The controversial interview of the top American general in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, to Rolling Stone magazine will have searing impact on US policy in that country, affect India, and bring in China after the Americans leave, from which the Chinese have an equal chance of emerging victorious or defeated. The analysis runs thus.

General McChrystal has spoken more than any military commander operating under a democratic government ought to. The details of his Rolling Stone interview are all over the Internet. But in brief, he has rubbished nearly everyone concerned with Afghan policy-making in the US administration, from president Barack Obama in a tangential way to his vice-president, the national security advisor, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, and that object of scorn and derision in India (merited to a degree), Richard Holbrooke.

McChrystal has spared criticism of his military superiors (unless it was censored by Rolling Stone, which looks unlikely) and of defence secretary Robert Gates who has proved rather uninspiring so far. The only person the US and NATO forces commander in Afghanistan likes is Hillary Clinton who backed his surge and he has been chummy with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, partly because, it would seem, everybody else in the US administration loathes him. Karzai has gone public hoping that General McChrystal will retain his job.

If McChrystal was not deployed in Afghanistan but, say, in America's own backyard, in Panama or El Salvador or similar badlands of the Eighties, this magazine would have given him a clear miss. But his Rolling Stone interview and profile sharply highlight what has been known for some time in this part of the world. Which is that the US is fighting an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, and that its continued presence in the country would not only hasten its decline but do no good to the region. Incidentally, this perception is not shared by the Manmohan Singh government, which sees virtue in a continued US presence in Afghanistan. But that won't be.

Obama is committed to start withdrawing from Afghanistan in the middle of next year. There has been some indication that he may delay the process in the hope of getting results on the ground. But the fact remains that the US has made no gains in Afghanistan since Obama approved McChrystal's surge. If McChrystal had been a winning general, Obama may have swallowed the slights.

But McChrystal is not the legendary Douglas McArthur (who was still sacked), or even David Petraeus, who turned the tide in Iraq. McChrystal has failed on the same count that he repeatedly advises his troops, which is to see the big picture. The big picture on Afghanistan is that Pakistan is the source of both terrorism and insurgency in Afghanistan. Without attacking the Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorist leaders hiding in Pakistan, there is no hope for Afghanistan. Whether McChrystal stays or goes after his indiscretion, his utility is practically over. The US can have no further case for remaining in Afghanistan, and ironically, McChrystal may have made the holding out more impossible than before.

Almost certainly, China will step in once the US leaves, especially with the discovery of huge mineral resources in Afghanistan. But China will attempt a different game. It is spectacularly unconcerned about who controls Afghanistan, as long as terrorism does not spill over to its territories, and it remains unshackled in its resource extraction quest. China sees Pakistan as an ally in Afghanistan, and hopes to use Pakistan's links with the Al-Qaeda and Taliban to secure its interests in that country. Pakistan is too beholden to China not to bend over backwards to assist it in Afghanistan. The Chinese export of two power reactors to Pakistan is part of the process of increasing Pakistani loyalty towards and dependency on China.

So long China does not interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, the Al-Qaeda and Taliban will tolerate the Chinese. If the opium economy can be supplanted with a mining economy or both can coexist, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are unlikely to complain. Any Chinese cooperation in that direction -- and lots will be forthcoming -- will be welcome. Almost certainly, Pakistan is going to use Afghanistan to terrorize India more, and China will provide it cover. Nearly no one in the world will come to India's aid.

And yet, it needn't be a win-win situation for Pakistan and China. Chinese presence in Pakistan has previously produced adverse reactions. Its personnel have been kidnapped and executed in Baluchistan and the Lal Masjid episode was the direct consequence of the harassment of private Chinese citizens in Islamabad. The Lal Masjid operation gave impetus to the process of Pakistan Taliban growth and its link up with the South Punjab terrorists.

It is very likely that despite the most rigorously enforced hands off approach in Afghanistan, China may at some point run into opposition of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban. The Taliban is after all xenophobic of foreigners and China won't be able to escape the foreigners' tag for long. And beyond a point, Pakistan will be of no assistance in Afghanistan, because its value as a foil to Western pressure will be over. The Taliban anyhow does not trust Pakistan and especially the double-dealing ISI. Plus Pakistan itself will be target for its nuclear weapons, and China will be unable to contain the caliphate ambitions of the Al-Qaeda/ Taliban. After all, if the point is to gain power and rule peacefully, why did the Al-Qaeda backed by the Taliban organize and execute the 9/11 attack?

In other words, Afghanistan will enter another period of chaos and violence once the Americans leave. And with the hope of making quick profits, China will step into the breach, and very likely burn itself. Give or take five years and China will be in the same Afghan boat as America now. But there is no immediate or medium-term solace for India. Unless it secures its frontiers with Pakistan, it will face terrorism of a scale to Balkanize it as it did in the early Nineties, when India retained Jammu and Kashmir with great difficulty. The growing crisis in the Af-Pak region needs the complete attention and engagement of the Indian government, and the Manmohan Singh regime would be well-advised to rope in the other national parties for consultations and deliberations. India needs unprecedented political unity in the coming months to face formidable national security threats from the north-west.