I want to extend my most heart-felt sympathies to you and all the people of India over the despicable attacks in Mumbai. Just as you stood with us after 9/11, I stand with you today and I'm confident the rest of the American people do as well.
I also want to warn you not to make the same mistakes we made. The strategic purpose of attacks like these is often to provoke an over-reaction that alienates potential terrorist supporters and thus strengthen the attackers (1). This is exactly what happened when 9/11 provoked the invasion and occupation of Iraq -- al Qaeda grew stronger. Five years on we are only now beginning to recover from that disastrous mistake.
It is likely that the attackers are associated with al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Pakistani army is putting a lot of pressure on al Qaeda in the tribal areas. This attack is probably intended to increase tensions between India and Pakistan, ideally creating a shooting war. Then Pakistan will remove its troops from the tribal areas and send them to fight India; relieving the pressure.
President-elect Obama has pointed out that the way to win is to resolve the Kashmir problem. The Pakistani army is plenty strong enough to destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban. However, that army is trained and deployed to fight wars with India. Resolving the Kashmir problem and negotiating a permanent peace would free up Pakistani troops to regain control of their country.
While parts of the Pakistani military and ISI (2) support the Taliban and other religious extremists, the bulk of the people and the government see them as a terrible threat, particularly as the suicide attacks and instability grow. Also, the Taliban have taken considerable Pakistani territory in recent months and there is a growing awareness that Pakistan must destroy these guys. We need an alliance of America, India, peace-loving Pakistanis (the vast majority), and others to demolish these extremists. United we are invincible, divided we will fall.
The immediate reaction to the Mumbai attacks will likely be a desire for revenge and the most convenient target may be Pakistan. This would be a disaster, and would lead to even greater danger to India as the extremists grow strong. Don't do what we did. Don't lash out in the wrong direction. Don't fight for revenge. Fight to win.
(1) The is one of the lessons of the U.S. Army - Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual.
(2) The ISI is the Pakistani intelligence service.