India tests war readiness near Pakistan border

POKHRAN, India Sun Feb 28, 2010 12:51pm EST

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POKHRAN, India (Reuters) - Indian fighter jets pounded mock enemy bunkers close to the Pakistan border on Sunday in a show of air power at a time when the two nuclear-armed rivals are trying to improve relations.

The exercise was watched by military attaches from about 30 countries but not Pakistan and China, neighbors who would be keen to take a look at India's military firepower.

Last week saw the first official talks between India and Pakistan since the militant attacks in Mumbai in 2008.

The talks ended with an agreement to keep in touch, signaling relations remain fraught despite a desire to reopen a dialogue that India suspended after the Mumbai killings.

India's defense minister said despite Pakistan promising action against militants, he was concerned about training camps in Pakistan and the threat they posed to India's security.

"Our real concern is the existence of armed terrorist camps intact across our borders. We feel there is no serious attempt or effort to dismantle these terrorist camps. So we are concerned, we are very worried about that," Defense Minister A.K. Antony, told reporters at Pokhran on the sidelines of the war exercise.

Antony said it remained to be seen whether Pakistan takes action against the groups now.

The United States wants to see ties improve between India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars since 1947, so Pakistan can focus on fighting militants on its Afghan border.

Although such military shows are usually planned a long way in advance, the timing is being considered by many as unhelpful for efforts to reduce tension between India and Pakistan.

In Sunday's war games, planes including Sukhois, Mirage 2000s and MiG 21s, roared through the sky, bombing simulated enemy targets including militant training camps and bunkers.

"This is not just a firepower demonstration but a clear message about what India's air force is capable of," said Uday Bhaskar, a New Delhi-based strategic affairs expert. "It is a message to the neighbors."

President Pratibha Patil also watched as targets were hit with bombs and rockets, raising balls of fire and dust in the deserts of Pokhran, the site of India's nuclear test facility.

Defense officials said the exercise would test the air force's ability at precision bombing of militant camps, particularly those behind enemy lines.

India accuses Pakistan of letting militant groups use its territory to train and launch attacks on India, such as the Mumbai raid that killed 166 people.

(Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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