The horrific attacks on people in Mumbai, at a hospital, in a café and hotels, at a Jewish centre, and at random bystanders in a railway station, was soon headlined "India's 9/11" across the world.
Since the USA used the 9/11 atrocities to justify its own military barbarism in Afghanistan and Iraq, this comparison had a definite significance: it contains the implicit threat that India's status as ‘victim' would be used to justify putting pressure on, or even renewing conflict with, Pakistan. Not only had the US already warned India of potential attacks, but Indian intelligence had, on a number of occasions, in its own right, advised of the possibility of attacks on Mumbai. There has been the suggestion that the Indian state let the attacks go ahead in order to justify future aggression - which also bears comparison to the US state's behaviour in September 2001.
On the other hand, if it's looking for pretexts for war, the Indian state can already point to a number of other bomb attacks on a number of Indian cities in the last six months, including New Delhi, Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, and Guwahati; and, so far this year, more than 400 have died from such attacks. Terrorism in Mumbai is therefore just the latest, if most dramatic, expression of a conflict between India and Pakistan that has continued, in one form or another, since before independence from Britain. In particular India and Pakistan fought over Kashmir in 1947, 1965, 1971 and, again, following Indian air attacks on Muslim insurgents in May 1999. After the latter there were continuing incidents for some years, including the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 in which 14 people died. This led to the 2002 mobilisation of the armed forces of both nuclear powers to face each other at their frontier, on the brink of all-out war.
The conflict has not only been undertaken by the ‘official' armed forces of each country but also by terrorist groups often set up by the secret services of each state. In particular the ISI (the Pakistan secret services) set up Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed initially to operate in Kashmir; and, although the Pakistani state formally outlawed these groups in 2002, they still act in a way that is approved by important factions of the Pakistani ruling class. It was not surprising that the Indian state (and the world's media) accused these groups of responsibility for the Mumbai attacks. Whoever was responsible for the attacks was definitely acting in continuity with the history of brutality and barbarity that has marked the conflict.
The United States is not a disinterested party to events. One of Barack Obama's foreign policy priorities (in continuity with Bush and Defense Secretary Gates, whom Obama is retaining) is the offensive against forces fighting in Afghanistan that are based in Pakistan. Needing Pakistan's assistance in the ‘war against terror', Washington doesn't want Pakistani forces abandoning their current positions to go to the Kashmir border. Anything that worsens relations between Pakistan and India undermines US strategy in the area. It's also difficult for the US to hold India back, as the Indian ruling class can point out that the US itself has hardly been restrained with its attacks on al-Qaida or the Taliban.
Some commentators have suggested that India will not attack Pakistan as it would strengthen the position of the army within that very brittle state, and that there is at least some possibility of dialogue with the Pakistani ruling class in its current configuration. Others have insisted that all-out imperialist conflict is inevitable, sooner or later, and that things are already out of the control of Indian and Pakistani policy-makers.
One thing that is certain is the danger inherent in the situation. Both countries have nuclear weapons. Both have armed forces that are already mobilised, not only for Kashmir: Pakistan fighting in its North-West and in Balochistan, and India in Nagaland and in a number of states against the Naxalite insurgency. Most importantly, both countries have links with more powerful imperialisms: India in a developing alliance with the US and Pakistan with a long-standing anti-Indian understanding with China.
Maybe, at this stage, India and Pakistan, with the US lurking in the background, will be able to contain the impulse toward open military conflict, but the imperialist drive to war is fundamental to capitalism, and, in this instance, potentially threatens to convulse one of the most populous regions in the world. The attacks in Mumbai were dreadful enough, the potential massacre that capitalism has in store when it unleashes its full armoury of destruction confirms it as a system of social organisation which ultimately has only oblivion to offer humanity.