updated 3/18/2010 6:06:17 PM ET 2010-03-18T22:06:17

The U.N. peacekeeping chief said Thursday it's time for the international community to take "concrete steps" to allow Afghans to take charge of their future — and to ensure that "Afghanization" becomes more than a slogan.

Alain Le Roy told the Security Council that the Afghan government is "legitimately eager" to lead and the international community risks failure in its goals for the country if this doesn't happen.

He said Afghan "ownership" must take place on both the military and civilian side, with the international community in support.

Afghanistan's U.N. Ambassador Zahir Tanin told the council the government has taken up the leadership challenge and in the coming year its priority will be "Afghanization," with Afghans and Afghan priorities taking the lead in every area.

"We face a busy calendar that will test our strength and resolve but, with the support of the international community, it can also set us firmly on the path towards success," he said.

Le Roy was briefing the council on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's latest report which noted the "crowded agenda" in the next three months.

‘Political leadership’
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called a peace "jirga" or conference on reconciliation in April. Kabul is hosting its first major international conference in June which Le Roy said will mark "the concrete and systematic beginning" of Afghanization to present its priorities and programs in civilian areas in hopes of attracting funding. Preparations for parliamentary elections in September must begin, and the military surge is continuing.

Ban said these events "could form the structure of a transition to greater Afghan leadership" or take away "political energy" from the government and international community's priorities.

"The focus of this transition is on making Afghan sovereignty real," the secretary-general said. "There is no sovereignty without capacity and responsibility, and the purpose of the transition is to ensure that the government of Afghanistan has both sufficient capacity and sufficient responsibility to exercise actual sovereignty."

Ban warned that if the international community bypasses the government the transition could be undermined and he called for "a new mindset that shows greater respect for Afghans' own understanding of their country."

At the same time, Le Roy said, "the Afghan government must concretely demonstrate that it can deliver on the accountability required for a real transition process to be sustainable."

Tanin, the Afghan ambassador, said the first step is to reverse the Taliban's momentum and improve security across the country, and he predicted that the new strategy of the top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, "will begin to turn the tide."

At the same time, he said, the Afghan army and police, with intensive international training, will gradually replace international forces beginning "as soon as possible."

"And with the help of the international community, Afghans will bear full responsibility in five years," Tanin said.

‘Afghan priorities’
He stressed that reconciliation and the electoral process "must be Afghan-led and guided by Afghan priorities."

Last month, Karzai signed a decree allowing him to appoint all five members of the Electoral Complaints Commission. The body previously had three U.N. appointees and the decree was criticized as a bid for control of the commission, which stripped Karzai of nearly one-third of his votes in last year's presidential election. Karzai was declared the victor after his challenger dropped out of a runoff.

Earlier this month, Karzai reversed the decision and allowed two foreigners on the commission.

Le Roy said that "if transition to Afghan responsibility is to be reflected in this electoral process" in September, both electoral bodies must perform their duties "effectively, impartially, and with the confidence of all Afghan stakeholders."

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the U.S. remains concerned about Karzai's decree and echoed Le Roy saying members of the Complaints Commission should conduct their activities "in an impartial and independent manner."

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