of its supplies to the 140,000 US-led foreign troops in landlocked Afghanistan, but also to counter the threat from militants in the border areas.

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