NEW DELHI, May 2: Indian troops and air force personnel began a scheduled military exercise near the Pakistan border on Thursday, but analysts, including Pakistani officials, said the measure was meant to mask the fatigue afflicting the troops and did not appear to pose any immediate threat to Islamabad.

The said searing heat in the Rajasthan desert had led also to an unusually high casualty among the troops through exploding mines and other assorted accidents.

An Army spokesman said Indian troops involved in the exercises with support from the Air Force in the border state’s Thar Desert, but would remain 90-150km from the Pakistan boundary. “The war games should end on May 15 and will test some of the Army units which have been deployed along the border with Pakistan since December last year,” according to the spokesman.

Seven soldiers were killed and four others injured in an explosion in the Mahajan field firing range of the Indian Army near the India-Pakistan border on Wednesday.

The incident took place when the men were unloading explosive boxes containing land-mines, from 10 trucks at the firing range, about 100km from Bikaner city. While three trucks were reduced to ashes, two were badly damaged in the explosion. The cause of the explosion is yet to be ascertained. Fire tenders were rushed from Bikaner and Suratgarh to douse the flames at the east camp of the firing range. A similar tragedy took place a few months back in Bikaner when an ammunition-laden truck exploded, causing large-scale damage in civilian localities. The border standoff has been blamed by Indian analysts for what they call fatigue setting in among the troops manning the permanent as well as temporary stretch of border that ranges from boiling temperatures in Rajasthan to sub zero conditions in Siachen. Tensions between the two South Asian states, which have fought three wars since independence in 1947, were sent spiralling on Dec 13, when Islamic militants allegedly linked to Pakistan attacked the Indian parliament, leaving 14 people dead. Since then, both India and Pakistan have deployed nearly one million troops along their shared border. There have been reports of close calls between the two countries since then. The nearest they came to war was on Jan 10, two days ahead of President Pervez Musharraf’s calming speech, according to well-placed analysts. About Thursday’s exercise, New Delhi is believed to have given advance notice to Islamabad about the war games. Under a 1991 agreement between the two countries, each side is required to give advance notice to the other of all exercises within a distance of 75km from the border.

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