GENERAL JOHN McColl is a rare military officer. In 2002, without firing a bullet, he led a British brigade into Afghanistan, established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and received Afghan public acclaim for bringing security to the capital city of Kabul. His success reflected an Afghan consensus that international forces were central to building an effective state. They trusted the intentions and capability of the international community-trusted that their presence would catalyze the creation of a legitimate government and a just order. And under this umbrella of security, Afghans began the hard work of rebuilding destroyed homes and mending the social fabric of our homeland.
ISAF's reception today, as General McChrystal acknowledges, is of a very different kind. The mission now faces the twin threats of an assertive insurgency and the predatory, corrupt behavior of the Afghan state. With these threats reinforcing one another, the Afghan public has lost confidence not only in their own government, but also in the international community. This decline in legitimacy has led to an ever-increasing death toll-both of Afghans and international military personnel. The Orientalist image of Afghanistan as the graveyard of empires is alive and well.
Regaining legitimacy now requires the creation of a stock and flow of trust: trust between Afghan civilians and their government, as well as trust between the civilians, their government and the international community. Building this trust will require placing the needs and aspirations of the Afghan people at the center of a focused strategy, which delivers sustained results through the kind of burden sharing so evident from 2002 to 2005.