New Delhi: Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday hinted at India’s ability to execute a covert operation like the one carried out by the US to kill al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in 2011.

The comments came amid escalating tensions between India and Pakistan and the looming possibility of a war-like situation, following the Pulwama suicide attack in Kashmir, the responsibility for which has been claimed by Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

Jaitley’s comments point to India’s larger aim to target terror masterminds Masood Azhar of Jaish and Hafiz Saeed of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“Hafiz Saeed is being allowed to fight elections in Pakistan despite being an international terrorist, while Masood Azhar is being shielded by the Pakistan army and government and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Azhar also controls their military moves. If Pakistan had not responded to India, the JeM would have trained its guns on Pakistan itself, as it had once done on Pervez Musharraf," said a person familiar with the developments.

India is capable of carrying out an operation similar to the May 2011 action by US Navy SEALS in Pakistan to eliminate Osama, Jaitley suggested on Wednesday on the sidelines of an event.

“The kind of things we see.... I remember when the US Navy SEAL had taken Osama bin Laden from Abbottabad; can’t we do the same?" Jaitley said.

Operation Neptune Spear was a precision strike operation executed by the Navy SEALS. The US forces had raided Osama’s hideaway, a compound in Abbottabad in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, north of Islamabad, in the dead of night, eliminating him after a gun battle.

“It is said that a week is too long a time in politics. In our country, the way people get enthusiastic, if you look at the last 24 hours, one week would appear to be a day. We could earlier only imagine, desire and get frustrated and disappointed (for failing to conduct such operations). But today, it is possible," Jaitley said.

Pakistan had now put the onus on India, with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan advocating dialogue between the two countries, according to some senior officials aware of the developments.

Experts argued that what Jaitley suggested was not entirely impossible.

“It is a political statement and it’s quite normal. Militarily if it is total surprise action and based on pre-emption, which means that nothing happens on the borders or elsewhere, then such an action is within the realms of reality and it is possible. But now that the situation is such where all troops are on alert, it is not possible to execute," said Lt Gen (retd) H.S. Panag.

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