PESHAWAR: The Pakistani Taliban urged the Muslim world to unite in a video message released Sunday as they condemned the French military intervention in Mali as an "ideological war".
French President Francois Hollande visited Mali on Saturday and vowed his troops would stay as long as necessary to continue the fight against Islamist rebels who had taken control of the country's north for 10 months.
An offensive led by French troops has driven rebels from all but one of
Mali's major towns, but there are fears the Islamists will now wage a guerrilla campaign from the sparsely populated north.
In a video message handed out to journalists in northwest Pakistan,
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan condemned the French intervention, which has had logistical support from other Western countries.
"The French government has attacked mujahedeen in Mali and America has also agreed to support France. I ask the whole Muslim world to unite because it is an ideological war," Ehsan said.
He said the forces of "non-believers" were united and urged Muslims to come together.
"If America is supporting France on an ideological basis then in same way all Muslims should unite and support one another."
The TTP has waged a bloody campaign against the Pakistani state in recent years and the last two months have seen a notable increase in attacks on military posts and personnel.
The group claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on Saturday that
killed at least 24 people at a military checkpost near Pakistan's
semi-autonomous northwestern tribal belt where militants have carved out strongholds.
In December TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who has a $5 million US
government bounty on his head, said the group was open to peace talks but poured scorn on the idea of his men giving up their weapons.
Ehsan repeated the conditional offer of negotiations with Islamabad.
But he said they could only go ahead if certain politicians, including
Nawaz Sharif, who leads leader of the main opposition party, the PML-N, acted as guarantors.
"We do not trust the Pakistan army, it has always broken past agreements, even agreements we made with politicians," Ehsan said in the seven-and-a-half minute video, in which he appeared flanked by armed masked men.
"We need solid guarantors who can assure us about the army, because the army is the real power in Pakistan."
He said the TTP needed assurances from Nawaz and the leaders of the two largest religious parties -- Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl, led by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and Jamaat-e-Islami, headed by Munawar Hassan.